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October 30, 2011
by: Dollie Cromwell

Karen Robison, Science Teacher

“Knowing is good, but knowing and acting is better,” according to Karen Robison, who teaches biology, honors human anatomy and physiology, and chemistry at IDEAS.

“We can’t really succeed in education until we can change the way people act - what they buy, what they value and protect, how they make decisions,” continued Karen, who also works with an advisory group and has a project block at IDEAS.     

Karen says she admires Rachel Carson and Wangari Maathai because they are both environmental activists who have changed the way she addresses education.  She says she believes Jonas Saulk was one of the greatest scientists of all times, not only because of his brilliance and dedication but also because he trusted his creative side.

“He used dreams and intuition to lead him to the technical development of the polio vaccine,” she said. “My favorite scientists were also artists and found value in imagination; (they) trusted both hemispheres.”

Karen, 55, has been with the Sheboygan Area School District since 1993, when she started teaching at South High School. She taught a wide variety of classes before settling into botany, which she taught from 1995 until 2009. She was one of the founding teachers at Etude High School and also taught online for Warriner Middle School for two years.

A 1974 graduate of South, Karen pursued professional theater training for three years at UW-Milwaukee and took all of her electives in plant genetics. She ended up working as a civil engineering survey crew chief.

“I traveled about the Midwest and Wyoming dooming breath-taking natural landscapes to become uranium mines, pipeline corridors, landfills, and electrical easements,” explained Karen, who holds the dubious distinction of having been to every solid waste landfill in Wisconsin.

“After that soul-searching experience, I started a landscape, restoration, design and maintenance company, Creative Landscape, and ran that for 13 years,” she said. “I spent so much time traveling and speaking about native plants and habitat restoration that I went to Lakeland College to finish my biology degree and get a secondary education degree as well.”

In addition, Karen received a master’s degree in education from the National Louis University  - Sheboygan Cohort in 2004. Her thesis was on transforming large comprehensive high schools into small learning communities based on students’ interests in the arts and sciences.

“I used my experience at South and the growth I enjoyed personally and with students when I changed to inquiry methods of teaching,” shared Karen, who has witnessed the importance of helping students learn in creative ways versus ensuring they can fill in the correct box on a multiple choice test.

Karen and her husband, Patrick, a ceramic artist, own Two Fish Gallery, Garden and School in Elkhart Lake. She has two sons. Konrad Koehler, 27, is an independent contractor in Mendocino County, California, where he raises heritage pigs and gardens when he isn’t surfing. Karl  Koehler, 30, is an independent landscape contractor in Sheboygan.

In her free time, Karen enjoys gardening and cooking.

“I have no lawn, just a sculpture garden full of dramatic perennials, grasses and heirloom vegetables,” she noted. “I also make raku pieces, handmade sculptural books, and a line of jewelry based on found objects for the gallery.”

Her cooking emphasizes vegetarian meals. “My Etude ecology class got me started on ‘Vegetarian Wednesdays,’ experimenting with inexpensive but delicious recipes for the high school palate.”

Karen said John Michael Kohler Arts Center is one of her passions. “I spend as much time there as possible. It is a community treasure and a vital resource for my students.”

As a life sciences instructor, Karen enjoys helping her students explore various perspectives.

“We are making short-term, short-gain decisions on everything from whether looking cool smoking today is more important than living a long and healthy life to whether making a cheaper cell phone is more important than a population of endangered gorillas in Africa,” Karen lamented. “America’s short-term vision is reinforced with educational methods that emphasize convergent, one-right-answer thinking. Life sciences at IDEAS take a more problem-solving, divergent thinking tack to not only learn about scientific thinking and scientific issues, but to explore multiple perspectives.”

“Great joy lies in the amazing diversity of life and the patterns that repeat throughout all fields of science,” she emphasized. “Students who learn to identify and form patterns can understand and apply science, not just spit out the one right answer.”  

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