By Becky Maxedon
For one biology teacher at Lake Havasu High School, the environment is everything.
Joel Silverstein teaches freshman biology, but his classes can include sophomores, juniors and seniors as well. He will embark on his seventh year teaching at LHHS.
“When I first got here, the room started out very stark. It was white and had sharp edges. Not literally sharp edges but graphically sharp edges,” Silverstein said.
During the COVID 19 pandemic, Silverstein said he was at the high school almost every day working. “I wasn’t getting the creative stimulation you get in a learning environment,” he said.
“When the kids came back on the hybrid schedule in ’21, I started thinking of ways to make this place more friendly, more inviting and a better learning environment.”
After soliciting the assistance of the Hey Ms. Lauren Creative Agency, the idea of transforming the classroom environment was realized.
“We came up with organic shapes that we placed all around the room and we put in some LED lighting and that’s where it started,” Silverstein said.
“It originally started with paper shapes and then at the end of this past semester, we painted them all on because we were really happy with the results we were getting. And then we added some other lighting to it and there’s an under-sea mural in the back glass cabinets because kids don’t need to see bottles and glasses and boxes. They needed to see things that would make them think and ask questions,” he said.
Silverstein said he thought the students like the shapes. “Another thing I think they like is I move the desks around throughout the semester. They get put into different configurations. We’ll start out with them classic classroom style and then as we start getting into projects, we’ll shift them into pods – groups of four, sometimes there will be groups of six.
“There’s always something moving around here to give them some creative stimulation but not distracting.”
“My favorite part of teaching is making a positive influence on some kids one at a time,” he said.
Silverstein, who came to teaching later in life in his mid-50s, said he thinks kids today are lacking positive role models.
“They have essentially lived most of their lives with their face in a mobile device looking at things created by other people. They’re not creating their own. And I think what I bring to the table is a lifetime of experience,” he said.
Silverstein, who is also with SCUBA Training and Technology, travels and dives a lot. “I have access to lots of different people around the world and I bring them into the classroom,” he said. He said he wants his students to know there are opportunities to have a successful life.
“The whole purpose of having a dynamic environment is to give the students an opportunity to learn in a different environment when they’re still in the same environment. While they’re in the same room.”
He said that everyone learns differently. “Some students learn better with a lot of lights, and some learn with less light. Some learn better with different colors. …By changing the lighting throughout the week, the students are in a fresh new environment each time. That gives them an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, maybe I can do something differently this time.’ Over time, we see what works well for each of them.”
With a new school year about to begin on Aug. 3, students will be using computers more and the science curriculum will be digitally based. But Silverstein said his classroom will continue to be a welcoming, comfortable environment where students can learn and grow.
“The combination of a new class curriculum in science and a whole new diverse batch of students, I wanted to make the classroom more inviting for them.”