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AACT’s Science Coaches program celebrates 10 years of connecting chemists with teachers

Nothing can slow down these driven partners—not even the coronavirus pandemic

by Linda Wang
June 13, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 23


Photo of Daneille Garrett giving a science lesson via video.
Credit: Courtesy of Danielle Garrett
Danielle Garrett of Belmont University explains states of matter, phase transitions, and heat transfer during a video she recorded for Ellen Deathridge's fourth grade class during the pandemic.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down K–12 schools across the US this past March, Danielle Garrett, an associate professor of chemistry education at Belmont University, and Ellen Deathridge, a fourth-grade teacher at Donelson Christian Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, had to figure out how they would continue working together to provide Deathridge’s students with enriching science lessons—albeit in a virtual environment.

They came up with the idea for Garrett to film a 45 min science lesson for Deathridge’s class, where Garrett performed various science demonstrations, such as comparing the speed at which ice cubes melt when placed on different materials, such as copper, polypropylene, oak, and steel.

Garrett and Deathridge are no strangers to quick thinking and adapting to the situation at hand. The chemistry professor and elementary school teacher have been working together on science lessons for the past 6 years as part of the Science Coaches program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

“Just because we can’t be together in the classroom, doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with science,” Garrett says at the beginning of the science lesson she filmed.

Science Coaches is an educational outreach initiative organized jointly by the American Chemical Society and the American Association of Chemistry Teachers. The program pairs chemists with AACT teacher members in elementary, middle, and high schools to enhance the science experience in the classroom.

The ACS Science Coaches program started as an idea of the ACS Board-Presidential Task Force on Education, which was created in 2008 to identify a unique role for ACS in transforming education in the US. Science Coaches launched in 2010 as a pilot program with 32 volunteer coaches. This past academic year, the program had 250 science coaches. ACS donates $500 to each participating teacher’s school to enhance the classroom experience. Or, teachers can opt to receive a $550 gift certificate from Flinn Scientific to purchase supplies.

Richard Dallinger, professor emeritus of chemistry at Wabash College, also had to pivot when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Working with high school chemistry teacher Thia Dugger at Mason County Central High School in Scottville, Michigan, the pair have transitioned a new chemistry elective course they had developed for the spring semester to a virtual format, which they held online in Google Classroom.

“Thia and I have continued to work together frequently through the school shutdown,” says Dallinger. “In a small town/rural school, student access to high speed internet at home is not universal. I helped generate weekly short lessons for subjects like gas laws, solution chemistry, thermodynamics, kinetics, and equilibrium. Thia has combined these lessons with online content and problems from the textbook. I have also tried to contribute timely things from the news. Thia and I believe that we have provided the students with a good introduction to some complex chemistry topics and that we will have a jump start on the hopefully live version of the class next spring.”

Dugger says that having a scientist like Dallinger assist her in teaching chemistry has been invaluable. “I had been teaching for a number of years, but I hadn’t been teaching chemistry, so I was sort of getting up to speed, and it’s just been invaluable to have Rich’s input on what I need to focus on,” Dugger says.

In fact, these partnerships have been mutually beneficial for both the teacher and the coach. Bowling Green State University graduate student Travis Green and high school chemistry teacher Lauren Stewart have been working together at Sylvania Northview High School for the past two years. Green has been working with Stewart’s freshmen students to build insulators and test them using the infrared cameras from Green’s lab. “It’s helped me a lot with thinking about teaching down to the basics,” says Green. “I use it as professional development experience on my résumé.”

Industrial chemist Kin-Chun Luk and high school chemistry teacher Allison Sarfati have been working together at James Madison High School in Virginia. “At my school there’s a push to do deeper real-world learning, and Kin has really helped me create experiences for students that model those of a chemist. Since I have never worked as a chemist, it’s hard sometimes to create those authentic experiences,” Sarfati says.

“I am hoping that by volunteering in this program, I can contribute to get more of the future generation interested in science, especially in chemistry,” says Luk.

Garrett echoes this sentiment. “It excites me so much to see the students excited about science,” she says. “If one or two of these experiences they can remember and if that fuels their interest a little bit more for science, then to me that’s a win.”

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