I am a native of Louisville, KY, the second of six sons of Tancy and Jack. My earliest memories include wandering in the woods behind our small suburban home, and mucking around in a creek behind the woods. We moved when I was nine, but my drive to discover biology was established.
I attended Catholic schools and had the good fortune to take sophomore biology, and then A.P. biology, from
Brother Leroy at St. Xavier High School. At Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, I earned my B.S in biology, with a minor in chemistry, and graduated With High Distinction.
The Summer after graduating, I taught nature-related classes at a Boy Scout camp near Louisville.
That Fall, I returned to Centre for an additional semester in order to do my student teaching.
Under the patient guidance of an outstanding teacher, Mrs. Cordelia Kubale, I taught sophomore biology
at Boyle County High School. In December, I earned my Kentucky Teaching Certificate for biology and chemistry at the secondary level (grades 7 -12).
My formal teaching began that Spring. It consisted of an eye-opening semester at Burgin Independent School,
a very small, K-12 public school near Danville, KY. Here, in addition to 8th grade life science and 6th grade health,
I taught 7th and 8th grade split classes in math and English. While I learned some valuable lessons, by the Summer I thought that perhaps teaching was not my path.
Next, at Western Kentucky University, I devoted a year in pursuit of my Master of Science degree. I completed the degree over the next few years, primarily via Summer coursework at two biological stations - Tech Aqua in north central Tennessee, and Mountain Lake Biological Station in Virginia. I then worked for 10 months as a unit secretary in a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, pursuing Gayle, the young woman who would later become my wife, and exploring the possibility of a career in the health field. Finally, I returned to Louisville, determined to give teaching another try, but with the conviction that I would teach only science.
With outstanding support from Paul DeZarn, the principal of St. Raphael School, I thoroughly enjoyed three years of teaching life science and physical science to 6th, 7th, and 8th grade children. Gayle and I married at this point,
and I experienced 3 more rewarding years of teaching life science, this time to 7th graders at South Oldham Middle School, a large public middle school in the county northeast of Louisville. At South Oldham, I also served as the science department chairperson.
While teaching, I completed 30 additional graduate hours, with an emphasis on counseling and gifted education. In the Kentucky public school system, this work earns what is called a Rank 1 (and a nice pay increase). Unfortunately, late in my third year in Oldham County, the personnel director informed me that the following year I was to become one of their school system's high school chemistry teachers. By that point, I knew that my passion lay in teaching life science to middle school children, so I secured a 7th grade life science (and life skills) position at a private independent school in Louisville, called Kentucky Country Day (or simply, KCD).
At this point, our first daughter (Erin) was born, followed six years later by our second daughter (Heather Frances).
I completed 18 additional hours to earn certification in health education; this strengthened my background for the life skills classes, where topics like nutrition, sex education, and drug and alcohol education were covered. I also took advantage of a brief program offered by the public school system to add middle school endorsement to my teaching certificate; this added 6th grade to my 7th - 12th grade certification.
[To clarify, all of my college and graduate school coursework was completed in person.]
While I always devoted a considerable amount of time to curriculum development, with KCD’s smaller classes, and working under principals (and with colleagues) who valued risk-taking, I produced many of my own lessons and activities during my 36 years there. I am particularly grateful to the energetic 7th grade team of teachers, for their enthusiastic engagement in biology-oriented field trips. Some of these were quite physical, such as Water Day, Creek Day, and the 5-day outdoor environmental education program at Pine Mountain Settlement School in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. These colleagues also patiently supported my students' participation in my on-campus outdoor units, like the annual trees identification / leaf collection project, and the intensive garden unit (a controlled experiment that culminated in a day of harvesting, a day of prepping food for a local homeless shelter, and a week of data analysis via spreadsheets). Continually taking students outdoors meant they sometimes arrived to their next classes a bit damp or dirty.
I was also very fortunate to have the strong support of a dear friend, Ken Tschanz, who had the computer skills (and the editorial skills) to create a website so that I could market my decades-long endeavor to produce a self-paced bullfrog dissection manual.
In my third year at KCD, I sought a life science textbook that would enable my students to teach themselves much of the content, and thereby free up class time for activities, labs and field trips that reinforce the material. Essentially, I was among the early participants in the strategy that is now called “flipping the classroom." The book that fit my needs was Globe Life Science, by Bryan Bunch and Mary C. Hicks.
Upon retirement (in May of 2020), I contacted the senior author (Bryan Bunch) and offered to assist in creating a new edition. He was in the midst of other writing projects (most notably the 2021 edition of a monumental work, Stem Chronology), but he generously offered to seek the return of the rights to his now out-of-print life science book. Obtaining these rights took several months, during which I put some of my favorite labs and lessons on the site Teachers Pay Teachers (now called simply TPT).
In the Winter of 2020, I was excited to learn that Bryan had secured the rights to Globe Life Science, and that I could move forward. As of this writing, the revision of the book and the Teacher's Guide have been completed, and I've updated the outlines of about half of the 72 lessons. In the past year, I've finally begun participating in social media, and have particularly enjoyed sharing ideas via a few Facebook groups related to middle school science education.
Please feel free to contact me at KWilhelmi@aol.com