AACT Member Spotlight: Dorothy Holley

By AACT on February 1, 2023

Dorothy Holley

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Dorothy Holley. She teaches chemistry, environmental science, and physical science at West Johnston High School in Benson, NC.

Tell us about yourself.

I was born and raised in North Carolina. For seven years, I taught in the high school from which I graduated. Nurtured and encouraged by my childhood learning communities, I have been inspired to help others develop their science literacy and pursue STEM careers. I strongly support NC public schools and the important work teachers are doing to provide authentic learning experiences. Recent experiences include project-based learning, standards-based grading, curriculum integration, the small school model, and, of course, remote/hybrid teaching. I have led professional development sessions and presented papers with the North Carolina Science Teachers’ Association, National Science Teaching Association, American Chemical Society, Environmental Educators of North Carolina, Bridging the Gap STEM Education Conference, Association for Science Teacher Education, American Educational Research Association, and National Association for Research in Science Teaching. I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry from Wake Forest University, my Master of Science in Environmental Education from Montreat College, and my Doctor of Philosophy in Learning and Teaching STEM from North Carolina State University. In addition to teaching secondary science at West Johnston High School, I am an adjunct field supervisor for secondary science interns at Western Carolina University.

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

Communication. Communication. Communication. I attended high school in the 1980s with public pay phones and mailed report cards! To have as much access to information, I have found that this generation of students and parents really needs things to be spoon-fed. I work on communication daily with students by having them share their personal interests at the beginning of class with their peers. When they share about themselves, they are more likely to want to hear about others, including their teacher. Of course, collaboration is also an important part of learning the content during instruction. I work on communication with parents through bi-weekly updates. I will share something that is going on at school, a reminder that grades have been updated, and what they can expect in the next unit. I especially encourage students and parents to talk with each other, usually saying that when my “biological children” talk with me, I am more understanding as a parent. Starting a ChemClub at my school has helped former students stay connected. We work together to plan events and do community service. Time spent with students outside of learning helps develop trust in the whole education system.

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

My students have a hard time with ionic and covalent compounds. This is really the first time in the course they have seen something they haven’t seen in a previous science course, so it seems more challenging. And then it requires memorization. They have not developed skills in remembering names or rules, so they push back on why it might be important. I break up the task into smaller chunks and try to deescalate the fact that they are memorizing something until they have done it. We start the first week of class they have with quizzes on atomic names and symbols. When we get to the bonding unit, we discuss how knowing the symbols is helpful. Then they are more likely to memorize the polyatomic ions and more successful in writing chemical formulas.

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

I really became involved with AACT after attending a ChemEd conference. It was amazing! I had attended state and national science teaching conferences before, but not a professional development conference all about chemistry. This was my tribe! AACT has excellent resources for teaching chemistry and excellent support for the work of teaching chemistry. This is truly a top-notch, professional organization.

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