Jordan Kraus: Learning Through Labs

by Ellyssa Jeong and Anya Lefkowitz, Centerfold Editors
photos contributed by Jordan Kraus

Faculty members rise to the challenges of a remote learning community and are going above and beyond to help their students. Kraus, pictured above left, has organized in-person labs for groups of her AP Biology students, such as those pictured above right

Science classes, especially courses like chemistry and biology, are characterized by interactive labs that include safety goggles and, at times, hazardous acids. Understanding how important hands-on learning is, especially in science, biology teacher Dr. Jordan Kraus has coordinated multiple in-person labs for her students.

Over the summer, Kraus began planning and preparing materials for labs that students could do in person in groups of four to five. Once school started, she divided her classes into groups after surveying her students about who they felt comfortable working with and who lived near their houses. From there, she formed groups, and one person from each group was sent home on book pickup day with a toolbox, which consisted of basic supplies needed for the labs that Kraus reworked over the summer.
Kraus considered all of her students’ needs, making sure that those who felt uncomfortable participating in in-person labs were able to Zoom into their group’s live process. She also prepared a list of activities for students who don’t have access to lab materials so that they can still participate, she said.

“You learn through discovery, not from someone talking at you, and you will retain what you discovered and figured out for yourself far longer than what I just tell you,” she said. “A huge part of the value of science is about process. It’s about the act of collaboration. It’s about the learning to think through and solve a problem.” 

Junior Gabriella Zaff said she has appreciated the opportunity to participate in labs and build relationships with peers. 

“I just feel like she really cares about her students and creating a community even though we’re online,” she said. “When it felt like the class wasn’t communicating as well at the beginning of the year, she really made an effort to fix that and talk to us about what we could be doing to still feel like we’re like a class community, even though we’re not like an in-person community,” she said. 

Kraus has altered the labs to become more home-friendly. For the agar cube lab, a cornerstone of the AP Biology curriculum, Kraus used beets and bleach instead of sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid, two hazardous chemicals. Students measured the rate of diffusion of the hydrochloric acid in the agar jelly, and the results from the at-home lab were almost identical to the original lab, she said.

“I have to be very flexible, and they have to be very flexible, and we all have to be very creative,” she said.

Although remote learning comes with many learning restrictions, it also allows for experimentation with online resources and unexplored platforms. 

“Instead of making standard Schoology quizzes, I figured out how to build virtual escape rooms in Google; it’s an escape room that’s a quiz, but it doesn’t read like a quiz. Would you do that in a normal school year? No, but you need to make it more engaging,” she said. “My AP kids couldn’t do a straight study of these cell organelles since they don’t have microscopes, so we turned it into an election campaign where students could elect the organelle of their choice on Instagram or Twitter. … They were bashing one another on social media, and it was hysterically funny. I didn’t know how to use Instagram or Twitter, but I had to learn because that’s what they were doing. As I said, what’s rewarding is figuring out how to think outside the box.” 

Despite the circumstances, Kraus said that students have the willpower to do remarkably well with online learning if they’re provided with the necessary tools and encouragement.

“Kids can do amazing things if you give them the chance and they can connect to one another and they can learn. And yeah, remote learning sucks, let’s be honest,” she said. “But you go with the hand you’re dealt in life, whatever that is, and you make the best of it.”