Teaching chemistry doesn’t need to be an experiment | February 20, 2017 Issue - Vol. 95 Issue 8 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 95 Issue 8 | p. 33 | ACS Comments
Issue Date: February 20, 2017

Teaching chemistry doesn’t need to be an experiment

By Scott Hawkins, President, American Association of Chemistry Teachers
Department: ACS News
Keywords: comment, ACS News, policy
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Scott Hawkins
Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN
Photo of Scott Hawkins.
 
Scott Hawkins
Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN

As a young teacher, I was lucky to have peers whom I could lean on and learn from, and I figured out a lot through trial and error.

I’ve come a long way in my 20-plus years of teaching high school chemistry. I’ve tweaked my demonstrations and activities many times over, I have materials storage and cleanup down to a science of its own, and I’m pretty good at anticipating what my students might misunderstand or what could go wrong in a lab.

Thanks to the launch of the American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT) by the American Chemical Society a few years ago, I now have the opportunity to share the understanding I (and many others) have developed over the years with teachers who are just as eager to improve their practice and serve their students as I was 20 years ago. I believe we’re closer than ever to creating an environment where all teachers of chemistry can learn from one another and sharpen their skills quickly.

As president of AACT, I think the most important thing our organization can provide is professional development for teachers, with a special emphasis on safety. I believe high-quality, safety-oriented training is an important component in lowering the barriers to excellent chemistry education for all. My hope is that, through membership in AACT and active participation in all we have to offer, any teacher of chemistry can become an excellent teacher of chemistry regardless of years of experience.

AACT currently offers teacher training through three major channels: webinars, in-person professional development sessions, and the Science Coaches program. AACT offers at least 17 webinars every school year on topics ranging from technology integration to AP exam preparation. We offer on-site professional development at events such as the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education, hosted by the Division of Chemical Education, and the biennial ChemEd conference.

I think the most important thing our organization can provide is professional development for teachers, with a special emphasis on safety.

We also provide a unique opportunity, through the Science Coaches program, for our members to connect with chemists in their local area who can serve as partners in conducting laboratory investigations, managing stockrooms, developing content background, and other support activities.

In addition to the typical challenges of any teaching job—planning meaningful lessons, measuring progress, and managing a classroom, just to name a few—teaching chemistry comes with its own unique set of demands. In order to teach our subject in the real-world, hands-on way we know is most effective, teachers of chemistry must provide opportunities for their students to participate in laboratory investigations. A job teaching chemistry often includes responsibility for a closet full of chemicals, glassware, and Bunsen burners to be used by rooms full of teenagers.

It can take years for a new teacher, like I once was, to figure out what to do to keep a laboratory space safe, clean, and organized and to keep every student safe at all times. That is why I am particularly proud of our offerings on lab safety. Through articles in Chemistry Solutions, webinars, and presentations at ACS national meetings, we’ve shared safety best practices. We run a social media campaign called Safety Tuesdays, and we’ve done hands-on safety training for teachers at the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education.

Last spring, we partnered with ACS ChemClubs to get 200 teachers to pledge over 1,000 hours of end-of-the-year chemical supply cleanup. We also readily connect AACT members with ACS safety resources, such as the recently released “Guidelines for Chemical Laboratory Safety in Secondary Schools,” produced by the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety. You can read more about AACT and safety on our website at teachchemistry.org/safety.

By training teachers on the very best safety practices, we are helping protect students physically, as well as protecting the future of chemistry education. It is essential that teachers of chemistry inspire confidence in students, parents, and administrators that chemistry can be taught safely and effectively through hands-on, interactive investigations.

We know that chemistry taught through books and lectures alone is less likely to motivate students to pursue further education and future careers in the field. I am so proud of the safety guidance and resources provided by AACT because we are supporting teachers as they provide meaningful and practical experiences to the world’s next generation of chemists.

I am thrilled that AACT has been able to reach over 4,000 members, and that number is growing every day. With our three-part focus on resources, networking, and professional development, I believe we’re well on our way to building an organization that will allow every teacher of chemistry to not only survive the first few years in the classroom but also thrive and eventually become an experienced, connected, veteran teacher, ready to mentor a new generation of teachers and inspire the next generation of scientists.

If you, too, are encouraged by the work we are doing and would like to get involved, we’d love to hear from you. You can volunteer with the Science Coaches program at www.acs.org/sciencecoaches. Or you can sponsor a teacher’s membership in AACT at teachchemistry.org/sponsor. If you have other ideas or would like to become involved, you can reach us at teachchemistry.org/contact.

 
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