AACT Member Spotlight: Ryan Johnson

By AACT on February 2, 2022

Ryan Johnson

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Ryan Johnson. He teaches Chemistry and AP Chemistry at Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a high school and college chemistry teacher from Colorado, where I've built a fun and interesting balance between teaching at both levels. I enjoy being able to introduce my high school students to a deeper, richer understanding of the world around them through chemistry, as well as engaging in challenging, more robust content conversations at the college level. It is with some disbelief that I realize I am working in my 10th year of teaching chemistry this year! And I can't decide if teaching during a pandemic has made two of those years feel shorter or much, MUCH longer, but it has certainly been a test of my resolve to be in this profession. When I'm not teaching, I'm most likely on the trail in the Colorado mountains with my dog Kuiper, climbing ice or rocks, reading some nerdy sci-fi, or hanging out with my daughter, who will be a chemistry student next year in high school!

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

When I was in my mid-twenties, I went back to college after leaving my original career field of political science. I'd studied some emergency medicine at the local community college and had decided I wanted to do pre-med, so I chose to take an organic chemistry course at that college. While my previous university experience had been mostly massive lecture halls and impersonal interactions with faculty, the synergy and intimate collaboration that I found in the community college chemistry lab was amazing! I made some close friendships, had incredible interaction and feedback from the professor, and built a foundation for a passion for studying chemistry. Ultimately (though I didn't realize it at the time), it inspired me to become a college chemistry instructor myself, to facilitate that kind of synergistic learning with my own students and give back that life-changing experience that I had been given.

How do you monitor the progress of your students? How do you ensure under-performers excel?

A few years ago, after being inspired by some colleagues' presentations at ChemEd and BCCE, I started moving toward standards-based grading. During this development, I build a "learning objective tracker" in which students track how they're performing on specific learning goals throughout a unit of study. I found that this refocused students on "how do I prove that I know [fill in the blank]", rather than "how do I get more points?"; this was a refreshing change! It was difficult to maintain through teaching during the pandemic, but I've had some success re-establishing it since returning to my classroom, and am eager to continue developing it.

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

I subscribe to several chemistry news sources, such as Chemistry & Engineering News, Science Weekly, and ChemMatters! These are great ways to get short, accessible, and exciting science current events to my students, and keep my own interest in chemistry and science stoked! I also maintain an active presence on Twitter, which has been an amazing resource to connect and engage with science professionals. A couple of years ago, my students were able to ask a chemistry Nobel laureate questions in class about her research just because I had reached out via Twitter to see if she'd be willing to answer! Never be afraid to send an email or a DM to folks on the cutting edge of scientific fields; chances are, they're just as excited to share as you are to ask!

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

I became connected with AACT as a preservice teacher due to the fortunate connections I made through my local branch, the Colorado Chemistry Teachers' Association. Through AACT, I have developed life-long friends, invaluable professional relationships, developed my curriculum and lesson-writing skills, and built a wealth of resources upon which to use in my classroom. AACT has allowed me to have access to cutting-edge chemistry education research with the Journal of Chemical Education, helped me be able to present at national conferences, and stoked my enthusiasm for always embracing and trying something new in my classroom. I've been able to write and submit my own ideas for lessons and labs through their website, and build a rich, diverse learning community of chemistry educators all over the world!