Two weeks ago, we showed off our favorite entries in C&EN’s “I Spy a Periodic Table” photo contest. And we gave readers a chance to pick a favorite of their own in an online poll. It was a tight race, but our Readers’ Choice Prize goes to Lauren Langman, who submitted a Twitter photo of her 10-month-old future chemist, Derek.
Langman is a high school chemistry teacher at Montour High School, in Pennsylvania. Not only did she enter the contest, but she also brought the photo contest into her classroom by offering bonus points to any student who tweeted periodic table photos with the #ISpyAPeriodicTable hashtag. Ten students joined in the fun by submitting entries. We interviewed Langman to learn more about what inspires her as a teacher and to glean any wisdom she has to share with other educators. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
How did Derek come to be so CuTe (copper tellurium)?
He has been outfitted in various chemistry-themed onesies since he was born, thanks to my colleagues and my organic chemistry class last year. We love to read Baby Loves Quarks!, Goodnight Lab, and Baby’s Big World: Chemistry and play with his periodic table blocks.
What aspect of the periodic table is your favorite?
I love how everything fits together just like a puzzle. My favorite activity I do with my students each year is an “alien” periodic table. Each element is assigned a mystery letter (for example, hydrogen might be “Q”). Students have to use periodic table trends and element properties to determine which letter represents each element. It always presents a challenge to students, and they get frustrated with it, but they always feel so accomplished when they finally solve the puzzle.
What’s the best part of your job?
I love being able to introduce students to chemistry, get them excited about chemistry, and see how far they go. This year they have had a Mole Day countdown on my whiteboard since Oct. 24 of last year. It’s also always great to hear from former students who chose to pursue a career that somehow incorporates chemistry.
What is your teaching philosophy?
My teaching philosophy is that anyone can learn anything if they try hard enough. Chemistry has a reputation for being a very difficult class. I often hear moans and groans when I tell people I am a chemistry teacher. The first day of school I always tell my students that “the key to chem-is-try.”
What advice do you have for other educators who want to get their students excited about chemistry?
When I have my students complete their midyear and end-of-year surveys, the one thing students tell me over and over again is that my passion and excitement for chemistry is what made the class so great. If you can convey your passion and excitement for the subject, students will catch on and become involved themselves.