AACT Member Spotlight: Victoria Perrone

By AACT on August 3, 2022

Victoria Perrone

Every month AACT spotlights a passionate member who is dedicated to enhancing chemistry inside and outside the classroom. This month, we spotlight Victoria Perrone. She teaches chemistry at Boston University Academy in Boston, MA.

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

In high school, I told everyone I wanted to grow up to be an interior designer or an architect. I signed up for an elective course about interior design and quickly learned that a lot more art and math skills were required for those professions than I expected. In the back of my mind, the thought of becoming a teacher was always there. I loved teaching Sunday School to first graders. I loved the summer camp I worked at, where I was the program assistant to the most awesome high school physics and physical education teachers. Even more, I loved my time as a facilitator in the Project Adventure program at my school. In my junior year, my English teacher wrote in my comment home, “I see teaching in Tori’s future,” but I was still not outwardly convinced. It wasn’t until it came time to apply for college and I was required to check a box on what I wanted my major to be. So I checked “teacher” because it was the only one that made sense. Looking back, it was more than the right decision: this is the profession I am meant for. The biggest lesson I took away from my high school teaching experience at Sunday School, camp, and Project Adventure, was that the joy of teaching comes from watching and guiding students to figure out the answers on their own. Every day, I keep that in mind when I watch students struggle through their problem sets. The feeling when they finally figure it out is worth it!

What fuels your passion for science and teaching?

No surprises here: my students! I am lucky to work at a school where every student loves learning and is curious to find out more. In my first year teaching at BUA, I was asked questions about the material that made me wonder if I was out of my league. After seven years at the school, I know that many of them are asking questions way beyond what is expected of a high school student because they are excited to dig in deep. Their excitement and curiosity have cultivated my own love for learning and motivates me every day to find the challenges they crave. Each year, I learn a little more about how chemistry fits into everyone’s lives and careers, and am excited to share it back with the students in the hopes that, even if they don’t want to pursue a chemistry career, they will gain a deep appreciation for the subject I’ve dedicated my life to.

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

I love reading every ChemMatters issue and marking pages that relate to content material. I also look for articles in the Chemical & Engineering News newsletter, Science News, and Andy Brunning’s Compound Interest blog. My hope is that these articles will connect the dots in the students’ minds between the chemistry we learn in class and their lives more broadly. Last fall, during unit on isotopes, I asked students to read and discuss an article from the New York Times Magazine called “The New Science on How We Burn Calories” (Sept 14, 2021). They read about metabolism and age and how metabolism has been measured using isotopic labeling. This revealed that isotopes aren’t just important for learning about nuclear power and weapons but also important in medicine.

Outside of reading, I’m interested in exploring the chemistry of cooking and ways I could incorporate it into class. Last summer, I had the opportunity to build and teach a course with my colleague on that topic. It was a fun experience to collaborate with another teacher to develop and test new material and figure out what might translate to the chemistry curriculum in September. I look forward to discussing more about baking during my acids and bases unit this spring!

What are you most proud of in your work?

I am excited about a science communication theme I assigned to my 10th-grade chemistry course this year. During the pandemic, I noticed just how challenging it can be to communicate critical scientific information to the public in a way that is accessible and trustworthy. This realization motivated me to think about opportunities to problem-solve with my students. I explore the theme through a summer reading assignment with Mark Miodownik’s Stuff Matters and articles I found in Chemical & Engineering NewsThe Wall Street Journal, and ChemMatters. I asked students to give what I started calling “pop presentations” throughout the school year. On three different occasions, students researched an underrepresented chemist, a chemistry career, and a molecule ahead of class, then took ten minutes during class to prepare one slide and had one minute to present.

These presentations were meant to incorporate topics that don’t easily fit into the standard chemistry curriculum and teach them science communication and presentation skills. Before each presentation, we would discuss a focus like “what makes a professional presentation,” or “how do you engage your audience to get them to care about your topic?” This series of mini-projects culminated in a final research paper and a ten-minute presentation. I was blown away by the depth of research in the presentations this year on topics including “Carbon Dating Glaciers to Understand the Impact on Arctic Communities,” “Chemical Hair Straightening and the Pursuit of ‘Good Hair’,” and “The importance of AHAs, BHAs and PHAs in Skincare Products.” I am particularly proud of this course theme because of what it unlocked for students in making connections between chemistry and a topic of deep importance to them and allowing them to shine as science communicators.