Biology, bass, basketball and now a book
Retired Lake Placid teacher, basketball coach Frank Johns authors book for AP level students
SARANAC LAKE — Frank Johns said three passions in his life all begin with the letter “B” and they are all activities he’s been good at. Now you can add another “B” to the Saranac Lake resident’s list of accomplishments.
Johns is an accomplished bass guitar player in the band Double Axel, a group that’s still together and is celebrating its 50th anniversary. He’s had a career as a high school basketball coach that included leading the Lake Placid girls team to a Section VII championship. And when it come to his professional career, Johns spent more than 39 years as a biology teacher before retiring from the Lake Placid Central School District in 2008.
“I don’t know what order it goes in and they all start with B,” Johns said. “You have biology, basketball and bass guitar. I don’t know which one’s first, I don’t know which one is last, but all three of those are my passions.”
A biology major at SUNY Potsdam, Johns first started teaching the subject at the regents level. Then, starting in 1982, he began passing on his knowledge to students taking AP biology. During the past year, Johns has been writing a book, which recently became available on Kindle. The book is rooted in a collection of all the information that Johns has gathered during his long, successful teaching career and it’s designed to help advanced students prepare for biology exams. Johns’ book is titled Biology — A Concise Course Review and Exam Prep: AP Biology and College-Level Biology.
In short, Johns’ new book condenses a 1,190-page biology textbook into 145 pages, and it’s all information he’s put aside during his teaching years that provided valuable study material to students getting ready to take their exams. Johns said whenever some key information stood out in text books he used for class, he’d circle it. And over the years, Johns wrote down all that highlighted material, stored it, and when COVID hit, he decided to turn what he collected into a book.
“Every year I just kept updating,” Johns said. “I just kept putting things away on my computer, on my hard drive and then COVID comes and I was wondering what am I going to do. The band couldn’t play last summer except for a couple of things outside, so in July, I hunkered down and got to work.
“I had to come up with a format, and I started thinking the way science people think,”Johns continued. “Science people think in fragments. You don’t think in sentences. For example, DNA is a double helix. And I decided that’s how I’m going to write the book. It’s in fragments.”
Johns certainly had plenty of help putting the book together. He said his eye doctor, Dr. Winter, provided him with inspiration to write it, and when it came to the editing process, band mate Alex Vangellow and longtime friend, fraternity brother and biology teacher Brian Pelkey took on major roles in creating the final product.
In fact, Pelkey, who is a 1968 Saranac Lake High School graduate and athletic hall of fame member, was an early mentor to Johns when he first became a teacher.
“In 1982 when I got the job doing AP, I didn’t know much and realized I have to find out how to do this. I have a class coming in and it’s going to be really hard and I thought of ‘Pelk,'” Johns recalled. “He taught AP biology at Potsdam High. He was a brilliant guy. He gave me everything he had. I went back to the school and copied everything he did, so I had an outline of how to do the course.”
Although Johns said he was originally geared toward doing biology laboratory work, he was more interested in dealing with people, which led to his teaching career, which he described as “incredibly rewarding.”
“I have records of every single student I had,” Johns said. “I must have 35 students with perfect 100s over the years, and 98s and 99s. But what’s satisfying now more than anything is I have students who are doctors. I know three off hand. And then I have EMTs. I go up in the hospital and people say ‘Hello Mr. Johns.’ I say ‘Hi, who are you?’ ‘Don’t you remember you were my biology teacher?’ Some people I taught, now a lot of them are retiring.”
Johns said the pandemic prompted him to write his book, and said he doesn’t plan on doing another one.
“I just did this for the satisfaction of it,” he said. “If anybody uses the book and gets a better grade, I’m happy. I had many, many bright students. My kids were nailing the SATs. I had kids getting 800s, 750s, 760s, and I loved seeing that.
“When it comes to smarts, I’m in the middle somewhere,” he added. “I’m not this brilliant guy. I just check stuff out in a logical order so I can teach it and understand it better. I taught on the level of my students. This book is built for a 101 college class. If you’re taking your first biology class in college, this is great.”