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Teaching Outside the Box; Walnut Trail’s “Mr. R.” Makes Science Fun

Children in his third grade class do hands-on science projects and are encouraged to be curious

Patch writer Jean Tyrell sat down with third grade teacher Leo Raczykowski to discuss his love for science and how he passes that on to his students.

Leo Raczykowski will have his students lift him on a pulley to demonstrate how simple machines can make work easier. 

The third grade teacher, at Minooka’s Walnut Trails in Shorewood- affectionately known as Mr. R- shared some of the wisdom he's gleaned in his twenty-three years of teaching third grade.

Patch: Where did your passion for science start? As a veteran teacher, how do you keep your lessons interesting/current for the students? What is it you like about teaching science?

Mr. R: My passion for science started as a young child, as I was always taking household items apart sometimes having trouble putting them back together.  Mom’s solution to that was Lego blocks. Love them! In college I had a professor of elementary science that would show us how a seatbelt worked by strapping us in his car and slamming on the brakes. He made science real, and to me that made it interesting. I try to do the same thing in my classroom. By showing the children practical applications and why we need science, it greatly raises interest and performance.

Patch: What do you think are the key elements you employ for running a classroom?

Mr. R: My students need to know that I am a person too. I make mistakes and don’t know all the answers. We often “Google” questions that come up. While reading the book Stone Fox, the boy’s teacher tells him that he ask too many questions. The boy’s grandfather’s response is,  ‘How’s he gonna learn if he don’t ask.’  My students know to ask questions often.

Humor, humor, and trying to keep a sense of humor. Things happen in life that we cannot control. I give all of my students a nickname throughout the school year. This name becomes uniquely theirs. It’s kind of a personal bond between us. Sometimes their parents use the nickname as well.

Respect is the key to any classroom in my opinion…We talk about manners, respect, and trust the first day of class. I tell the students that they have been selected personally to be in this classroom and that they are special. In our discussion about trust, I give examples of how it takes a long time to earn trust and only a split second to lose it. 

Patch: How has becoming parent affected your teaching? (Raczykowski is the parent of two daughters.)

Mr. R: Being a parent has affected many parts of my teaching. I’ve always enjoyed having a close bond with my students’ parents, but now as a parent I know that it’s essential for success. When parents are aware of what’s going on in their child’s classroom and are comfortable asking question, everyone wins.  Frequent emails with what’s happening in our classroom are extremely helpful.  Also, homework is used to practice skills learned in the classroom, and I try not to overload them with it. Family time is important for everyone.

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