AACT Member Spotlight: Dusty Carroll

By AACT on February 26, 2020

Every month AACT will spotlight a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month we spotlight Dusty Carroll from Seneca High School in New Jersey.

She has more than 20 years of experience and currently teaches Chemistry, AP Chemistry and Engineering.

Tell us about yourself.

I have been a chemistry teacher since 1999 and picked up some PLTW engineering classes beginning in 2015. I have taught all levels of chemistry, as well as physical science. I currently teach on-level Chemistry I and AP Chemistry. I am actively involved in transitioning myself and my colleagues to teaching with the Next Generation Science Standards. I chair my state’s committee for NGSS Assessment and I sit on the NSTA steering committee for NGSS@NSTA.

Aside from working with students, my favorite part of teaching is the creative part. I love brainstorming lesson ideas and I especially enjoy it when I have colleagues to share in the creativity. My students are always at the center of my planning and I really enjoy finding new ways to motivate them and to help them learn.

On the rare occasion that I am not doing something teaching-related, I enjoy the mountains. I ski them in the winter and hike or bike them in the summer. I always gawk and stare at them with this dreamy look and goofy smile. I guess that comes from living in flat New Jersey! The beauty and magnificence of mountains just mesmerizes me every time I see them!

What are you most proud of in your work?

My proudest moments are those when a student tells me how my class has positively affected their attitude about science. I think it is both my calm demeanor and my love of curiosity that helps them to feel comfortable in my lab. Students are naturally curious. If it will not take too much time and will not interfere with completing their day’s work, the answer to “Can I…?” is, “Sure, tell me what happens when you do.” [Disclaimer: I am very experienced and comfortable in the lab. Safety absolutely always comes first.] In the beginning of the year, the sound of broken glass causes the entire class to stop and look at the teacher expecting some kind of hot-blooded reaction. By about two months into my class, students don’t even react anymore to that kind of sound because they know I will just calmly address whatever happened and get it cleaned up. Accidents happen. As long as it wasn’t from fooling around, I will merely assess the situation and direct them how to handle it. (Most accidents are perfectly safe for students to clean up on their own and, strangely, this act builds some agency for them in the lab.)

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

Anything involving math! In these lessons, I work to show students that they already have the math skills needed for chemistry and that the only tricky part is the larger numbers and weirder units that we use. Throughout the lessons, I frequently reference their basic math knowledge, like solving for 3x=5 or converting # of dimes into # of quarters. When dealing with mole ratios my favorite example is the “world’s most boring cheese sandwich” which, of course, can turn into a double-decker or any other sandwich to match more complicated mole ratios! I do my best to convince them that math is just how we analyze stuff and that it is not any harder than the simple examples that they were all able to solve before I’d even taught them anything. Students use manipulatives and draw particle models to help them visualize what the math is showing them.I’ve found that just giving them time to grapple with these concepts is the most effective method I have.

In three words, what would your students say they learned from you?

Trying. Thinking. Logic.

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

In June of 2014, I was attending the AP Chemistry Reading when I saw a postcard advertising a relatively new organization called AACT. I grabbed the postcard and nearly knocked over my table mate in my joy. FINALLY!! An organization for chemistry teachers! I’m a long-time member of ACS and NSTA, but to finally have an organization dedicated exclusively to chemistry teaching was just, well, I was without words. I jumped right in. Within a year, I had written for Chemistry Solutions and been asked to be a peer reviewer. Later, I was involved in several projects, including attending some of the Dow Summits and leading the PPG Chemistry of Color resource writing team. Being involved with AACT has given me many new colleagues from around the country! It has also motivated me to be more active in the education world outside of my classroom. Every time I meet a chemistry teacher who is not an AACT member, I encourage them to join. This organization has made me feel much more connected to the teaching community than ever before and that positive energy keeps me striving to constantly better myself for the sake of my students.

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

By volunteering for various committees, I keep myself pretty updated on current educational issues and trends. I regularly read AACT’s Chemistry Solutions, as well as some other science education journals to see what kinds of activities and ideas people are sharing. Each time I get the AACTConnect newsletter, I check out the upcoming webinars and the resources that are highlighted. This usually leads to some serious procrastination as I explore different science topics or look into how I might incorporate a lesson, all while I should be grading labs!