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James Bryant Conant Award in High School Chemistry Teaching

by Marc S. Reisch
January 30, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 5

Credit: Jesus (Chuy) Benitez
Roxana Allen, teacher, St. John’s School, Houston
Credit: Jesus (Chuy) Benitez

Sponsored by Thermo Fisher Scientific

Roxana Allen’s colleagues call her a gifted, patient, and talented teacher. Her enthusiasm for chemistry so inspires her students that, for them, learning is not a chore but fun.

Her success in the chemistry classroom stems from her ability to create “a stable compound consisting of exceptional scientific knowledge, motherly patience, high expectations, and a child’s delight with the mysteries of the natural world,” says an educator who knows her well.

Allen, 51, has a knack for finding ways to make science fun. On Halloween, Allen’s students may try to explode a pumpkin filled with acetylene gas. In warmer months, students can be found preparing liquid-nitrogen ice cream or seeing whether they can walk on a mixture of cornstarch and water filling a baby pool in a demonstration of the properties of non-Newtonian fluids.

The enthusiasm she engenders helps her students succeed. Almost all of Allen’s Honors Chemistry I students take the chemistry Advanced Placement exam and score an average of four out of five each year, says a teacher with whom Allen has worked. Her ability to inspire and educate won her a place from 2003 to 2006 as a mentor for the U.S. high school team preparing to compete in the International Chemistry Olympiad.

Allen doesn’t just focus on creating insightful teaching lessons. She is also committed to her own professional development and to the professional development of other chemistry teachers. Allen “is always eager to learn and improve” to better teach her students, a colleague says.

Allen received a B.S. in biochemistry in 1982 from Texas A&M University. She received secondary education certification in 1985 from the University of Texas, Arlington, and an M.S. in chemistry from the University of Houston in 1993.

She first taught from 1985 to 1987 at Midland High School in Midland, Texas. For the next three years, she was a teacher at Ross Sterling High School in Houston. Since 1990, she has taught at St. John’s School in Houston, where she also took on the role of science department chair from 1993 to 1998 and again from 1999 to 2003. Between 1998 and 1999 she was the interim dean of faculty.

Among the awards she has received are the ACS Scholarship Exam Teacher Award in 1999 and 2000, the ACS Greater Houston Section Thomas Aczel Award for Excellence in Chemical Education in 2001, and the ACS Southwest Regional Excellence in High School Chemistry Teaching Award in 2008.

She is a member of the Metropolitan Houston Chemistry Teachers Association and ACS. She has organized chemical education sessions at conferences such as the Southwest Regional ACS Meeting and the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching to support chemistry teachers at these events.

She is a member of numerous professional organizations, including the National Science Teachers Association, Science Teachers Associated of Texas, and Associated Chemistry Teachers of Texas. For the latter group, she served a stint from 2001 to 2008 as president-elect, president, and immediate past-president.

Allen will present the award address before the ACS Division of Chemical Education.


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