AACT Member Spotlight: Alice Putti

By AACT on June 3, 2020

Sean Fisk

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month we spotlight Alice Putti. She teaches chemistry and AP Chemistry at Jenison High School in Jenison, Michigan.

Tell us about yourself.

I graduated from the University of Michigan in 1994 and have been teaching at Jenison High School ever since. When I’m not teaching, my husband and I love to travel. For the last few years, we have taken international trips to Iceland, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. While traveling we love to hike, explore, eat, and learn about new cultures. Besides traveling, I spend my summers as a Question Leader for the AP chemistry Reading. I am also an AP consultant, running week-long AP Summer Institute (APSI) workshops. I also attend and present at summer chemistry conferences such as BCCE and ChemEd. When I am not working, I love to hike, read, watch movies, and play trivia with my friends.

Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?

Ever since my high school chemistry class, I wanted to be a chemistry teacher. I loved learning about atoms and interactions that I couldn’t see. My high school teacher taught me to question everything. What is happening? Why is this happening? How do you know this is happening? This helped me to understand science phenomena and not just memorize facts. It also taught me to review things critically and not accept "junk" science. This is what I hope to teach my students. My students demonstrate their understanding through activities such as particulate drawings and claims, evidence, and reasoning (CER). Years after they finish high school chemistry, my students won’t remember most of the facts they learned in my class—but I hope they will be able to read an article or watch a news story and review it with a critical eye.

What topic do you find hardest for students? How do you teach it?

Equilibrium is one of the hardest chemistry topics for students, and it is my favorite to teach. One reason students find equilibrium difficult is they try to solve problems algorithmically, instead of understanding the concept. In my class, we do a lot of particulate activities to learn what is happening in an equilibrium system. My students also do a lot of group activities where they explain what is happening in a reaction.

Why did you become involved with AACT and what are the benefits of being involved?

For years I longed to be part of an organization just for high school chemistry teachers. When AACT started, I jumped at the opportunity to be part of it. Joining AACT has given me access to chemistry and AP chemistry teaching ideas and activities. In addition to activities, AACT offers webinars where you can learn from amazing educators. Watching these webinars has improved my teaching by showing me students' misconceptions and how to correct them, as well as introducing me to new classroom activities. In 2014 and 2018, I was lucky to host my own webinars on converting Cookbook Labs Into Inquiry Activities and Particulate Level Chemistry Activities. I am also an AACT Regional Representative, sharing information about AACT with other teachers.

What are you most proud of in your work?

Many students enter chemistry with the attitude of hating science. Often this attitude comes from learning science by memorizing facts. From the first week of school, I try to engage my students and change this attitude through group work, small group discussions, and laboratory experiments. I’m proud when students who normally struggle in science gain confidence and are successful in my class. I love it when students tell me that chemistry is the first science class they have ever liked and understood.