Jim Kelly joined the science faculty with the mission to design a biology program to match the other curricular areas, and more specifically the PACE chemistry program. During his first year at the Lab School, he was assigned to teach only chemistry sections in order to become familiar with the processes that were being used by Wengert to develop such a program.
A further wrinkle figured in Kelly’s hire. The Lab School Science Department was making another major shift in science protocol; namely, to offer chemistry before biology so that elements of biochemistry could be employed in the biology curriculum. In most schools, biology courses preceded chemistry. The faculty felt that the optimum order of science study should be earth and physical science, chemistry, and biology, with advanced physics offered during the senior year. In most schools, physics is delayed to the last course simply because the mathematics required generally were not taught until the later high school years.
Paralleling Wengert’s chemistry program, Kelly developed SPBE or Self-Pacing Biology Experiences. Kelly invited Dr. Alan Orr, a professor from the university’s Biology Department, to collaborate with him in creating the self-paced, packet modules. Like Wengert, Kelly field-tested his Self-pacing Biology Experiences in schools throughout the state. Those students who participated in the development of these curricula were given pre- and post-exams over the content. The exams were standardized so the data could be compared to state and national norms. More than 5,000 students worked through Wengert’s chemistry and Kelly’s and Orr’s biology modules enabling the authors to fine-tune and create effective projects. The testing showed that sophomores could handle the chemistry curriculum and that biology students with a greater background in biochemistry could out-perform the BSCS curricular programs. At the Lab School, all students took both courses as a part of their high school studies. Having 100 percent of a class study chemistry was unheard of in U.S. science education, but the self-pacing model enabled every student to participate and advance.
In 1975, Kelly was named Iowa Biology Teacher of the Year. In 1980, Iowa State University Press published his SPBE, Self-Pacing Biology Experiences, along with its separate Teacher’s Resource Manual. In 1982, Kelly’s book The Successful Teacher: Essays in Secondary School Teaching appeared, and he followed it in 1985 with The Successful Elementary Teacher, co-authored with his wife, Mary Jean Kelly. In 1983, Kelly collaborated with UNI professor Dr. John C. Downey in an article for Bioscience on “Biological Illustration: Techniques and Exercises.”
During Kelly’s tenure advanced courses began to become a part of the Lab School science curricula. Qualitative Analysis, Biochemistry, Advanced Anatomy, Biological Illustration and Medical Terminology were all courses offered on a regular basis to students. Not all were chosen any given semester, but the students were able to select from this menu as they saw fit. Each course was designed for independent study. All this work led to Kelly’s 1989 book Biology: A Personalized Approach.
Kelly moved from the Lab School in 1990 to become a coordinator of student teachers. However, he continued his aid to high school science programs. In 1995 and 1996, he helped several Iowa high schools update their science programs, and in 2009, he collaborated with former Lab School teacher Dr. John E. Henning and Dr. Jody M. Stone of the Lab School science faculty on Using Action Research to Improve Instruction: An Interactive Guide for Teaching—a volume translated into Chinese.
Kelly’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Nebraska prepared him for his work. It focused on The Role of the Laboratory School As Perceived by Laboratory School Faculty, Directors of Laboratory Schools, & Selected Non-Laboratory School Administrators.