University of Southern Indiana

Especially creative teaching: Kalvelage is Cooper Award winner

Especially creative teaching: Kalvelage is Cooper Award winner

9/4/2009 | University Communications

The University Core Curriculum's H. Lee Cooper Teaching Award is presented annually to a faculty member who is "especially creative" in furthering UCC goals. Its 2009 recipient, Barbara Kalvelage, is especially especially creative.

As the Cooper Award winner, Kalvelage will deliver a presentation to the University community during this academic year. She may be the first to rap it.

Kalvelage, instructor in biology, teaches the Core course BIO 105: Biology of Human Concern. Most of her students are non-science majors, who often approach science classes with fear and trepidation, and she uses an unconventional but effective approach to help them succeed.

Her rap starts on the first day of class and continues through the last. She raps about the elements, the reproductive system, anatomy, or the lecture topic of the day. "They get pieces of the rap throughout the semester," she said. "Some of the questions on the final are right from the rap. I ask them how many naturally occurring elements there are in the world. It's 92, and it's in the rap."

"If it's in the rap," she said, "they remember it."

She changes the rap's lyrics in response to what happens in class. "They never know what I'm going to do next, so that part is kind of fun."

Kalvelage makes excellent use of visual aids, and she is often seen pushing a cart full of seemingly unrelated items down the corridors of the Science Center. In a demonstration of her own creation, she uses students, hula hoops, Tic Tacs, golf balls, and fish bowls to demonstrate how atoms bond and form molecules.

She's also skilled at creative problem solving. When she noticed that someone was stealing bones from the model skeleton in her lab, she topped his skull with a hat, named him "Leroy," and put a sign around his neck reminding others to be gentle with him. "I let people know that this is a loved skeleton, so they shouldn't go removing his parts," she said.

Noting that students weren't focused when they arrived in the classroom, she started playing background music in the minutes leading up to class. She said the music draws students in and engages them. "Before, when students came in they would be on their cell phones and didn't seem involved with the class until the class was almost over," she said. "When I play the music, they smile and talk to each other."

She relates the music to the lecture. "If we're talking about the female reproductive system, the music might be 'I am Woman,'" she said.

It would be difficult to match Kalvelage's commitment to student success in one regard. "My students know that I will mutilate myself if they excel," she said.

In 2004, her class had an 82 percent average for the course. "I was thrilled," she said. "That was the best performance I had in any class up to that time and I vowed to remember them. I got my tragus [a part of the ear] pierced."

She challenged her next classes to beat that average, and in 2007 one did, with an average of 85 percent. "They asked, 'Mrs. K, what are you going to get pierced for us?' Instead of a piercing I got a feather tattoo [for USI Eagles]. I smile every time I see my right forearm and remember their taunt, and better still, their performance."   

She still challenges her classes to beat the 2007 average. "I tell them that if they can beat it, I am getting lipo. They seem to enjoy the challenge."

Like many professors at USI, Kalvelage makes time for students outside of class, encouraging them to visit her office.

"I often see students lined up outside Barbara's door and she greets them enthusiastically," said Dr. Mari Hopper, instructor in biology, who nominated Kalvelage for the award. "Her office feels more like a family room, with a couch, rocking chair, and subtle décor that makes one feel right at home."

Her efforts have made her very popular with students. In May, the Student Government Association presented Kalvelage with its Faculty Member of the Year award. She is currently ranked 13th on's list of the Top 50 Hottest Professors in the nation. Her page is full of raves citing her teaching methods and commitment to student success.

Kalvelage joined the University in 1999. She is married to Fred Kalvelage, staff architect and construction manager.

The Cooper award is named in honor of H. Lee Cooper, long-time friend and supporter of USI.


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