AACT Member Spotlight: Kathleen Packard

By AACT on March 1, 2023

Kathleen Packard

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Kathleen Packard. She teaches chemistry and AP Chemistry at Monarch High School in Louisville, CO.

Tell us about yourself.

I graduated from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with a bachelor's in chemistry in 1991. I taught honors chemistry at Iolani School in Honolulu, Hawaii, during my first year after college. (When you grow up in Michigan and get a job offer in Hawaii, you go!) I loved it but found the island life was too limiting, so I moved to Maryland and taught in the suburbs outside Baltimore for six years until my first child was born. I stayed home as a mom for the next 13 years until my third and youngest started second grade. By then, my family had moved to Colorado, and I got a job teaching at the high school in my community after I got my Master's in Education at UC Boulder. I plan to stay at Monarch until I retire.

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

My professor Dr. Kerner demonstrated the "Old Nassau" reaction on the Friday before Halloween and the UM-Illini football game. She came out dressed as a witch with the largest beaker I've ever seen on a stir plate. She did the demo, claiming she would predict the winner of the game on Saturday. We all booed when the demo turned bright orange (Illini's colors)! She calmed us down and said to give it a minute then it turned navy blue (UM colors). That was it: I was determined to major in chemistry.

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

I work as hard as they do to ensure they understand the material. I am a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage.

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

First-year chemistry students struggle the most with pH calculations. Everything I teach is in a flipped classroom, so I spend the majority of the time working with students and helping them figure it out. They don't really have a solid understanding of what a logarithm is, which is one of the lost skills associated with using calculators for everything. I've never used a slide rule, but find that log tables are helpful for understanding what a logarithm is. AP Chemistry students struggle most with rate laws and the application of mathematics concepts to science.

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

I give frequent quizzes. I also work with students who struggle individually as much as I can.

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

I like to read the AACTconnect monthly e-newsletters with information on real-life applications of chemistry that I've never thought about. I like to use the demonstrations in the Classroom Resource Library.

What are you most proud of in your work?

When students email me from colleges like Rice or Stanford, or even locally at CU Boulder, to tell me that Gen Chem I and II are the easiest classes they are taking in college right now. They tell me they are teaching chemistry to their classmates. That is my absolute favorite!

What fuels your passion for science and teaching?

Performing demonstrations and having fun with the magic of chemistry.

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

Stoichiometry, chemistry problem-solving.

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

Have fun with it!