AACT Member Spotlight: Andrea Gearhart

By AACT on December 6, 2023

Andrea Gearhart

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Andrea Gearhart. She teaches chemistry and AP Chemistry at Peters Township High School in McMurray, PA.

Tell us about yourself.

I have been fortunate enough to have called myself a chemistry teacher for the last 27 years, with the last 16 focused on Honors and AP Chemistry. Additionally, I am an AP Reader and Table Leader, was a NMSI Chemistry Coach, and have hosted numerous topic-specific webinars for fellow educators and students in the last three years.
I am the proud wife of David and the mom of three amazing children, Noah, Sarah, and Abram. As for my hobbies, I enjoy hiking in National Parks, baking for family and friends, and playing with my dogs.

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

Never intending to be a high school chemistry teacher, I got certified to teach chemistry while finishing my chemistry degree, believing I would teach for a year or two to "take a breath" before graduate school. Twenty-seven years later, I am still in the high school classroom finding fulfillment in sharing my passion for chemistry with teens. There are times when I experience regret for not continuing my advanced study of chemistry, but overall I find satisfaction that I may be playing a role in inspiring and preparing my students to pursue STEM majors and careers.

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

    I truly believe that we as teachers are our own best resource. I have become a much stronger educator through the exchange of ideas, labs, and lessons with fellow chemistry teachers. AACT is a storehouse of articles and instructional materials authored by chemistry educators that inspire my lessons, energize me to be creative, and increase my understanding of this incredible subject. The AACT Classroom Resource Library is well organized and expedites the time-consuming process of finding quality resources. Additionally, I learned a great deal from AACT webinars and encourage any and all Chemistry Teachers to subscribe to the AACT newsletter to keep informed of upcoming webinars.

    What do you do to remain current and bring the latest science into the classroom?

    To keep up-to-date with current developments in chemistry, I attend ACS webinars whenever possible. They often begin at 2:00 pm ET while I am still teaching, but I watch the recordings while I am correcting papers and/or cleaning glassware. I also read Popular Mechanics, which addresses many nuggets of information on a variety of subjects, and listen to podcasts such as Elemental and Stuff You Should Know. I listen and read with two goals in mind: to increase my own knowledge and to find current applications of the topics students learn in Honors and AP Chemistry. Last year, in an ACS webinar, a researcher shared that substituting Fluorine for a Chlorine atom within a specific molecule his team was focusing upon changed the pharmaceutical potential of the molecule due to the increased strength of intermolecular forces that the (bonded) fluorine molecule had with neurons in the brain. The research team found that the stronger dipole-dipole forces were directly responsible for increasing the efficacy of a potential drug to treat depression. The timing of the webinar occurred when my AP Chemistry students were investigating the differing strengths of intermolecular forces, which enriched our experience. The Elemental podcast contains a wealth of information on each element, which I share with the students when the information applies to class learning.

    What fuels your passion for science and teaching?

    Chemistry is a subject that develops a multitude of skills as a result of its' challenging content. I am confident that the better my students understand and can apply the chemistry they learn, the smarter they will be. That belief inspires me to take seriously my role to genuinely teach my students this beautiful subject. Knowing that the better explainer, question creator, inquiry designer, and feedback giver I am, the sharper my students will be when they exit the course. The development of smarter humans through learning chemistry is what fuels me as a teacher.

    If you could pass on one word of wisdom to other chemists what would it be?

    The wisdom I would share with fellow educators and scientists is to trust that your work is important. The profession of teaching has become exponentially more challenging in the last few years, leaving many of us questioning our value and impact. Think back to those couple of teachers who made a positive impact on you, and know that guiding students to develop stronger thinking and problem-solving skills will lead to a brighter future for each of them.