© Dragon Images/Bigstockphoto.com

My fellow educators, over the past two-and-a-half years, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the task of delivering high-quality lessons to our students virtually impossible. We have dealt with remote asynchronous learning, virtual learning through media platforms such as Zoom and Google classroom, hybrid virtual and in-person learning models, alternating schedules, and socially-distanced learning … not to mention, constantly wondering what will go wrong next!

The inability to deliver high-quality lessons was not without a high level of effort. In some cases, there was also a high level of expense, both financially and emotionally, as almost every teacher has a unique story as to how they did everything in their power to provide their students with the education they deserve. As we are slowly starting to see the storm pass with brighter skies ahead, let’s not forget the true reason why we persevered through all the challenges of the pandemic. We deeply care about our students, take pride in our profession, and love our jobs as educators.

Like many educators during the pandemic, I often asked myself, “Do I still want to do this?”, which is a thought that never before entered my mind. The reason? I didn’t feel like a teacher anymore. My classroom was empty, my lab equipment untouched, and I was delivering content through a webcam to a computer screen full of small boxes containing either students’ names or a live look at their ceiling fan. Everything I loved about teaching was gone. I missed being in front of a large group of students, doing science, building rapport and relationships, and having fun while doing it. Everything I did felt forced and lifeless. 

Reviving myself

My passion for teaching started to return at the beginning of this school year. Students were back in the classroom, and we were given clearance to run activities and labs again. I was able to connect with my students in person and, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, I found myself laughing, smiling, and enjoying my profession.

I also spent some time reflecting, and realized I was not going to let an unavoidable dark period in history ruin a career and passion I once loved. Aside from reconnecting with my students and running labs and activities, one method I’ve found extremely helpful in rejuvenating my passion for teaching is something I call “throwing out the playbook,” a sports metaphor for getting rid of old ideas and methods and trying something new.

Back in 2015, my school underwent a major renovation that required me to change classrooms. In the process of moving, I bravely decided to throw away my dated arsenal of paper labs, notes, and activities. I understand the idea of throwing away original copies of your “go to” activities and labs may cause teachers to gasp with anxiety. However, I knew this was the only way I could update my practices, find new and exciting activities, and grow as an educator.

Some of my favorite benefits from AACT:

When I returned to school that September after throwing away all my files in June, I had some strong feelings of regret. But I soon discovered that finding new activities wasn’t too difficult and these new activities allowed my students to experience more relevant concepts, engage with more technology, and develop their 21st century skills. It was also around this time that I discovered AACT and its vast library of teaching resources that quickly replaced my dusty filing cabinets.

Since then, I’ve found myself incorporating many AACT resources into my daily lesson, such as activities, labs, and simulations, as well as ideas from articles. My collection of educational tools has now become a fluid, ever-changing library of content provided by some of the best and most passionate teachers around the world. I’m constantly finding new and exciting ideas, shared through the AACT platform, and I’m participating in the ongoing development by sharing newly-developed content of my own — hoping other educators will find value in it as well.

In the March issue of Chemistry Solutions, I’m encouraged by some of the new and great ideas shared by my fellow chemistry teachers. I urge you to check them out, including:

  • Two chemistry teachers share about their inaugural experience designing and co-teaching a two-week summer mini-course, Chemistry of Cooking, for incoming freshmen. Victoria Perrone and Rosemary White embraced their own learning opportunity: both teaching as a team, and teaching about food chemistry, for the first time. They also share ideas for how teachers might incorporate aspects of the course into a homeschool, virtual, hybrid, or in-person chemistry classroom.
  • Early-career chemistry teacher Ellie Byers shares her experience teaching in the blended chemistry classroom and provides recommendations for several teaching strategies that work best in digital teaching, and others that are more effective when teaching offline.
  • High school science teacher Heather Lott discusses how she keeps her lab space clean all year long — by teaching her students the basics of cleaning up after a lab and making the behavior a required part of their lab routine.
  • 2022 Colorado Teacher of the Year and middle school science teacher Autumn Rivera shares about how her own love and passion for science was fueled at a young age. She encourages middle school and elementary school teachers to see themselves as chemistry teachers, and to inspire our youngest generation of scientists.

Out with the old, in with the new                     

AACT has a growing library of teaching resources (that remarkably just surpassed 1,000 items!). As a member, you have free access to over 150 professional webinars, nearly 250 articles, and great program opportunities to get involved in, like Science Coaches and ChemClub.

In my experience, the best educators are the ones who do not fear change. They embrace the changing world and incorporate new methods, ideas, and technology into their classroom on an ongoing basis. I encourage all teachers to use the hopefully imminent end of the pandemic as a time to throw out some of the old, lifeless activities in their arsenals and try something new. It does not have to be as extreme as my complete overhaul in 2015, but I encourage you to try one or two new activities using a technology or teaching methods that you may not be familiar with. In addition, I hope you will share your own favorite activities, so we can grow together.

AACT also has a huge membership of chemistry educators, so if you are not yet familiar with any fellow members, reach out to your Regional Representative to get connected with the community. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MattPerekupka. I love teaching and don’t want you to forget that you do too. Best wishes for a fresh start in 2022!

Matt Perekupka

Matt Perekupka

Photo credit:
(article cover) Krisdog/Bigstock.com