@RyTriGuy at HS Chemistry Teachers Day 2015

By Ryan Johnson on January 29, 2016

One of the largest problems facing science education today is the retention of new, motivated, and appropriately educated educators. Unfortunately, many new science educators are underwhelmed by the lack of support from their schools, the relatively low pay in comparison to other science careers, and lack of chances to connect with teacher support systems. It is this lack of connection that makes me so happy to have found AACT and been given the opportunity to attend High School Day at the American Chemical Society’s 2015 Meeting in Denver.

HS Chemistry Day is a one-day program of workshops and lectures designed for high school chemistry teachers, and provides an opportunity for enrichment and community building. As a chemist who has worked in industry, and now an educator excited to be in my third year as a high school chemistry teacher, I was thrilled to tap into this new network of invaluable resources and connections!

As AACT’s “Twitterati” for High School Day, I was excited to glean as much information as possible to inform my instruction & practice as a chemistry educator, and share my experiences with the AACT community via social media. There’s possibly no better way to share excitement for chemistry than through the awe-inspiring and chemically-rooted demos by Steve Spangler, who started our day off with spectacles and great words of advice. Steve’s background in chemistry truly illustrates the path to becoming a strong chemistry educator is through networking and learning from others. Steve got his start from literally “borrowing” and tweaking science demos and experiments from his own teachers! Too often anew teachers (or any teacher) can become this lonely island in his or her classroom, and feel isolated. Steve emphasizes that if you can seek out mentors and professional learning communities, either within your school or elsewhere, you’ll be a much better teacher for it.

Steve also really hit home with his comment that “every moment counts,” even the ones we might not think matter in our busy day. Simply showing compassion or encouragement to a student who might have otherwise given up that day will go a long way towards being a powerful force for change within our students and ourselves!

One of the main goals in my classroom is to get students excited about science. Too often science (chemistry, in particular) is seen as this intimidating, daunting behemoth with which students must grapple and struggle, and then run away from as fast as possible. We, as chemistry educators, must do everything in our power to not only give quality instruction, but also to share our passion and excitement about our trade. There’s a reason why we embrace this wonderful subject, and there’s no better way to show it than to wear it like a badge of honor. As I walked into the convention center Sunday morning, I overheard a mentor talking to a group of younger students: “You all will fit right in, there’s 20,000 chemistry nerds here.” Let’s aim to make all of our students “chemistry nerds” by giving them meaningful connections with the content material.

We know that chemistry is everywhere—not just locked in a laboratory setting or within equations or endless stoichiometry problems. So let’s get our kids to walk out of class and embrace the science happening all around! The inspiring talks from Thermo Scientific and 2014 ACS president Thomas Barton identified high school teachers as “vital cogs in the chemistry enterprise,” and solidified this belief in me even more. We have an incredible opportunity—even duty— to share our enthusiasm for science. As Jenelle Ball (2015 James Bryant Award winner) pointed out during one session, let’s not strive to create “Avogadro automatons” but remember that “the chemistry classroom is a social setting, not a place where checkboxes are marked.” Jenelle emphasized that our students are the most valuable resource we have as teachers, and we need to treasure them. She spoke about connecting with resources through universities and other teachers in order to make lasting relationships that can greatly impact our ability to be effective, well-trained, and knowledgeable educators. This again reinforces that the connections forged by and through organizations such as AACT are vital to our success!

Whether it was learning about the exciting innovations in chemistry, wandering the exhibition halls of the convention, the synergistic enthusiasm between teachers while putting together an oxidation miniscale experiment, or following other chemistry educators and enthusiasts on social media during the convention, this was an experience I’ll treasure and look forward to having again in the future. It’s my hope to use this enriching and exciting event to continue to engage and energize my instruction in the classroom, and hopefully by sharing my experiences have helped to charge yours, as well!

Ryan is a third-year chemistry and AP chemistry teacher at Sierra High School, in Colorado Springs, CO. When he’s not geeking out with his chem students, Ryan is a competitive triathlete, runner, mountaineer, president of the 501(c)3 non-profit Incline Friends, and daddy to a budding 8-year old scientist, Fiona.