ChemEd2015: The ULTIMATE Collaborative for Chemistry Teachers Across the Nation


Dr. Karen Pompeo and Me

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.
    2015-07-29 13.17.23
  • 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!


    The Trophy Awarded to the Winners of Mole Day #molympics

  • 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:
    • 1) Distillation of a Soft Drink ( – link requires AACT membership)
    • 2) Salting out an Ethanol and Water Mixture
      Distillation Pic1

      Distillation Setup: 50 ml soda, rubber stopper, 50 ml beaker, foil, ice

      Distillation Pic2

      Distillation Setup: This apparatus will sit on a hot plate to start the separation process. Foil is in a pointy cone shape (upside down).

      Salting of Ethanol Solution

      Salting of Ethanol Solution is a great Warmup Activity – Group H has to find their “match”…the solution that looks just about the same as theirs.

      Salting Out EtOH InstructionsDistillation of a Soda Instructions

  • 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. Embedded image permalink
  • 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.
Waste Containers

KSU Chemical Waste Containers. Found in each Lab Room.


Collection of Particle Diagrams for Acid-Base Half-Titration Lab. There may be some mistakes, but as always, these provide a basis for discussion.

Confronting the CHEATING Epidemic. Part TWO: Staying the Course

When I wrote “Confronting the CHEATING Epidemic. Part ONE: Starting the Conversation,” I was frustrated and disappointed. I had just sent home a letter to all of my students’ families. (See the letter in the Part ONE blog).

Since that time, I have been talking openly with my students about cheating. I have also moderated a Twitter Chat with my colleagues: @CowetaEducatorChat #CowetaEdChat. The chat is archived and can be found at: (Thanks, Rainy Johnson!)

After digesting the information I have collected, I can share SIX POINTS that will reduce the cheating that takes place in our classrooms.

1) TALK ABOUT CHEATING. Once you meet your students, at the beginning of the semester or the school year, you need to start a conversation about cheating. It may seem negative, but it is necessary. It is like practicing fire alarms and code yellow drills. My instinct is NOT to talk about the negative issues, but GOOD teachers must address BAD things if it is something that will promote safety or ethical behavior. That is our job.

2) USE PRACTICAL PROCEDURES. Use different test versions. Separate kids during testing and have them use cover sheets/dividers. Have students write their names on the tests, even when it is a class set. (If they have a “B” test, you can verify that and they can’t claim to have had an “A” test, the same version as their neighbor.) For research papers, there are apps and programs available to check for plagiarism. Have students do their writing in class so you can monitor them. Take their phones away during testing. Talk to your teacher friends about what they do – we have come up with ways to stop the clever tactics.

3) USE PREVENTATIVE MEASURES. Offer some tests or assignments in which students are allowed to work together or use their notes and textbooks. Many times, we don’t consider how valuable it is for students to work with a partner on a test because they TALK about the material when it is a test grade. Some SERIOUS learning often takes place during a partner test. Many students, unfortunately, won’t crack open their notes unless it is an OPEN-NOTE test or quiz. Again, serious learning often takes place during an open-note quiz.

4) EVALUATE HOW YOU SET UP THE GRADEBOOK. Giving plenty of formative assessment before a big summative assessment takes the pressure off of the BIG test. Having plenty of grades in the gradebook allows students to have some low grades and remove the fear of one bad score tanking the grade. Also, allow students to correct bad grades. If they miss questions on a test, have them reevaluate those questions and explain what they did wrong OR explain how to find the right answers. This process is not only valuable in repairing bad grades but (more importantly) helps students achieve mastery of content.

5) STAY VIGILANT. Students will always need supervision. No matter how much we want to trust each one of our students, we need to watch them. THEY need to know that we are watching…because they need to know how important it is for them to stay honest. Eventually you will find someone who isn’t follow the honor code, and you will confront the issue. Not allowing dishonesty and confronting the situation sets the expectations for your students that cheating is not allowed in any manner.

6) KEEP TALKING. Keep having open and casual conversations about cheating. Have conversations about how they could do an assignment without cheating and still maintain their grades. Many times, cheating is a result of feeling overwhelmed or due to a lack of confidence. Often, students cheat because they assume their friends know more than they do, and they may copy someone’s wrong answers. Assuring students that they are capable of doing well is part of the conversation.

Listen carefully. Kids need to feel open enough to tell you about things they are doing in other classes; they will let down their guard and tell you WHY they are doing these things. Don’t be too judgmental or too harsh. They need to feel SAFE enough to talk, and they need to feel like you CARE as you explain to them how to be their most honest selves.

Confronting the CHEATING Epidemic. Part ONE: Starting the Conversation

Collaborative Educators, including myself, like to focus energy on the positive, joyful aspects of teaching and learning. And there are so many exciting adventures in which we can immerse ourselves. Teachers do get discouraged, however, and instead of ignoring the negative, we must decide to fix what’s wrong. So, we need to address and analyze what’s wrong. That doesn’t sound fun, especially now as April moves quickly on toward May, and teachers, I mean students, get antsy for summer vacation.

I have confronted cheating incidents in my classroom, and it is never pleasant. I continuously monitor students for cheating, of course, so I have to think about it regularly. I don’t like thinking about negative things, but I must.  Cheating makes me angry, and when I am angry I am not as compassionate and optimistic as I would like to be. My anger affects my students’ attitudes as well as my own mindset. Instead of dwelling in this anger and frustration, I realize it is time to take action. Yes – Take Action.

The first step requires that we have a conversation about cheating. Cheating is ugly, and talking about cheating is even uglier. It is ugly because we have to speak to people about the fact that they, their friends, or even their children, have been dishonest and untruthful. We are not talking about making bad grades; that’s an easy conversation. We are claiming that our students are damaging their own character and reputation. We are implying that their morals and values are low or wrong. We have to look people in the eye and tell them something that hurts, and then we must watch their reaction as they process the ugly truth.

I have written a letter to send home to my students’ parents. I will discuss the issue thoroughly with my students, of course, but their families need to be aware of the impact of cheating, so the communication is vital to changing things.

BELOW is the LETTER for my students and their families. Let me know what you think. In my next post I will address simple ways to prevent cheating….


Cheating: Its Growth & Impact on Education

Cheating has become a “normal” part of life for many students. Cheating can have serious consequences and can damage character, reputation, and self-worth. As evidenced in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) cheating scandal, cheating can become a group effort, it can become a way of doing things, and it can seem acceptable because “everyone” is doing it. The cheaters in the APS scandal are now facing up to 20 years of jail time for something they thought was “okay” at the time they were committing the crime.

Teachers know that cheating is common, and even though a student might not get “caught”, and the teacher may not have full proof of student actions, teachers are generally aware of intentions. Just because the teacher does not “accuse” you of cheating or speak to you about it does not mean it is acceptable. Cheating has become common enough that there is a way to notify parents of student cheating in Infinite Campus.

There are many forms of cheating. Some of the most common include:

  • Taking photos of your work and sending it to others electronically
  • Looking at photos of other students’ work
  • Taking photos of the teacher’s answer keys or teacher’s book
  • Finding the assignment online and using it to “check” your answers
  • Texting other people answers (or any form of electronic communication)
  • Using a paper cheat sheet (this is fairly outdated but still exists in some 21st Century classrooms)
  • Having helpful hints written on the desk or your hand
  • Whispering among your classmates to make sure you understand the question
  • Writing that you have a test version “A” when you really have a test version “B” (the version that your neighbor / classmate has)
  • Copying and pasting another student’s work
  • Copying and pasting any information from the internet or an electronic document
  • Allowing people to look at your quiz or test
  • Copying other students’ paper from the turn-in bin / basket
  • Copying other students’ paper before classmates turn it in.
    (Discussing an assignment or teaching someone before it is turned in may be acceptable if it is not a quiz or test. It depends on the instructions, and the teacher should make it clear if you are allowed to discuss it.)
  • Saving work from one semester to give or sell to students in the following semester.
  • Saving work from one block to give or sell to students in the following block.
  • Looking at another student’s paper and copying their work.
  • Allowing another student to look at your paper to copy your work.
  • Allowing another student to use your work in any of the situations listed above

If a teacher finds that you have participated in any of these actions, you will receive a zero for the assignment.

Cheating is actually devaluing your education. Because of cheating, teachers need to spend more time creating new projects & assignments, conferencing with parents, assigning zeros and then working with students who are upset they got zeros.

Teachers, therefore, spend less time creating new, exciting lessons and writing grants to purchase cool new equipment for the classroom. Their positive energy is diminished and replaced with negative attitudes toward the population of students who are cheating. Disappointed teachers may teach less effectively to the entire class based on the actions of the cheating students.

Government and private enterprise (business) employers are now seeing the result of student cheating. They have voiced complaints that young employees do not learn and comprehend well. Many students are less capable of retaining information because they simply are not developing their study skills.

What are your views on cheating? (don’t answer on paper….this is just something to think about)
a) Do you cheat occasionally?
b) Do you cheat only if you didn’t have time to study?

  1. Do you think cheating is okay?
  2. Do you not consider some of the points listed on the previous page to be cheating?
  3. Do you think that cheating is okay if someone is copying your work? (i.e., you are just sharing)
  4. Do you think cheating is okay if the teacher doesn’t catch you?
  5. Are you bored with this document because it is wasting valuable cheating time?
  6. Do you feel bad that you have cheated?
  7. Do you think cheating is okay because your family expects you to make good grades?

We need to STOP the cheating cycle. The purpose of your education is for you to LEARN, to analyze, to process information, and to create quality work. Students and teachers need to work together to increase the value of YOUR education.

If you see cheating, let your teacher know. Your name will not be revealed…it’s all confidential.

You need to choose not to cheat from this point forward. If you have never cheated, WAY TO GO!!!! You are the kind of student that makes it great to teach young people in America!

If you have participated in cheating, and you decide that you think it is the wrong thing to do, then simply make the decision NOT to cheat from this point forward. Teachers will really appreciate this commitment from you because it reflects strong character and a trustworthy reputation.

Honestly yours,

Mrs. Milam

SCIENCE OLYMPIAD: The Greatest K12 Science & Engineering Competition in the USA

A Presentation for the March 2015 West Georgia RESA STEM Conference

See THE PRESENTATION: SCIENCE Olympiad Presentation

Animoto Photo Collage:

Science Olympiad Video: A Student’s Perspective (A Must-See!)

Just a few sample slides from the presentation:

Featured Imagegasicsevetsbridgeearth    get started proteingold

Day Eight: My Desk Drawer – my battle with purple pens & how I plan to win the war with the pen!

What’s in my desk drawer? Lots of pens, pencils, highlighters, erasers & whiteout. I use purple Bic pens for grading, and there is always an unbalanced distribution of those pens in my life. I keep the purple pens in one of these places: my car, my kitchen, my purse, my briefcase, behind my ear, and in my desk drawer at school.  Today I reached into my purse and found four purple pens. I don’t need four purple pens in my purse. I have to redistribute them tomorrow. Mondays are always busy, and the redistribution of pens isn’t important enough to make it to my “to do” list, but if I don’t do it, I will feel scattered. That is an example of why Mondays are “Mondays”. Reorganizing the little things requires time and distracts from the higher priority issues.

Tomorrow I am going to start using and I am really looking forward to it. It is an online quizzing tool for my students that will require less usage of pens. is another tool I plan to implement this week – designed for fewer pens and more online grading. I will report later on how those are working for me. Thanks to my colleague Matt East for introducing these to me. He works on the other side of campus, but we communicate often through Twitter, my favorite social media tool.

One quick note: I am slowing down on my blogging. I plan to continue my 30 day challenge, but it will take me longer than 30 days to write 30 posts. Yes – I am differentiating from many of you by going at a slower pace than I originally anticipated. I have gotten behind on grading, planning, and family time. I love the reflection, but I have to do some actual/real work so that I can find material to reflect on! Thanks to those of you who are reading, and Blog Day 9 will be coming one day soon….

Day Six: Two Traits of a Good Mentor

There are two traits required for Effective Mentorship:

1) Close physical proximity and an open door policy...
The only time I was a good mentor was when I worked directly across the hall from my mentee. Since she didn’t know what she needed help with until the moment it needed to happen, she had to be able to ask questions and get quick answers. For example, five minutes before a conference, when grades are due to be posted, after a parent phone call,…. I could help her as the moments evolved.

2) A positive attitude. This is really important. New teachers can be swayed “to the dark side” if they get the wrong mentor. Some teachers are better than others at instilling a productive attitude in others, so choose mentors judiciously.