AACT Member Spotlight: Verlese P. Gaither

By AACT on October 1, 2020

Verlese P. Gaither

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month we spotlight Verlese P. Gaither. She teaches chemistry and AP Chemistry at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia.

Tell us about yourself.

I have been teaching chemistry for 23 years, with 21 years of those years at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. I have taught chemistry at all levels, from Introductory Chemistry to AP Chemistry. Additionally, for the past five years, I have held the position as Summer School Administrator for the Arlington Public Schools Middle School Program. I hold a Bachelor’s in Biochemistry from Westminster University in England, and two Master’s, one in Secondary Education from Old Dominion University, and the other in Education Leadership from George Mason University. Before teaching, I worked at Coca-Cola in London as a Quality Control Chemist.

I am an active education leader and have formed collaborative interdisciplinary partnerships with Reading and English teachers. I am currently working on an Inclusion Chemistry project with two Functional Life Skills teachers. Our aim is to provide students with disabilities a foundational understanding of chemistry principles through experimentation and hands-on activities. I am an active participant in the chemistry community serving on the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) ChemMatters Policy Board, and the ACS Diversity, Inclusion and Respect Advisory Committee.

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

The mole concept is probably the hardest concept for my students to comprehend. The idea that the mole is a number of anything; just like a dozen is 12, a mole is 6.023* 10 23 of something. I use an activity with popcorn kernels to teach them about the concept. I use different sized beans to represent different atoms and provide my students with an arbitrary unit, the PCU. One PCU is equal to the number of 5 grams of popcorn kernels. One PCU of anything is equal to the number of popcorn kernels. I provide them with a variety of different size beans and they count out one PCU of each bean. They mass one PCU of each bean and can articulate that the masses are different because the beans are different sizes, however, they are all the same number of bean. I then have them apply what they have learned to the elements on the Periodic Table. They can state that the elements have different masses because they are different sizes, however, the number of particles (one mole) is the same for all. It is truly a Eureka moment!

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

I monitor the progress of my students by using a variety of measures of assessment. I use traditional means such as exit tickets, quizzes, tests, and performance-based assessments using rubrics. Using performance-based assessments allows me to assess students on what they know and can do by providing opportunities for students to do presentations, make models, create artwork, make videos, and write narratives. I ensure underperformers excel by providing relevancy in my instruction. Relevancy motivates students. In teaching chemistry, I explain that chemistry is a part of everyday life, and I incorporate the interests of my students in instruction.

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

I became involved in with AACT because I wanted to be a part of a professional community of chemistry educators. I joined at AACT's inception, and being a part of this prestigious group has really been of a benefit to me! I had the opportunity to work on several committees, to be part of the Science Coaches program, and to have some of my activities published on the website to be shared with the chemistry community. Additionally, the benefits of being involved with AACT include having access to a wealth of resources, including lab activities, webinars, professional development, and networking opportunities.

What are you most proud of in your work?

I am most proud of my students. I am proud of their accomplishments. Some have gone on to pursue careers in the medical profession, engineering, and education. In fact, one of my former students is now a colleague as a Biology teacher! He told me last week that he was accepted into medical school and he scored in the 96th percentile on the MCAT exam. I am so proud of him!!! I'm proud because I've touched my students' lives and they have touched mine.