An Action-Packed 2017 ACS Teacher Program

By Martha Milam on April 21, 2017

During the first days of April, I attended the Chemistry Teacher Program at the 2017 American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting. The iconic city of San Francisco attracted the largest number of chemistry professionals ever to its annual meeting, and while the city constantly buzzes with energy, there was an added enthusiasm. The 17,000-plus chemists walked steep, tree-lined streets with a purpose: to expand their professional network and dig deeper into the central science.

Teacher Program hosts Jenelle Ball and Greta Glugoski-Sharp did a superb job organizing the full-day Sunday session. The agenda was action-packed, and our spacious round tables could hardly house all the valuable giveaways and lab supplies.

The first message of the day was powerful. Bruce Lipshutz motivated us with the serious reminder that teachers have a unique opportunity to impact our global future. Then, we heard from two professors from California State University in Chico. Chemist Lisa Ott told stories of high school students conducting college-level research, and anthropologist Eric Bartelink explained how isotopic studies are used for paleoenvironmental reconstruction and detection of the prehistoric human diet.

Julie Hubbard inspired us to develop student questioning strategies, and Melanie Cooper showed how to incorporate the new 3-D standards as we write assessments. With fun activities for middle schoolers, Jim Kessler, Sally Mitchell, and Rebecca Field demonstrated food chemistry and ocean acidification. The lively combination of music and science invigorated the crowd before the lunch break.

The afternoon session began with Deanna Cullen’s (ChemEd Xchange) introduction of the 2017 James B. Conant Award recipient Laura Slocum, a gracious and dedicated teacher. She shared her teaching journey, including her contributions to the Journal of Chemical Education, and she delivered four simple tips for teaching success: 1) Be who you are, 2) Listen, 3) Ask Questions, 4) Collaborate with ACS peers.

We learned from green chemistry experts at Beyond Benign and Pasco Scientific's Tom Loschiavo. Giving us bright neon goggles, ACS’s Karlo Lopez emphasized lab safety. Next was the humorous, neuroscientist-turned-teacher Michelle Wynn, who wowed us with a modeling activity designed to teach polar vs. non-polar molecules and their ability to dissolve ions.

Before the last presentation, I spotted Sally Mitchell’s latest tweet. @SallyBChemistry couldn’t have been more accurate with her words: “Energy Time! Sherri Rukes is here. #ACSTeacherDay Corrosion activities @AACTconnect.” Demonstrating the various abilities of metals to corrode, Sherri concluded the day with fascinating experiments.

We gathered again Monday evening for the final presentations, and Sherri Rukes opened, delving deeper into materials and polymers. Edmund Escudero brought 51 impressive years of experience, and Andrew Nydam shared his automobile industry background. With Danielle Miller, we investigated the hydrophobicity of rose petals. Throughout the session, teachers handled numerous composites, polymers, metals, and ceramics, and we built sturdy honeycomb structures from paper. It became clear to everyone that material science is a highly desirable career field, and that the transportation and sports industry propel chemistry innovation. All of us were inspired to become Polymer Ambassadors and to attend Material Science Camp for teachers.

On Tuesday, I took a ride on the old technology of the San Francisco cable cars. In this last adventure, I bumped into doctoral chemistry students and some of my new teacher friends. Milam blog webAll had been invigorated by their recent learning and collaboration and were anxious to share with colleagues at home. Ultimately, I discovered the message woven into each session of the teacher program: Students need a strong understanding of chemistry because of its impact on our economy, our environmental future, and our quality of life. As chemistry teachers, we are both equipped and fortunate to be able to instill that key understanding upon the younger generation of Americans.

Martha Milam teaches chemistry at East Coweta High School in Sharpsburg, Georgia, and directs the Science Olympiad team and STEM internship program. She worked as a quality control chemist at Michelin Tire Corporation before starting her teaching career, and is a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics & Science Teaching. You can find her on Twitter @marthavmilam.