TONTOGANY – An Otsego High School veteran teacher has been named best in the state.
Bob Furlong recently earned the National Association of Biology Teachers’ Outstanding Biology Teacher Award for Ohio.
Furlong has been teaching for 31 years and has been leading biology and human physiology classes at Otsego High School since 1996.
“I definitely feel humbled by this and I am certainly honored,” he said.
Furlong started his career teaching high school biology at his alma mater, Fremont St. Joseph’s, in 1990, then spent one year at Elmwood.
Furlong said his desire to go into teaching dates back to a high school biology class.
“I just remember thinking every day ‘this is cool.’”
At the age of 16, he decided that whatever he did, it was going to be in biology. It wasn’t until later that a different science teacher directed him toward teaching.
“Teaching was always in the back of my mind, but the thought of teaching and biology, it was like this would be the perfect thing.”
Furlong said the high school age group is fun to teach and they are good conversationalists.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it,” he said. “It is the best job there is.”
Furlong started writing lessons on slate chalkboards at St. Joe’s, then went to the overhead projectors. In the age of PowerPoint, he now creates videos and posts them online.
He is constantly looking at how to refresh the same content year after year.
“I just love that challenge of keeping things fresh every year and changing things up.”
After completing his 25th year on the job, Furlong switched his style of teaching from a traditional method to the “flipped” method of teaching.
In the past, the traditional method had him lecturing one day and doing lab work the next.
Back around 2015, when there were nearly 20 calamity days, he started thinking there had to be a better way.
Now, he makes seven-minute videos that are posted on YouTube. The kids watch the videos and that is how they get their notes. They can pause it, rewind it or watch it the night before a test.
“Basically, I have taken what is a fairly passive activity of just taking notes and moved that off and that is what they do at home,” Furlong said.
Students now get “active learning” when they enter the classroom and start applying what was in the video.
He has saved 49 class lectures and that allows him to focus on inquiry-based labs in the classroom that may take two or three days or occasionally an entire week.
He said he is “really trying to get like what real science is like.”
Earlier this month, Furlong had his lab set up for lessons on osmosis, or the movement of water in and out of cells. Students were going to be cutting up potatoes, weighing them, them putting the pieces in different sugar solutions.
The potatoes then would be weighed the next day and graphed. Students would have to tell Furlong how much sugar was in each solution based on its position on the graph.
As part of his “hidden curriculum,” Furlong has students using spreadsheets all the time.
“Being able to look at data, being able to analyze it, being able to come up with a conclusion is something that we do often,” he said about why his lessons are important even for those students who might not plan on furthering their science education.
He commented on all the information coming out about the coronavirus and immune system and how people are seeing science live and what they know is constantly changing.
“My first thought was I can do a whole year on the coronavirus,” Furlong said.
But he adds the topic to many of his lessons, such as how things get in and out of cells.
Furlong said he will tackle the subject more in depth when he gets to the immune system later this year.
He wants the general population of students that may not go into science have some level of science literacy.
“When they leave here, I hope that I can spark some kind of interest in science they may not know about,” he said. “To me, that’s everything in the world.”
Furlong earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Bowling Green State University in 1989 and his Master of Education degree in 1999.
“The Otsego student body is extremely fortunate to have Bob as their teacher,” said Otsego Superintendent Adam Koch. “He brings a wealth of knowledge to our science department and we appreciate his willingness to take risks and evolve in his teaching practices.”
He was nominated for the award by Kevin English, biology teacher at Perrysburg High School, who has known Furlong for 10 years.
“I nominated Bob because he is so dedicated to his profession,” English wrote in an email. “He loves to learn new, innovative ways to teach his students. He isn’t afraid to try new things.
“Bob also shares many of his thoughts and ideas with other teachers,” English continued. “He loves to network and help his colleagues. I have learned a lot from him over the years.”
Furlong and English worked together to develop online biology curriculum as members of an Ohio Department of Education team. Furlong also was a member of the team that wrote the new anatomy and physiological standards for the state.
After the nomination, Furlong had to write an essay, create a video of one of his lessons and explain what the activity was about. For the nomination, he picked a lesson on how a gene can be switched on and off.
He should have received the award at the association’s national conference in Baltimore, Maryland, but was presented it at the Otsego board of education meeting in October.
According to the association’s website, a major portion of the nominee’s career must have been devoted to the teaching of biology/life science, and candidates are judged on their teaching ability and experience, cooperativeness in the school and community, and student-teacher relationships.
“It couldn’t go to a more deserving teacher,” English said. “Otsego is lucky to have him.”
He added that the award is supposed to go to a teacher that promotes biology education within their own building, but also reaches beyond their own classroom walls to help others.
“This is exactly what Bob has done throughout his career. In doing so, Bob’s impact can be felt on many students in Northwest Ohio,” English said.
Furlong, who lives in Perrysburg, does a lot of reading and hiking when he is not teaching. He married his Falcon Flame, Michelle, and they have three children.
Furlong figures he has another 10 years of teaching – his first five years at St. Joe’s don’t count toward retirement as it is a private school.
“As long as I can, even though I might be eligible to retire in nine years, if I still feel like I’m excited about what I’m doing … I would continue to stay and teach,” he said.