The Wilderness Classroom 

CPS spotlights a teacher who uses science to inspire his students. Meet Mr. Meeks.

February 01, 2010

Jonathan Meeks isn’t a scientist by trade, but he uses the topic to engage and excite his students about learning.


The Claremont Academy 4th grade teacher has taken an innovative approach to teaching his students about the world. But instead of taking his students halfway across the globe, he’s brought the world into his classroom, literally.


It’s a jungle in there

Four years ago Meeks implemented the Wilderness Classroom into his curriculum. The Wilderness Classroom is comprised of a group of scientists who travel to the Amazon each spring and while on expedition, the scientists communicate with Chicago students via email and video.


Students meet and greet with explorers both before and after their trip. And during the trip, students are actively involved, as if they too are in the Amazon.


Students can do everything from trying out a hammock to using a blow gun to listening to the sounds of the Amazon. Students also learn to make models of homes that would typically be found in the Amazon, incorporating all they have learned about the rainy and dry season, the materials available, and the geography of the area.


Students also read and respond to emails sent by the scientists, find answers to the daily dilemma put forth by the travelers, and via discussion choose where the explorers will go each day.


The great escape

And that’s not all. Each year Meeks accompanies his 4th grade students on a three-day, two-night adventure to the Indiana Dunes Environmental Learning Center. There, students hike, sing, camp, learn about ecosystems, record data, and talk to historical characters. In 2009, Meeks single-handedly convinced local businesses to donate $3,500 toward this trip so all of his underprivileged students could attend.


Education outside of the classroom  

Meeks, aware that Claremont students tend to score low on the life science part of the ISAT exam, planned lessons and field trips to the Peggy Notebaert forest preserve in order to bring the topic to life. A cursory glance over the students’ ISAT answer sheets last March indicated that most students showed some improvements on the life science portion of the test.


Award-winning concepts

It’s that hands-on approach to learning that won Meeks a 2009 CPS DRIVE Award. The DRIVE Awards honor the best and brightest teachers each year. Meeks was just one of 23 teachers selected for this prestigious award last year.


Joy Reeves, Claremont science teacher, said Meeks’ has made a positive impact on his students. Learn more about Claremont Academy, 2300 W. 64th St.



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Article written by C. Payton.