AACT Member Spotlight: Tyler Kinner

By AACT on October 29, 2020

Tyler Kinner

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month we spotlight Tyler Kinner. He is the STEM Curriculum Development Lead at the Georgia Tech Research Institute in Atlanta, Georgia.

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

During my undergrad years, I worked in a research group and eventually wound up mentoring high school students during their summer internships. My high school experience was very different than these students, and the perceived differences in our preparation piqued my interest in education. I really enjoyed coming up with experiments for them to practice their skills and got to practice my instruction by teaching them the core concepts of our research work. At the end of the second summer of mentoring, I was hooked on the idea of teaching as a career: coming up with experiments, teaching how to do inquiry, and watching students expand their curiosity and thinking.

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

I was a first-generation college student, and beyond that, the first in my extended family to pursue a STEM degree. Prior to college, I lived in a rural community, and while it gave me experiences and perspectives I wouldn't trade for the world, I had distinctly different preparation than many of my peers in chemistry. When I started working in a research group during my freshman year, it was so much more than the chemistry that I didn't understand. (Although the chemistry was definitely hard to understand at times as well!)

I wear a few different hats now—curriculum developer, researcher, volunteer, and more—but in each one I am always focused on how we make science more accessible to students. After my own experiences with accessibility, I'm grateful to work in ways that I can expand the number of students that call themselves chemists.

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

Genuinely understanding the thinking and logic behind the problem-solving steps. Although I've been out of the classroom for a couple of years and am now working with teachers, the lack of real understanding and conceptualization of the mathematical side of chemistry, namely stoichiometry, is a thorn in the side of many educators I work with. I'm lucky to be able to spend time researching and developing resources to help students and teachers go beyond routine memorization of the steps to solve these types of problems.

Looking at the Common Core math standards and working with math colleagues, we were able to come up with several lessons around stoichiometry that leveraged double number lines, manipulatives (think algebra tiles, counting cubes, etc.), and proportionality to teach stoichiometry. While teachers know that these are the fundamentals of stoichiometry—proportional relationships—it didn't become obvious to many students until we started using the language they knew from math classes. Turns out most of the relevant math skills for stoichiometry are taught in late elementary and early middle school. Several teachers used the lessons with great success in getting students to understand and conceptualize stoichiometry!

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

One of the things I love most about my work at STEM@GTRI is managing our Direct-to-Discovery program, where we use the power of the internet to bring scientists to students and teachers—no matter their location. These researchers are able to share the latest science with classrooms. We also work with the researchers to develop related lesson plans—so the learning goes beyond an hour-long talk with a researcher. In addition, we leverage our researcher connections to provide relevant professional learning to teachers to help them incorporate the latest science into their own classrooms.

For example, in October and November of this year, we are engaging several classrooms in learning about, synthesizing, and characterizing nanoparticles. Students and teachers will get to learn from world-class researchers in nanoparticle synthesis and characterization, control an electron microscope remotely, and attempt to create their own environmentally-benign designer NPs. Through the experience, teachers are supported with researcher connections, curricular resources, and professional learning. The privilege of supporting teachers with this type of experience is something I am deeply grateful for.

What are you most proud of in your work?

I recently found out that three students from my 2018 sophomore chemistry class just began chemistry majors. So many students don't pursue chemistry beyond high school—and that's fine. But knowing that students have walked out of my class wanting to learn more and grow their knowledge and skills makes me proud. So often science instruction is boiled down to learn these facts and memorize these problem-solving steps so we can cover everything we need to cover for some assessment. Any evidence that I've been able to go beyond the test and genuinely cultivate an interest in science is something I'm proud of.