Humor can be found in any subject, but you can find it daily in Mr. Calhoun’s science and math classes. He loves using humor, especially bad puns, in his classrooms to engage the students. “Math puns are the first sine of madness,” he says with a laugh.
He’s also a big fan of the BASIS Curriculum; prior to moving to Virginia, Mr. Calhoun taught at two BASIS Charter Schools in Texas. Working for a BASIS Curriculum School runs in his family, as two of his three brothers also work at a BASIS Curriculum School.
We sat down with Mr. Calhoun to learn more about why he loves the BASIS Curriculum and what he enjoys the most about teaching.
Why did you get into teaching?
My brothers were teaching while I was doing research in college. I enjoyed explaining the research more than the actual research, so I observed my brother’s classes at BASIS Scottsdale, where he worked at the time, and thought I’d give it a try. When I did, I enjoyed immensely sharing my passion for the STEM subjects and watching students learn how to connect ideas from several disciplines and become inquisitive about the world around them.
Next time you see Mr. Calhoun, ask him about what he was researching and the paper he co-authored about—how quickly water moves through wax.
What do you enjoy about the BASIS Curriculum?
I enjoy having the autonomy to teach what’s important to students. All BASIS Curriculum Schools believe in rigorous content because we believe that students can achieve high standards. I think that as an expert in the field, I should dictate what goes on in the classroom rather than a non-expert, and this network of schools lets me do that. Students will achieve whatever you ask them to achieve.
Though you mostly teach middle school, you also teach Organic Chemistry, a capstone for seniors. What is unique about our capstone classes?
The most unique aspect is that we can take the route that students find interesting within the subject. I could cover a myriad of topics in Organic Chemistry, and I can’t get to all of them, but if my students want to go deeper into a specific topic, we’ll explore that. The point is education itself and the students value that and really want to work hard.
What’s your favorite topic to teach? Why?
I enjoy teaching chair configuration for Organic Chemistry because it connects a lot of chemistry topics and forces students to think about applying their knowledge from other classes to a new situation in order to explain how molecules look at the atomic level. Chair configuration is looking at the physical geometry of carbon atoms that form rings and where organic functional groups and substituents bond on that ring. Students have to look at energy that comes from atoms being forced near each other as well as angles formed between atoms to determine what the most stable form of a ringed organic compound will be.
Our Middle School Program—where students take physics, chemistry, and biology simultaneously—prepares students to take advanced science in high school, like Organic Chemistry as seniors.
How do you see your students growing throughout middle school to be prepared for high school?
Throughout middle school, our students become more self-aware, more self-confident, and more collaborative. At the beginning of grade 6, students are often hesitant to do problems on the board for fear they will get it wrong. By grade 8, they have learned that BASIS Independent McLean is a safe space to make mistakes and they are willing to do problems and corrections on the board because they see it benefits them and their peers. They also understand that helping teach a fellow student helps them learn the material better too.
We piloted the SPORK Tablet program in middle school math and now it has expanded to other classes. How is the SPORK Tablet Program benefiting students?
The best thing is that it helps keep kids organized and it helps keep information in one space. Having the tablet program Physics 6 and Algebra & Geometry II allows me to better engage the students by providing them with more material that they are interested in. The tablet program gives the students more review opportunities, helps them research topics, and gives them easy access to information that they should focus on for that unit, whether it be a video, notes, or a worksheet.
You’ve taught at multiple BASIS Curriculum Schools. What do you enjoy about working in this network?
The co-workers. They are a bunch of professionals who are experts and love academia. This leads to some really interesting conversations, and it helps me learn more and pushes the students as well. The amazing faculty and staff at BASIS Independent McLean push me to constantly reflect and improve not only my teaching, but on me individually. This makes me a better teacher and gives me more passion that I pass along to my students.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I like baking, photography, and watching sports (Go FC Bayern, San Antonio Spurs, Notre Dame, and Miami Dolphins!). I also have two adorable dogs, Arya and Parker.
What is a fun fact about yourself?
I was born on a Navajo reservation. My father was the reservation’s doctor and I lived there for the first three years of my life.
Thanks for speaking with us, Mr. Calhoun! It's always great to learn more about our teachers. Keep an eye on our blog for more staff and teacher conversations throughout the year.
About Mr. Calhoun
Mr. Calhoun earned a B.S. in Chemistry from Denison University that was certified by the American Chemical Society. After college, Mr. Calhoun started at BASIS San Antonio Medical Center, helping to open that campus. He has stayed with BASIS Curriculum Schools ever since, teaching a myriad of subjects. While teaching, he published a paper in 2014 in Fluid Phase Equilibria. He moved to BASIS Independent McLean to be part of its amazing team, and to be part of the larger intellectual D.C. area community.
Alongside his teaching, Mr. Calhoun has coached the state runner-ups in co-ed flag football, regional final four in boys middle school soccer, and regional champions in girl’s elementary basketball. He currently coaches our middle school boys basketball team.