By Bob Skolnik
Lyons Township High School's Jason Crean has been teaching biology for 20 years, but he never had a classroom moment like the one he had on Tuesday afternoon.
Crean got the surprise of his life when during his seventh-period biology class, he was interrupted by a host of adults walking into his classroom. They were there to present him with the prestigious Golden Apple Award, which each year honors 10 outstanding teachers in the Chicago area.
The 42-year-old Crean is the first LTHS teacher ever to receive a Golden Apple in the 31-year history of the awards. Crean was selected from a pool of 400 nominations. This year the Golden Apple Award was limited to high school teachers.
For a moment Crean was speechless when presented with the award.
"Wow, I don't have anything to say," said a shocked Crean.
Then he thanked his students.
"I couldn't do it without these guys, even though they drive me crazy sometimes," he said.
Crean has taught biology at LTHS since 2001. Before coming to LTHS, he taught at Homewood Flossmoor High School. Crean was honored because of his hands-on teaching style, which makes students active learners and scientists themselves.
"Students in Crean's class do not learn passively," said a Golden Apple press release. "Instead, he makes science come alive for them to practice it. For example, students track a group of lions in Africa using provided data and field notes, analyze genotypes to determine relatedness between the lions and build a pedigree. He inspires students and his colleagues to actively participate in the world of science."
Karly Brady, a freshman in Crean's seventh-period biology class, said Crean is a wonderful teacher.
"When we don't understand something, he'll go in detail and tell us what to do," Brady said. "And when we're at our lab tables doing labs, he'll come around and make sure we're understanding it and how to do it."
Brady said she was impressed by all of Crean's activities, which include teaching at Saint Xavier University in Chicago.
"He has more than one job," Brady said. "He teaches in wildlife, he comes to the zoo, he does extreme things. He goes to colleges. He goes to events. It's really cool to have a teacher like that."
In addition to teaching at LTHS and Saint Xavier, Crean is a consultant at the Brookfield Zoo, where he works with the education department, conducting workshops for science teachers.
He also is professional breeder of hook-billed and soft-billed birds. He is the vice-president of the Illinois Science Teachers Association and a regional director of the American Federation of Aviculture. He has published many scholarly papers.
Crean will receive $5,000 from the Golden Apple Foundation and will have the opportunity to take a sabbatical for a free quarter at Northwestern University next spring.
He said he hopes to work Professor Brian Reiser at Northwestern. Reiser in one of Crean's mentors and helped develop the next-generation science standards.
Crean grew up in Burbank and has a bachelor's degree in biology from Saint Xavier University. He's earned two master's degrees, one in curriculum and instruction from Saint Xavier and one in biology from Western Illinois University. He is working a doctorate in educational leadership at Concordia University Chicago.
As an undergraduate, he started off thinking he would become a veterinarian. But a mentor saw that he had a love of science and a love of communicating his knowledge, and suggested that he become a science teacher. Crean has not regretted that decision.
"I love biology and I get to share that with others," Crean said.
Soon a TV crew from WTTW-Channel 11 will come to film Crean teaching. A program featuring all 10 of this year's Golden Apple recipients will be broadcast on May 20.