During the final week of July 2015, I attended the National ChemEd conference. Because it was located in Kennesaw, Georgia, it was easy for me to participate, but I discovered why people traveled from far and away to attend. This conference was the epitome of professional learning for chemistry teachers, a gathering of like-minded people who assembled for what was likely their last week of summer vacation.
I met several people like myself: people who are somewhat introverted, but who persuade ourselves to be extroverted for the sake of our careers. And for the sake of energizing our students. We oohed and aahed over chemistry demonstrations. We contorted our eyebrows in puzzling confusion during lessons that stretched our minds. We laughed at corny jokes about atoms, moles, and chemical reactions. We talked about stoichiometry and voltaic cells as easily as we discussed what we might eat for lunch. We discovered new experiments, just when we thought we had seen them all. Most significantly, we learned that those of us who teach chemistry LOVE doing what we do.
Teaching chemistry is not easy. First of all, the material is difficult. Even chemistry teachers have to keep learning to understand it from every angle. Secondly, it’s challenging for students. Providing rigorous coursework is great, in theory, but many students resist challenges. SO – part of our job is motivating students to learn. And once we motivate the students, we need to make sure the kids understand the highly conceptual topics. Finally, we need to convince our students of how critical chemistry is, in our personal lives as well as in our society. We need to prepare a sufficient amount of students to take over the ambitious task of doing chemistry and of keeping our communities and our nation competitive, innovative, and strong.
After I attend a conference, I usually end up carrying around a mishmash of colorful handouts and business cards. I carry them for a couple weeks hoping to assimilate my new knowledge and then I end up stuffing them into a drawer. With this blog, I hope to compile the best of the information I gathered instead of keeping it all in the proverbial drawer. Of course, I have the electronic files that were shared by most of the presenters, an invaluable tool that is easy to find when I need it.
Below is a summary of my personal highlights of the ChemEd Conference. Thanks to ALL who contributed and worked hard to deliver original, useful resources for us.
- Ramsey Musallam inspired us to reach students through curiosity, rigor, and a bit of fun. He challenged us to find a way to cross the bridge from teaching into learning. Because teaching can only be “great” if learning takes place, right? See Ramsey in his TED Talk on 3 Rules to Spark Learning.
- With real live Vernier chemists, I did spectroscopy and tested pH, temperature, conductivity, melting point. I learned straight from Jack Randall, writer of the Vernier Lab Manuals that I use. I also spoke with the specialists who answer our desperate phone calls when we stumble and need assistance with our treasured probeware.
- I met a young lady who is passionate about her job. But, she is not a high school chemistry teacher. She is an aeromedical chemist who does technical writing and editing for the US Army. She attended ChemEd to learn activities for their STEM Outreach program in Enterprise, Alabama. She explained to me how helicopter seats are designed and how testing is done on medical equipment used in aircraft. With glee and enthusiasm, she delivered what might ordinarily be drab information. I was fascinated with the passion she must bring to the kids. The summer program that is so highly acclaimed and attended by kids Grades 4-12 is called the GEMS program (Gains in the Education of Mathematics & Science). Army Research Labs from the following states participate in the GEMS program: Alabama, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas. See pics of the cool stuff kid have done in the GEMS program.
- #molympics! I met two educators, Kristin Gregory and Doug Ragan, who get as pumped up about Mole Day as we do at East Coweta High School. Their students compete with each other and with students they have met via the internet. Classes from Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, New Mexico, and Massachusetts competed in 2014. Some of the brilliant events include Stopper Tower, Sponge Squeeze, and the Avogadro Fitness Challenge. I can’t wait to participate with them on October 23, 2015!
- I did not get to participate in the Mole Day Run on Thursday morning, but I’ve always been impressed that most chemists love to exercise. For those who were visiting from out of town, the run provided a reason to exercise outside of the hotel gym and with fellow teachers. I also met members of the National Mole Day Foundation. Pretty cool.
- AP Labs…They are my nemesis. Fortunately, veteran AP Chem teachers Jeff Bracken, Paul Price, and Jesse Bernstein have written lab manuals abundant with user-friendly, manageable, inquiry labs. I can’t wait to start using their resources and providing my students with new experimental adventures.
- Dr. Diana Mason: This spunky lady, no taller than five feet tall, packed a punch with some clever demonstrations that I will definitely be using:
- Tom Kuntzleman showed us why an orange peel pops a balloon. Lemons and limes apparently don’t have the same effect, so that provides for some good lab/inquiry activities. Apparently, the d-limonene in the orange peel dissolves the plastic of the balloon. Hexanes and motor oil will also dissolve the balloon. (l-limonene is found in lemon peel)
- I had the opportunity to work alongside Adrian Dingle on an Acid-Base Half-Titration Lab. I have read Adrian’s work for several years now over the internet, I often use his well-constructed notes in my classroom, and I have participated in his online workshop. My students hear his name on a regular basis when I ask them to “Look at the Mr. Dingle notes.” They have even tweeted at him on occasion. I am fascinated by his ability to accomplish so much. He has written an award-winning book, How To Make a Universe With 92 Ingredients. He is now working on a book project, for which he was awarded a fellowship at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, PA. You can follow his periodic table discovery progress: #dingleelements.
- Learning how to incorporate engineering skills in the chemistry classroom has been one of my goals. Growing up, I heard people vaguely talking about engineers, but nobody ever told me what engineers actually did. My goal is for students to have some engineering experiences during high school so they are better prepared to choose a major in college. Three specific labs I learned about include copperplating, can crushing optimization, and designing a new cool polymer toy. Thanks to Dr. Sarah Boesdorfer for sharing these resources.
- My friend and colleague, Dr. Karen Pompeo, and I presented a session on Modeling with Whiteboards. We explained the idea of visible thinking through particle diagrams, and we explored discussion strategies. Although our colleagues Candice Mohabir and Stefanie Easterwood weren’t with us at the conference, our recent year of teaching as a close-knit team provided us with plenty of experience.
- One of the highlights for Karen was meeting two of her modeling mentors: Larry Dukerich and Erica Posthuma Adams.
- Teachers Kyle Nackers and Micah Porter shared their expertise on “Promoting Scientific Writing in the Chemistry Classroom.” They showed us entertaining writing prompts that provide a basis for scientific reasoning and writing. Deflategate, movie clips, and You Tube snippets provide rich material for writing in the science classroom.
- Dr. Mary Virginia Orna spoke to us about her book, The Chemical History of Color. We learned that, centuries ago, it required 10,000 Murex snails to produce 1 gram of royal purple dye. The 6,6′-dibromoindigo was so valuable that if anyone other than royalty wore the color purple, they risked a death sentence. Dr. Orna has also co-authored The Lost Elements: The Periodic Table’s Shadow Side. In 1999, the ACS awarded her the George C. Pimentel Award, the highest and most prestigious award in chemical education. The highlight of the day for me was when she told me that she had attended my session on whiteboarding and learned from Dr. Pompeo and me. Imagine that! It delighted me that I was able to impart a bit of information to an experienced author and chemist.
- The next time these chemistry teachers will convene in one place is scheduled for the last week of July, 2016, in Greeley, Colorado. If I hope to go, then I will surely be applying for an ACS Professional Development Grant. Dr. Richard Schwenz, of the University of Northern Colorado, will chair the event. Dr. Schwenz was the instructor for my first ever AP Chemistry workshop years ago, so his experience is sure to produce a successful conference. Until I see these wonderful folks again, I will be socializing and communicating through Twitter as @marthavmilam.