AACT Member Spotlight: Johanna Brown

By AACT on January 6, 2021

Johanna Brown

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month we spotlight Johanna Brown. She teaches chemistry, AP Chemistry, and AP Computer Science at Pullman High School in Pullman, Washington.

Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?
I went to college and majored in chemistry because I loved problem solving, I was also a resident assistant. Upon graduation, I knew that the lab was not my calling. I needed to spend more of my time thinking about people. I became a Resident Director for Washington State University (WSU). That didn't feel right either; I was missing science and felt unfulfilled. I was teaching a leadership class at WSU while also tutoring chemistry and it hit me—BAM! Why not get paid to think about people and how they learn science? I now have a special spot in my heart for career changers who come over to teaching. I wouldn't change my journey to become a teacher for anything. 

What fuels your passion for science and teaching?

I love my students, but when I think about the hard days—especially the high number of hard days in 2020—I think about the incredible chemistry teacher Twitter community. When I first joined, Ryan Johnson (@RyTriGuy) reached out and welcomed me in, and I haven't looked back. Whether it is a check-in from Ariel Serkin (@aserkin), hanging with Jolene McDowell (@jolenemcdowell) at NSB, an invitation to collaborate from Katy Dornbos (@KatyDornbos), discussions about grading from Michael Farabaugh (@mrfarabaugh), support and a great meme from Amy Snyder (@SnySciCHS) #nerdytshirtfriday fun with Kristen Drury (@APchemisMe), hearing wise words from Kristin Gregory (@KristinGregory7), talking fermentation with Garrett Lim (@chemlimination) a lovely card from Linda Cummings (@CummingsLinda), a sticker and kind words from Deanna Cullen (@CullenChemEdX), an impressive lesson from Doug Ragan (@dragan39), sharing of a killer stoichiometry activity from Amanda Horan (@AmandaHoran8), the cool activities Allison McMahan (@AMcMahonEd) creates, telling your AP Chem students that you know Alice Putti (@puttichem) from the AP Classroom videos, or just being amazed at the stuff Scott Milam (@IBchemmilam) comes up with. These people make the hard days easier to bear; it's good to have a community.

How do you monitor the progress of your students? How do you ensure underperformers excel?

Going gradeless and all virtual for this year pushed me to find new ways of understanding and monitoring how students progress. I am working to figure out how I can help students who come to our classroom (or class Zoom) with anxiety, distressing past experiences in math or science, or concerns outside of their control that affect their learning. A big step for me has been consistent use of something I call a thinking document. It's a Google Doc to hold all of their ideas and where they draw initial models that they updated as we gather new pieces of evidence. I love that students and I can easily see how their thinking has changed. My goal for students this year wasn't to work from a position of "being behind" or thinking about "learning lost." Instead, each student and I am focusing on where they can make gains and what they can do in that moment. I wouldn't say that we are all excelling in 2020 or 2021, but we are certainly all growing and moving forward in our chemical understanding.

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

I am big into sharing ideas, plans, and files! There are those days where you just don't know how to teach a concept or need some inspiration. As the only chemistry teacher at my rural school, there are days where I have no one close to bounce my ideas off of or learn specific chemistry teaching from. AACT webinars give me instant access to amazing chemistry teachers, and I love that I can trust the lesson to have evidence-based content. ChemMatters always has at least one idea that inspires me. The fact that so much of what AACT has is open access is near and dear to my heart as high-quality materials are so important to our profession.

What are you most proud of in your work?

I am most proud of how I can see my growth as a teacher reflected in my students' approach to science and learning. Every year, I get less about my own ego and more about student autonomy and understanding. This translates to seeing more creative answers, more intuitive applications of chemistry to their lives, and more of my students saying they enjoy and plan to pursue science. When students tell me that our chemistry class helped them figure out how they learn, made them feel cared about as humans, and that they're ready to take on their next scientific challenge, I know I'm growing in the right direction!