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James Bryant Conant Award In High School Chemistry Teaching

Sponsored by Thermo Fisher Scientific

by Marc S. Reisch
January 17, 2011 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 89, ISSUE 3

Credit: Sandra A. Bernstein
Credit: Sandra A. Bernstein

Master teacher, champion of demonstrations, and teacher of teachers are how colleagues describe Jesse D. Bernstein for his accomplishments as a high school chemistry teacher.

Currently the science department chair at Miami Country Day School, in Florida, Bernstein taught at Hawken School in Gates Mills, Ohio, from 1974 to 2007. At Hawken and Miami he developed exceptional programs for his students, which he still uses today. Among them are laboratory curricula and manuals that he wrote and shared with other teachers. His latest is an Advanced Placement manual he wrote while at Miami. He has also developed courses in areas such as forensic chemistry that went beyond the familiar high school syllabus.

Bernstein has designed hands-on activities for primary school students, as well. These programs, which relate chemistry to life experiences, were given at libraries and science museums.

“He does not focus on preparing students to take tests, which is a current trend in high school teaching,” one colleague says. “Instead he helps students become well educated in chemical sciences, confident that such students will do well” on the tests. In fact, 29 of his students at Hawken School were ACS Chemistry Olympiad study camp participants.

One teacher at Hawken School notes that Bernstein’s teaching emphasizes the experimental skills of careful observation and measurement. “He liberated the lab experience for his students from the tedium of old-fashioned cookbook chemistry through the use of original forensic and inquiry-based formats,” the teacher says.

He has passed on these skills to colleagues by presenting workshops, some in association with Flinn Scientific, a supplier of laboratory resources for chemical education. His Flinn-sponsored weeklong summer workshops for chemistry teachers have been filled to capacity. He has also given summer workshops at the International ChemEd Conference for high school and college teachers since 2001 and at ACS’s Biennial Conference on Chemical Education in 2010.

“I have personally observed Jesse working with teachers whose science backgrounds are weaker,” another colleague says, “and I have been impressed with his unending patience as he carefully explains the goal of the lab activity.”

Bernstein received a B.A. degree from the State University of New York, Buffalo, in 1968, where nearly half of his credits came from chemistry classes. He also received a chemistry Ph.D. in 1973 from SUNY Buffalo, where his work involved reactions of secondary and tertiary amines with dimethylalane to determine the molecularity of compounds such as H(CH3)2AlN(CH3)3. Before joining Hawken School, he did postdoctoral work at Kent State University for a year to find a nontoxic metal catalyst for oxidative polymerizations.

He was a board member of the Cleveland Regional Council of Science Teachers from 1983 to 1989, chairman of the ACS Cleveland Section’s High School Affairs Committee from 1984 to 1998, and consultant for the Case Western Reserve University enhancement program for Cleveland high school teachers from 2004 to 2007. He also was named the ACS Central Region’s Outstanding High School Teacher in 2004 and received the Technical Educator Award in 2007 from the Cleveland Technical Societies Council.

Bernstein will deliver the award address before the Division of Chemical Education.



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