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Hoffman Honored for Chemical Education Efforts

by Amanda Yarnell
December 12, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 50

Credit: Photo By Amanda Yarnell
Credit: Photo By Amanda Yarnell

Morton Z. Hoffman, a longtime professor of chemistry at Boston University and chair of the ACS Division of Chemical Education, received the ACS Northeastern Section's 2005 James Flack Norris Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Teaching of Chemistry. One of the oldest ACS awards, the Norris Award is given annually to recognize dedicated chemistry educators at all levels.

Hoffman received the Norris Award, which consists of a citation and a $3,000 honorarium, at a dinner held in his honor last month. In his award address, Hoffman credited his lifetime romance with the theater for improving his teaching style. A much-loved teacher in Boston University's chemistry department, Hoffman founded the Center for Teaching Excellence in the university's College of Liberal Arts in order to promote and support exemplary teaching in all areas, including science.

More recently, Hoffman has helped to develop innovative techniques for teaching general chemistry. He has been one of the pioneers in the use of peer-led team learning in moderate-sized classes. At the dinner, he demonstrated the power of this teaching tool by asking section members to break into small groups and estimate the number of gallons of gasoline consumed in the U.S. each year. Student leaders, who had been trained to lead small groups in Boston University's honors-level general chemistry course, led the spirited discussion at each table. A number of groups came up with a number close to the correct 200 billion-gal answer. But more important, Hoffman emphasized, the crowdwhich turned from hushed and subdued to noisy and animated during the exercisewas engaged with the problem. "The key to teaching is engagementengage their minds, engage their imagination, engage their souls," he explained.Amanda Yarnell


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