AACT Member Spotlight: Deayne Johnson
By AACT on November 1, 2023
Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Deayne Johnson. They teach chemistry, biology, and environmental science at the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta, GA.
Tell us about yourself.
I am on a quest to find out as much as I can about this world. I have a deep passion for hiking, reading, delving into various scientific disciplines, exploring the wonders of nature, and spending quality time with my beloved dogs and family. My specific interests lie in biochemistry, comparative anatomy, system modeling, and harnessing the potential of data gathered during my explorations.
Throughout the years, I have shared my knowledge by teaching Chemistry and Biology in diverse educational settings, including enrichment centers, higher education institutions, and high schools. Presently, I am an instructional specialist at Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta, Georgia, where I educate students of all ages in subjects such as Biochemistry, Environmental Ecology, and a wide array of other topics.
Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?
I love watching people get excited about the world around them. Equally, I find great satisfaction in aiding individuals in discovering solutions to challenges as they explore. As a teacher, I am able to help people uncover answers to questions and come up with new questions. The look on someone's face when they "get it" is truly exhilarating. I have always felt a calling to be an educator and believe it's a lifelong commitment, as I yearn to empower others to acquire knowledge and, in turn, ease their struggles.
Why did you become involved with AACT? What are the benefits of being involved?
Several years ago, I submitted an application to the Science Coaches program when I found myself unexpectedly transitioning from teaching Human Anatomy and Physiology to becoming one of the primary Chemistry instructors. It was a new and challenging role for me, and I needed help! AACT (American Association of Chemistry Teachers) extended their helping hand at that critical juncture, and they have continued to do so every year since. The magazines, online resources, and the Science Coach program offered me a wealth of valuable lesson ideas, resources, and tangible connections to real-life applications of the subject matter.
What is your approach to building a meaningful relationship with your students and their parents?
Knowing a person's name, pronunciation of that name, and pronouns is a great place to start. Equally crucial is making a genuine effort to learn more about the student or individual. Who are they as a person? What are their passions and values? What holds significance in their life? What are their specific needs? I build a relationship of trust with students and parents from the beginning so that everyone knows we are in this together and we can work toward the common goal of advancing in learning.
What topic do you find hardest for students? How do you teach it?
Understanding periodic table trends can indeed be a challenge for many students, as they often struggle to grasp the underlying reasons behind these patterns. For instance, why do elements on the periodic table tend to have a smaller atomic radius as you move from left to right across a period (row)?
I have a huge periodic table in my room that I use as a visual aid. I start by discussing the charges of various parts of an atom and encourage students to think about the relative strengths of magnets as they are brought closer together. To make this abstract idea more tangible, I use a physical demonstration. I become the "nucleus" by pointing to my head and then extending my "electron cloud" by using my hands. As I walk along the periodic table, I act out the size of the nucleus and the atomic cloud around it.
This interactive teaching style involves a lot of movement, acting, and a touch of goofiness. Not only does this approach capture students' attention, but it also provides them with memorable experiences that they can recall later, making the complex concepts of the periodic table trends more accessible and engaging.