AACT Member Spotlight: Chad Bridle

By AACT on January 4, 2023

Chad Bridle

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Chad Bridle. He teaches chemistry, AP Chemistry, earth science, and physics at Grandville High School in Grandville, MI.

Tell us about yourself.

I've been teaching a variety of chemistry and physics courses at Grandville High School for the past 18 years. Beyond the classroom, I have had many wonderful opportunities to engage with the chemistry education community. I am active in my local science education community and have participated in the development of curriculum and professional development opportunities through ACS and AACT. Outside of my work, my wife and I have three wonderful children who currently demand a lot of our chauffeur services and absurd amounts of groceries. I enjoy cycling as a means of physical and mental fitness and the engineering pursuit of a swift, finely tuned machine. In our summers, we are working on visiting the entire lower 48 states in our minivan and pop-up camper before our eldest leaves the nest. We’ve explored 41 states in this beautiful land thus far!

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

Life is only understood backward but must be lived forward. What was my 18-year-old self thinking when I decided to pursue a career in chemistry education? With the benefit of hindsight, I can see other possible career paths as well as the choices that my classmates made. My father is an engineer, and my mother is an educator, so the impetus of pursuit seems to be a melding of the passions they displayed in their work.

Certainly, one gift of this career is the opportunity to impact the lives of my fellow human beings positively. Each day I have the opportunity to help a student to grow and improve. I have the opportunity to help them discover their talents and passions. It’s an awesome privilege and responsibility.

There is never a dull moment in my work! Every day is something new. Even if it’s a student experience I have facilitated dozens of times, it’s a fresh opportunity with new students and a chance to make it better. My colleagues and I are constantly evaluating our work, trying new ideas and looking for ways to improve. In a world of adults who complain of the daily grind and the monotony of their work, chemistry education keeps me young and on my toes!

I am also a science geek! I love understanding how the world works and how we’ve discovered it. I love a great science or science history book. Conversations around the dinner table often involve science ideas and questions. Being a science teacher allows me to share this joy with others and gives me a daily outlet for all of the interesting things I continue to learn as humanity continues to pursue the understanding of this wonderfully complex universe.

Share a story from your past that led to your choosing your field of work.

Early in my teaching career, I was fortunate enough to be a participant in the Target Inquiry program at Grand Valley State University. Beyond significantly improving the experience I offered my students in the classroom, it helped me to realize my potential as a professional educator who could contribute to the education community. I discovered a love for curriculum development and developing and facilitating teacher professional development. The TI program and the subsequent opportunities to invest in my fellow chemistry teachers continue to confirm that chemistry education lies at the intersection of my passion and talents.

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

My students have a rich and dynamic learning experience in my classroom because of the valuable collaboration I’ve gained through AACT. My membership has provided me with labs, activities, and pedagogical approaches that I otherwise would not have discovered. I find the opportunity to collaborate with chemistry teachers outside of my school, region, and state invaluable. I’ve had conversations with educators from diverse backgrounds and experiences through workshops and webinars as well as email exchanges regarding curriculum I’ve shared on the AACT website. Every interaction shifts and broadens my thinking on what it means to be a chemistry teacher in my own classroom. My students explore chemistry with not just myself as a guide, but all of the voices of those who have invested in me through our interactions.

My involvement in AACT has allowed me to serve as a catalyst for growth and change amongst the incredible team of science educators at my school. As we have transitioned our curriculum and instruction, we have all been challenged. When we struggled with pedagogical changes, I was able to steer colleagues toward professional development suggested by AACT members. When we were uncertain about curricular approaches, I was able to connect us with resources or teachers in other parts of the country who helped us to clarify our next steps. Access to this network of professionals and their intellectual fruits has accelerated and enriched the growth of myself and my colleagues.

As I interact with AACT, I feel like I’m riding a wave powered by passionate individuals that encourages me to take risks and be bold. AACT is, at its heart, an association: a collection of individuals with a common goal. AACT isn’t a website or a Twitter handle, but passionate chemistry teachers who all want what’s best for their students.

What is your approach to building a meaningful relationship with your students and their parents?

It is essential to build positive, sincere relationships with teenage chemists if you want all of them to experience growth and learning. Each student is unique and comes to my classroom with a range of experiences and mindsets. Being a teenager is hard. They’re trying to understand themselves. They are being pulled in many directions by the decisions and influences of friends, family, social media, and their own past. Some arrive with confidence in themselves as learners, a history of academic success behind them and a hunger for knowledge about the world. Some arrive with the burden of academic struggles, the belief that they aren’t “good at science,” and their youthful curiosity is gone. They all arrive with a variety of stressors from outside of the classroom that impacts their ability to engage in the learning process.

It is essential that I know each of them as individuals and that they know me as a person. Students need to trust me as someone who has their best interests in mind. They need to know that I believe in them and that I believe they are capable of success. I want to help them develop skills as scientists so that they can answer their own questions. I want them to believe that their thinking is valuable. Students need to see themselves as scientists and as people who are capable of understanding the world around them.

I have found significant dividends in noticing and communicating positive behaviors with my students. Whether that’s a conversation in class, a postcard in the mail, or a quick phone call to a parent, I’ve worked towards being intentional about pointing out each student’s values and strengths. Regardless of the façade any teenager outwardly presents, they all want to know that they’re uniquely valued.

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

Chemistry is a challenging educational adventure! Science is a way of knowing, not simply what is known. The best science is driven by curiosity. I want my students to be curious and ask questions. Exploring the world around us naturally requires an exploration of the chemistry principles that govern it. I think of myself as a coach and guide for my students. Lab experiences are typically guided or open inquiry: a playground to discover the principles of matter and energy. I am striving towards a hands-on exploratory community experience for my students. I want students to leave with confidence in themselves as scientists and, hopefully, a hunger to know more.

Embedding content in a compelling, engaging context almost hides the fact that we’re “learning chemistry.” My students can articulate why they are exploring a certain topic because they can connect it back to a question they asked in regard to a phenomenon. Each exploration is designed to be student-led. Behind the scenes, I’ve carefully chosen lab experiences that they explore at just the right time with suitable complexity to challenge both their knowledge and skills. I plan how I will walk with my students through their learning process to allow them to have as much ownership over their own learning as possible. I carefully prepare the questions I need to ask in order to guide their progress. Designing a new learning experience is no longer a question of how I am going to “deliver the material.” This means every day, every lesson is a challenging intellectual pursuit for me. I haven’t figured out how to do all of this yet, which wakes me up bright and early each morning, ready to chase after something new and better.