‘Always loved science’

McCall teacher instills the importance of problem-solving

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette McCall Middle School teacher Dan Jury teaches a 7thy grade science class at the school in Montoursville.

For Dan Jury, a science teacher at McCall Middle School, going into the field of science seemed like a natural decision.

“I’ve always loved science, my dad always loved science, he always watched the science fiction movies,” Jury said. “I always thought it was neat to be able to explain things — that’s one thing I know about myself. If I can explain how or why something is happening, I know that I have control of it in my mind, then I’m okay with it. I really like being able to explain the world and how it works as far as natural things. I like experiments.”

Jury, who has taught for 18 years, grew up in Kansas and then arrived in this area when his dad’s job in the federal prison system brought his family here. His journey to the field of education, however, was a little more circuitous.

“When I was in college, I tried a pre-med track. I was at a different school and I got homesick so I came back and I went to Lock Haven (University) for physical training. Then I realized I didn’t like touching people,” he shared. “I thought about what was I good at and I was always good at helping my sister with her homework. I liked science so I (decided I) could probably put those two together and teach.”

He also remembers fondly teachers who influenced him along the way.

“I had an anatomy teacher in high school, Mr. Betts, who I thought was a great teacher and I really responded to him even though I didn’t show it outwardly,” he said. “I had other teachers too. When I moved here it was the fourth time I had moved in five or six years and it was starting to get on me and I had teachers who were there to help me out with the transition.”

During his tenure as a teacher, Jury has seen changes in the way science is presented to students.

“For most of that 18 years, I liken it to teaching social studies,” he said of his craft. “We teach social studies by here’s the date, here’s the person, memorize it, here’s the test, give it back to me,” he explained.

Then, about three years ago, the high school and middle school science and math departments got together to discuss the curriculum and how it is presented.

“We started talking about how do we mesh with each other, how does one play off the other and then also what is it that the high school students need and what can middle school do to prepare them for that,” Jury said. “Before we were just kind of teaching it the way we were taught. We were just teaching the content.”

Following the collaboration, under the direction of Christina Bason, superintendent of the Montoursville Area School District, Jury noted that the way in which the subjects were taught were changed.

“At that time I rewrote all my curriculum by asking all the high school teachers, what do you want to see in a ninth-grade student coming up,” he said. “They gave this perfect list and I just took that and created lessons off of it.”

Now, according to Jury, “science isn’t just another boring class where you sit and listen to the teacher all period.”

“I have the content in there, but it is based on lab experience and using tools and solving problems — the thing that science should have been the whole time. I don’t think we invented the wheel, I’m sure people have done it before that way,” he added.

Even the way labs are conducted have changed. Jury said that before the new method was instituted, science labs were what he called “cookbook labs” where the students were given a set of instruction and told “here are your materials and do that and this is what you’ll get.”

“Now I give them a list of materials and a problem and I step back and tell them to solve it. They have to work it out themselves. It’s hard for these kids these days because they’re used to parents and teachers saying to them, ‘let me help you with that. Here’s what you should do,’ “ he said.

“They struggle the first month or so of the school year with that, having the adult say I don’t know, figure it out. But then I give them background knowledge on the topic and then I give them a second chance at it. With that background knowledge, then I will step in and say this is how that tool works or this is how you should set this up,” he shared.

Jury said he feels that this approach to problem-solving will serve his students well beyond the classroom setting.

“When they become adults if they don’t know how to solve a problem, they have to know what their resources are and how to use them, who can help rather than saying I’m confused,” he added.