By R.M. Grossblatt
“I see Dr. Science!” yells a second-grader in a parked school bus.
“There he is!” yells another boy, spotting his science teacher walking out the door to greet his class at the Fernbank Science Center. The students seem almost as excited to see their science teacher as to tour the center and visit the planetarium.
Dr. Alan Feingold, a retired internist affectionately known as “Dr. Science” by the students at Torah Day School of Atlanta, does more than arrange trips for his students. He provides a curriculum that encourages the children to love science.
In the learning cottage near the field at TDSA, Dr. Science has two rooms. One room, his lab, is filled wall to wall with materials such as a colorful rock collection, animal skeletons, a huge fish tank and artifacts from volcanoes he has visited. In the adjacent room, where two dozen chairs are set up at worktables, the walls and display tables are bare.
Feingold believes that students learn best without distractions, so the classroom next to the lab has no posters or displays. But plenty of learning happens in both rooms.
“The biggest thing I teach is how to think,” he said.
As a member of Torah Day School’s board, Feingold knew the school wanted more science education for its elementary students, but he didn’t know he was going to provide it.
In November 2006, his daughter-in-law asked him to help celebrate his grandson’s birthday at the school. He brought dry ice and presented a science magic show for second-grade boys. Enchanted, the second-graders asked whether he was coming the next week. With the permission of their classroom teacher, Theresa Burns, he began coming every week.
His wife, Marilyn, an artist, asked how he could teach his grandson in second grade and not the one in first grade. She then asked how he could do this for the boys and not the girls.
Once he was teaching the first- and second-grade boys and girls, Feingold asked himself how he could leave out the third- and fourth-graders. Soon he was wheeling a suitcase filled with science materials around the halls of Torah Day School.
The school liked his lessons so much that it welcomed him to the faculty and gave him his own classroom. “Where I am now (behind the main building) is a little further away,” he said, “but it’s a lot more room, so I can set up better demonstrations for my lessons.”
In the bare room, before his demonstrations begin, Feingold projects pictures from his computer onto a huge screen and asks students to identify what they see. He’s training the children to use observation skills and logic to classify things. He said they love the approach because it’s like a game.
Outside school, Dr. Science enjoys gardening. Every spring first-, second- and third-graders take a field trip to his garden.
“One day a year, it’s my outside classroom,” he said. He teaches the children how plants grow, how seeds form and how “habitats differ from one place to another.”
While the children grow their own vegetables in TDSA’s organic garden under the direction of Hadassah Ezoory, a university-trained horticulturist, students in the lower grades learn the basic science of plants from Feingold.
At least one period a week, the general studies teachers for kindergarten through fourth grade bring their students for science. Feingold integrates math and social studies into his lessons and tries to make every class exciting.
“He showed us a picture of the skeleton of a giant turtle,” second-grader Yaakov Estreicher said. “It was cool!” Afterward, the second-graders examined the bones of smaller turtles and other animals that came from the laboratory.
Many of the items in the lab came from Feingold’s travels. Family members also help. Home from New York, his daughter Sharon (whose voice can be heard in the train at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) was walking with her mother when she spotted a log covered in fungi. That’s now one of the interesting items in her father’s lab.
Students also bring in whatever they find, such as worms and insects.
Before every Jewish holiday, the Limudei Kodesh (Judaic studies) teachers bring their students to Feingold for extra classes. Those classes include students in middle school, who take science regularly in the main building with teacher Christine Castle.
“We have a top-rate science program,” said Rabbi Joshua Einzig, the TDSA head of school, who appreciates that Feingold knows how to integrate science with the other disciplines, including Judaics. “He’s passionate about his work.”
For Rosh Hashanah, Dr. Science teaches how to differentiate between antlers and the horns that can be made into shofars. For Sukkot, he introduces the seven agricultural species that grow in Israel. On Chanukah, Dr. Science demonstrates how candles and oil lamps work.
Before Pesach, he teaches about the Nile River and how wheat grows, and for the younger children he shows what the plagues, such as darkness, hail and locusts, might have been like.
In November, before the school held the dedication of a new Torah, Feingold taught how parchment and Torah ink are made.
It takes much dedication for someone to prepare lessons challenging students, but Feingold said he loves science and also wants the children to love it. “I only teach material that’s fun,” he said, explaining that he couldn’t possibly teach them everything they need to know in science. “I want them to be learning because they want to learn, because they find it interesting.”
In the bare room, his students focus on his presentation or the screen to learn concepts instead of memorizing facts. Feingold believes that if students know how to use concepts and logic and apply their own creativity, they can solve problems. “That’s a skill they’ll never forget.”
Just as Dr. Science is a teacher they’re likely never to forget.