AACT Member Spotlight: Stacey Balbach

By AACT on May 3, 2023

Stacey Balbach

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Stacey Balbach. She teaches chemistry, physics, biology, and AP Chemistry at Cuba City High School in Cuba City, WI.

Tell us about yourself.

I am the 2023 ACS James Bryant Conant Award recipient. I teach chemistry, AP Chemistry, physics, and biology at Cuba City High School, a small rural school in southwest Wisconsin. I am the past AACT High School Ambassador, a member of the ChemMatters policy board, a past ACS Local Section Chair, a peer editor for The Science Teacher, a contributor to Chemistry Solutions, and a presenter at BCCE, WSST, and NSTA conferences. I am currently a member of the Stowe Research Group, ChemLeap PLC team, where we develop and engage students in how and why perplexing observable phenomena in terms of atomic/molecular behavior through model refinement and claim evidence and reasoning.

I enjoy being a wife and mother to three teenagers. We spend time on our crop and registered Angus farm, walking the pristine pastures. My family enjoys riding various bike trails and kayaking in Southern Wisconsin.

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

I have loved science and teaching since I was young. I had a science classroom in my bedroom and would teach my brothers and sisters science. We would do labs and go on field trips. Over time I discovered along with my deep love for science, I loved to help people. During college, my favorite part of my day, besides lab, was developing and carrying out different instructional approaches and lessons as a college teaching assistant. I began volunteering at the local high school, working with students in the science classroom. Teaching is a wonderful opportunity to engage, inspire, and help students learn and wonder about the world around them.

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

Chemistry has a balanced assessment system where students use the Driving Question Board to drive their knowledge. After the learning cycle of Observing, Wonder, Explore, Explain, Analysis, and Reflection on learning, I formatively assess students at each step. I use this plan because of equity to increase free thinkers and creativity. Based on formative assessment results, students are strategically grouped into differentiated learning teams once every two weeks to fill learning gaps.

Standards-Based Grading documents all assessments and practice. SBG provides students with different ways to demonstrate learning, accommodates different working styles, teaches what quality looks like, a higher degree of self-sufficiency leads to increased student involvement, provides feedback, and instruction becomes engaging and meaningful. Students are allowed to turn their work in at any time. Learners value the work because they find clues to answer the unit-driving question in their homework and activities. Formal formative assessments are NGSS three-dimensional quizzes. Students who may need to meet the standard work on a differentiated task. I design the task based on their learning profile to practice a specific concept strategically. Chemistry has two types of summative assessments. The first is their final model of the unit phenomena. Their model goes through a peer review process and scientific debate comparing and contrasting other models to their own. Students use their final updated model to write a claim, evidence, and reason to support their model, answering the unit phenomena. The second type is a written essay exam. The exam is an authentic NGSS three-dimensional exam where students are given multiple data sets and use written claims, evidence, and reasons to infuse what they learned during the unit into their arguments. The questions are about an everyday phenomenon in their world that they can transfer their model to solve.

What fuels your passion for science and teaching?

My passion for science and teaching is driven by my students’ curiosity, high energy, and enthusiasm to discover and think deeply about the world around them.

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

I am a member of AACT, NSTA, ACS, WSST, and Chem Leap PLC. Membership in these organizations provides many opportunities and networks of professionals from industry and academia. These various networks support student learning and specific student needs or questions, experiences, or experiments that my students may have. Each organization has specific resources that I access readily. For example, AACT provides many student experience resources such as simulations, labs, and literacy. NSTA provides assessment, modeling, and new ideas on various topics. ACS provides a large network of professional resources from industry, academia, and the Journal of Chemical Education. WSST and Chem Leap PLC provide learning communities where I can deeply reflect on my pedagogy, share ideas, and transfer instructional strategies into my classroom.

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

AACT is a wonderful organization to be involved in. The benefits of membership are immense. AACT offers vetted labs, simulations, and activities at all levels at the click of a button. Virtual and face-to-face workshops offer opportunities to meet and interact with diverse teachers worldwide. ChemMatters is a wonderful way to incorporate literacy into your chemistry classroom. The affiliations with ACS provides a larger network of support that spans beyond the K-12 realm!

What are you most proud of in your work?

I am proud when I receive an email or note from past students on lessons from my classes that have positively impacted their lives because every student you teach matters. For example, "Thank you for not showing me what to think, but rather how to think. This has given me the greatest confidence in my studies, and every day it gives me a greater glimpse at my potential." We are teaching students chemistry, but most importantly, we are teaching students thinking and analysis skills that are applicable to their everyday life.

Another example is a quiet student that just transferred from another school that did not believe in himself. Throughout the year, I consistently growth mindset feedback during his learning. His confidence grew, and he realized he could do anything he put his mind to. Now he is a flight nurse on Med Flight, giving people life-saving support every day.

Teaching does change lives. Educators' mental health, academic, equity, and academic resilience lessons matter to our students. We have the opportunity to help the world one student at a time.

In a few short words, what would your students say they learned from you?

Passionate Persistence Produces Progress

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

This is an opportune time for creative and innovative applications of Chemistry to shape the future of our planet and its inhabitants.