SHEPHERDSVILLE - The lights are dimmed while scented candles burn. Hundreds of photos and movie posters line the walls.
The soft song, “Afternoon Delights,” by The Starland Vocal Band, plays in the background. Madagascar hissing cockroaches hide in an aquarium underneath fake foam tombstones.
The instructor is asked by a student about his various arm tattoos. It’s not your typical high school classroom.
The instructor is Bullitt Central Science teacher Beau Kaelin.
His interpretation of education, along with success shown by students, earned him the 2013 Bullitt County High School Teacher of the Year award.
Kaelin’s AP Biology class is participating in a controlled lab experiment. Each table placed a female cockroach with a male cockroach, monitoring behavioral patterns.
After 20 minutes, a second male is added to the mix, with results recorded by students. The next day a new female would added, one that has been separated from all the other cockroaches for about six months.
“This is a way to study animal behavior,” Kaelin said. “We could use fruit flies or roly poly bugs, but this works as well and there’s more student interest.”
Kaelin is a staunch believer in hands-on, inquiry-based teaching strategies.
“I don’t even know the results, but there’s no right or wrong answer, it’s all exploration,” he said. “It’s based on data supplied to determine a logical conclusion. It helps basic life skills development. The science lab is a good place for that.”
Kaelin grew up in both Bullitt County and Louisville. His personal science bug came from living in the local area, while his primary teaching influences were experienced at DeSales High School.
“You grow up on a few acres, and you can’t help but be interested in science,” he said. “Later on, the world around me was so cool, I wanted to share it through teaching.”
Kaelin attended the University of Louisville, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and a Master’s in Teaching. His entire teaching career is his eight-year stint with Bullitt Central.
In that time, Kaelin has developed his alternative teaching methods, determining the best way for students to learn subject matter and be able to apply skills in the real world.
“Beau Kaelin is a unique and dynamic teacher,” said principal Christy Coulter. “He creates a learning climate that allows students to explore, think, and experience science using hands-on educational activities.”
“I don’t like set, fixed routines,” Kaelin said. “If I’m bored, you’re gonna be bored. It’s not informal, I’m just open to new ideas.”
Kaelin admitted that the cockroach experiment was actually a student idea based on what the class would be studying. For AP students, and for Kaelin himself, the exploration to the answers is key, and it remains a fun pursuit.
“It’s off-beat, casual,” he said. “It seems like organized chaos. I need to reign in when necessary. But the follow-up discussions are very important. That’s the moment you get them to connect.”
Kaelin’s unconventional education methods tie in with his personal passions. He implements a love for film both in and out of the school, working a second job at Baxter Avenue Theatres.
The outside work and filmmaking knowledge led Kaelin to help sponsor a film club, along with assisting the school’s drama club. As a result, up to 12 Bullitt Central graduates have work listed on the International Movie Database (imdb.com) website.
“I’m pleased that they were able to make substantial films,” he said. “This is another example of helping them become college and career ready.”
“(Kaelin) uses his interest in photography and filmmaking to intrigue students and his creativity in and out of the classroom is wonderful,” Coulter said. “It’s truly a gift to our students.”
Hence, the lighting, the movie posters, the hundreds of photographs along the wall, the music, and the mating rituals of the Madagascar hissing cockroaches. A recipe for award-winning education.
“I’m not afraid to be who I am, an individual, rather than falling into the generic mode,” Kaelin said. “That’s just who I am.”
Read Part Two of the Bullitt County Teachers of the Year series here.
Read Part Three of the Bullitt County Teachers of the Year series here.