AACT Member Spotlight: Michael Morgan

By AACT on December 7, 2022

Michael Morgan

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Michael Morgan. He teaches chemistry and AP Chemistry at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles, CA.

Tell us about yourself.

I am currently the Honors and Advanced Placement Chemistry teacher at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School. Before coming to LAUSD, I taught freshman chemistry at the University of California at Santa Cruz part-time while working on my degree with Frank C. Andrews, whose research group's area of interest was the statistical mechanics of hard dense particle fluids. To this day, the areas of chemistry called physical chemistry are still my favorites to teach.

Since leaving UCSC I have become heavily involved in the field of chemical education. I have served twice as a fellow of the Institute for Chemical Education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison working for Professor John W. Moore. Over the past thirty years, I have presented more than 100 workshops, conferences, and lecture demonstration shows on topics ranging from Chemistry in our Everyday Lives to Chemical Philately: A Perforated History of Chemistry. In 1997, I was invited to join a group headed by the late Glenn Seaborg to write the California State Science Academic Content Standards.

Since 2003 I have been coaching academic competition teams for Bravo including Science Bowl, Popsicle Stick Bridge Building, Ocean Sciences Bowl, and many other events.

I have been the Chair of the Southern California Section of the ACS and host their yearly “Update for High School Chemistry Teachers” meeting with AACT. I am a Fellow of the American Chemical Society and the recipient of the 2020 James Bryant Conant Award.

Outside of school, I am an avid collector of postage stamps dealing with science and am president of the Chemistry and Physics on Stamps Study Unit. I love cooking, bicycle riding, and listening to progressive rock music. I live with my wife in Redondo Beach, California.

Why did you become a teacher? Did you always want to teach?

I attended the University of California at Santa Cruz. Ostensibly I went there because they had the best program for competitive sailing in California. I wanted to qualify for the 1984 Olympic Sailing team in Los Angeles but never made it even close. I figured they could help me qualify for the 1988 games. I had taken a very good high school chemistry class taught by Dave Kukla at North Hollywood High School and thought that I should take Chemistry 1A to satisfy my science requirement. The only reason I had taken Kukla’s course was that all of my “smart friends” told me it was a really cool class. I was not going into science. That first chemistry class in Santa Cruz was a moment that changed my life and made me want to teach. I arrived in a lecture hall full of nervous freshmen and a surprisingly large number of upperclassmen. I soon knew why, and it would influence my teaching to this day. The professor was not what I expected. He welcomed us to the class and explained that all these upperclassmen were not repeating the course; they were there to help us. They weren't paid TAs but a group that volunteered to be there to support us because they all felt strongly about the course and our success. I became one of those volunteers the next year and was even asked to teach a few sections of the course over the next three years. The other professors saw me doing lecture demonstrations for Frank’s classes and soon invited me to do demonstrations in their classes. By my senior year, I was filling in and giving lectures to classes of 300 kids when some professors were out of town.

What are you most proud of in your work?

The culture that I have created on my school's campus where we have made it cool to be NErDy.

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

I have been very fortunate in my career to have worked with some very talented individuals who have taught me many things that have made my career more rewarding and more successful. Very early on I started to work with the Institute for Chemical Education at UW Madison and its training programs. I very quickly learned that it truly is the responsibility of teachers to teach other teachers.

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

First and foremost you must remember that the students are human beings and need to be treated as such.

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

Anything related to the fields we call physical chemistry. Many teachers only teach it as a mathematical construct and do not spend nearly enough time focusing on the beautiful particulate nature that is the underlying feature of P-Chem. Thermodynamics, kinetics, and the behavior of gases are wonderful and fascinating things to talk about at the molecular level.

These subjects must be taught by looking at what causes the behavior. Drawing pictures, looking at models, and having detailed conversations about the behavior of the particles at the molecular level is mandatory before introducing mathematics.

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

I am a scientist. Data is everything to me. I have been in a Professional Learning Community for more than 30 years with several of my colleagues. We have continually looked at results and modified our courses to follow a logical and sequential path to improve student performance. This has proven very useful when working with lower-performing students. Knowing exactly what my students have traditionally found challenging has allowed me to put lessons in place that help to prevent the need for constant re-teaching. The overall structure and content of my classes have been shaped by this data. It is very insightful to look at what kids are walking away with from my classes.

I think it is much more informative to look at student performance on a national level than just on a local level. I also believe that I must show my students that they are not just competing for that coveted spot at Caltech with other LAUSD students. They must judge themselves against students from all over the country and the world. They should know how they compare to the most elite private schools that exist and the most affluent public schools that have no hurdles to overcome in providing for their students.

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

By reading C&EN and Journal of Chemical Education.

What fuels your passion for science and teaching?

My students.

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

Always use units!