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A Home For K–12 Chemistry Teachers

by A. Maureen Rouhi
September 16, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 37

The U.S. does not have an organization for kindergarten through 12th-grade chemistry teachers, the professionals who formally introduce the discipline to the country’s youngest citizens. In Indianapolis, the American Chemical Society Board of Directors decided to address this enormous need by approving the creation of the National Association of Chemistry Teachers (NACT) as a program administered by the ACS Education Division.

“NACT will support K–12 teachers of chemistry by providing a professional home through which teachers have access to specialized resources and the broader ACS community,” says ACS Education Division Director Mary Kirchhoff. Although ACS has a long history of supporting K–12 teachers, surveys show that K–12 chemistry teachers do not see ACS membership as currently meeting their unique needs, she explains.

K–12 teachers need trusted curricular and pedagogical resources to teach students, professional development opportunities, and networking venues to share experiences and best practices. NACT will enable K–12 chemistry teachers to get what they need through ACS for an annual fee of $50. NACT members will have benefits distinct from those of ACS members.

I learned about the NACT proposal in Indianapolis at the open meeting of the ACS Budget & Finance Committee (B&F), which any ACS member can attend. Statements by two eloquent chemistry teachers were powerfully persuasive.

Shelly Belleau teaches high school chemistry and physics at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Denver. She has a B.S. degree in biochemistry and a master’s degree in education, curriculum, and instruction. “I thought I was prepared to teach chemistry,” she said. “Despite my ideal preparation, I was thrown into a nonideal teaching situation. I was the only chemistry teacher in the school. In an old building, I inherited old chemicals, outdated lab equipment, and gas lines that another teacher warned I should use at my own risk.”

Lacking resources, she had to take much time from teaching to turn around the nonideal teaching situation. “We need a professional organization that recognizes the unique aspects of the discipline,” she said. “Who would be more qualified to lead this effort than the American Chemical Society?”

Jessica C. Levine teaches science at Eckstein Middle School in Seattle. She majored in biology at Oberlin College, with minors in chemistry and environmental studies. Like Belleau, she has a master’s in education, curriculum, and instruction. She invited committee members to recall their first experience with the periodic table. “Who taught you to decode it, to really understand it, to use it?” she asked. “You needed a teacher to teach you how to read the foundation of your career,” she said. NACT aims to reach teachers “who need solid foundational chemistry content to match their otherwise inspirational pedagogy. If they don’t speak chemistry, their students can’t speak chemistry.”

The proposal evolved from the findings of a Board-Presidential Task Force on Education. Constituted in 2009, this panel’s goal was to “identify a unique role” for ACS in transforming U.S. science education. It recommended exploring the feasibility of creating a high school teachers organization, Kirchhoff says. When ACS staff surveyed more than 17,000 high school chemistry teachers in 2010, 59% of respondents said they would strongly consider joining an organization for chemistry teachers. Before reaching B&F to request funding, the NACT proposal had been unanimously supported by the Society Committee on Education (SOCED) and the Division of Chemical Education, Kirchhoff says.

“I am gratified by the decision of the ACS Board of Directors to create NACT,” says SOCED Chair Andrew D. Jorgensen, who presented the funding request for the new program. “We are excited about planning the birth of this new organization, which has the potential to help so many teachers as they guide the next generation of college chemistry students, professional chemists, and educated citizens.”

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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