Top of his class

Chugiak High teacher wins national biotechnology award


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Chugiak High teacher Aaron Kallas speaks to his students Tuesday, Nov. 19. Kallas, who started a biotechnology program in the Anchorage School District four years ago, will be presented with the Ron Mardigian Biotechnology Teaching Award in Atlanta on Saturday, Nov. 23.

MIKE NESPER

When Aaron Kallas isn’t teaching at Chugiak High, he spends his time training other educators in the field of biotechnology.

And he’s doing award-winning work.

Kallas earned the 2013 Ron Mardigian Biotechnology Teaching Award. The National Association of Biology Teachers will present the award to Kallas on Saturday, Nov. 23 in Atlanta.

Kallas said he was honored to be selected for the national award.

“It’s cool to get recognized by colleagues,” he said.

The award — which is presented to college instructors in odd years and secondary school teachers in even years — honors someone “who demonstrates outstanding and creative teaching of biotechnology in the classroom,” according to a press release.

Kallas serves an adjunct faculty member for the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Alaska BioPREP (Biomedical Partnership for the Research and Education Pipeline) program. The project’s goal is to give middle and high school teachers the training needed to integrate biotechnology into their classrooms, according to the UAF website.

Kallas also trains high school students in the field.

Four years ago, he started a biotechnology course designed to teach high-schoolers the skills needed to work in a laboratory.

Kallas started BioTaPP (Biotechnology Training and Preparatory Program), with eight students at Polaris K-12 School. The program now has 38 enrolled, 25 are Chugiak students.

Kallas said he wanted to offer a biotechnology and genetics course geared toward high-schoolers. It’s a fast-growing field, he said, with many career opportunities.

“There’s lots of avenues for biotechnology,” Kallas said.

The course incorporates a variety of sciences.

“Biotech is a real good blend between chemistry, biology and physics,” Kallas said.

The program requires algebra, biology and chemistry as prerequisites.

“This is a high-level science,” Kallas said. “I have high expectations for them.”

The course is divided into two years. Students learn the foundation of biotechnology in the first year, Kallas said, and the second year focuses around one, large project.

“I’m a very project-based teacher,” he said.

BioTaPP is a Career and Technology Education (CTE) program. It goes beyond biotechnology, Kallas said, and teaches skills needed in a work environment such as professionalism, ethics and proper attire.

“Career technology education is where kids grow the most,” he said.

Kallas said he wants his students who complete both years to have the skills necessary to work in a lab, which has already happened.

Most importantly, Kallas wants his students to learn how to analyze situations rather than going to the Internet to answer a question.

“The kids understand how to think critically,” he said. “They think how they can solve it rather than just Googling it.”

Kallas’ BioTaPP program is engaging, he said, but it also shows how biotechnology is applicable to students.

“It’s relevant to their life,” he said. “The whole program is authentic.”

Kallas said his ultimate goal is to create a biotechnology academy, but his top priority is ensuing that his program continues for future students.

“I want to see this program continue long after I’m gone.”

 

Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or mike.nesper@alaskastar.com.

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