May 2021 | Editorial
Emerging from the Pandemic … With New Teaching Tools, Strategies, and Inspiration
By Jesse Bernstein
Figure 1. The AACT Governing Board participating in a Zoom meeting.
We all know that the Covid-19 pandemic has had an adverse effect on virtually everyone in the world. However, chances are that each of us has been affected differently. Prior to my election as President of AACT, I had taught for over 35 years as a chemistry teacher. Having retired one year before my election, I was not forced to adapt my teaching methods from the formal classroom to a virtual or hybrid environment, as did my colleagues. I have, however, had to alter several of my activities as an educator during this challenging year.
As AACT President, I have missed the face-to-face discussions with the Governing Board at the annual meeting in D.C. All of our discussions and meetings this year have been Zoom sessions. In addition, I am on the Executive Committee of my local South Florida Section of the American Chemical Society. All of our section’s committee meetings and seminars have been virtual as well. The interaction during the seminars is not the same — but it has been better than nothing at all.
In addition, I have really missed seeing my many fellow AACT members due to the cancelation of both
Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE) last summer and the upcoming ChemEd this July. I do hope to be able to greet you in person at BCCE in 2022 and at ChemEd in 2023. I so miss the idea of sharing and comradery that occurs at these two national meetings, as well as at the national ACS and NSTA events.
The ACS South Florida Local Section has been actively involved with community outreach for a long time — even before I moved to South Florida 14 years ago. This past year has been a challenge to continue with similar activities. Usually, our section works with two local science museums to do hands-on programs related directly to the themes of National Chemistry Week and Chemists Celebrate Earth Week. I was fortunate to be able to coordinate with one of these museums (the other was closed), in order to offer a public outreach program that involved providing relevant activities for children during Halloween. Strict safety protocols were in place throughout the museum; safe distancing and mask wearing were practiced throughout the day.
Another activity that was affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic has been my assisting a primary school teacher as her Science Coach. Instead of spending a number of days in the classroom working directly with 3rd grade students, we did our activities virtually. The experience was definitely not the same, but I have thoroughly enjoyed our time together, and we did accomplish most of what was planned. Prior to a Zoom session, I would drop off the materials required with the teacher. Then, a week or two later, we would do the lab experiment via Zoom. Students who were not attending in person were provided with materials so that they could participate from home. This is a fantastic program; I encourage you to apply to participate!
I have been continuously impressed by the flexibility, resilience, and creativity shown by teachers over the course of the last year — providing many alternatives for traditional learning strategies, adjusting laboratory instruction, and devising creative alternatives for hands-on activities. I’ve been inspired by strategies that I have observed, and by the fantastic stories I’ve heard about. Teachers truly are remarkable.
I applaud the continued contributions of all teachers through this difficult year. Through AACT, we have been fortunate to have continuous and valuable offerings, many made possible by hard-working teachers. During the 2020-21 school year, teachers and staff combined to offer 23 webinars, all of which are accessible in the archives. Chemistry Solutions successfully completed its seventh volume, and now boasts a diverse collection of over 225 articles available to readers at any time. In the May issue, teachers can find even more valuable content, including:
- The AACT High School Ambassador, Kathleen Dwyer, shares about how her students completed lab experiments while they were learning at home during the Covid-19 pandemic. She discusses her planning process, the management and modifications of materials for lab-set ups, as well as the logistics at the school and district level.
- A motivating story about the collaborative efforts within a science department to develop a method to reuse lab supplies and promote sustainability. The article describes how a chemistry teacher and an AP chemistry student worked together to develop a method for recycling a large surplus of pink agar that had been collected after its use in a biology diffusion lab.
- A former teacher, who now works in a university STEM education program, returns to her experience both in the classroom and as a water specialist at a government agency to inspire readers to connect real-world science learning opportunities for students.
- Pre-service teacher Felicia Williams Russell is looking forward to embarking on a career as a high school chemistry teacher. As she finalizes her graduate program, she recalls how her early childhood encounters with chemistry left a lasting impression and inspired her to become a teacher.
What have we learned from this past year that we can use going forward?
First, the power of adaptation. I believe that we have learned that we can each adapt to almost any adverse unexpected situation that we might face. We now have the tools, strategies, and experience. For example, we can overcome missing school for any reason — including snow days, hurricanes, torrential rains, and most other calamities. In future years, perhaps teachers will choose to start the school year by providing an at-home kit for each student. This kit would only be accessed if and when school is unexpectedly cancelled. We could then leverage our virtual teaching stills. Of course, this would require pre-planning, modification, and safety considerations.
Second, the importance of resources and inspiration. Lectures have been prepared in many formats, using countless platforms by teachers around the world. My guess is that each of us has discovered several techniques and resources that have made teaching chemistry even more enjoyable — for both ourselves and our students. I urge you to continue to share your great success stories of adaptations and modifications, as well as the valuable resources that you may find within the teaching community.
Above all else, keep in mind that pandemics eventually end. When Covid-19 is behind us, we will all be better teachers for having been through this. Until then, stay well and stay safe.