November 2014 | Editorial
It's All Right if You Don't Know, Just Be Safe!
The title of the periodical, Chemistry Solutions, is a play on words. Solutions in a chemistry classroom are traditionally thought of as solutes dissolved in solvents. But in the context of the periodical, it’s a place where teachers can find answers to questions they (may or may not have realized they) have.
If teachers need answers, it means there must be something they don’t know. And that’s okay. Admitting to your students that you don’t know the answer to a question makes you more human to them. As a new teacher, that may be hard to believe. I remember in my first few years of teaching being petrified that my students may ask me a question that I didn’t know the answer to. But in the later part of my career, I enjoyed when I could give the answer “I don’t know.” It was an opportunity for discovery for everyone, and it made the lesson even more—pardon the pun—organic.
Solutions in this issue
Everyone will find something in the November issue of Chemistry Solutions that is new to them. The Classroom Commentary articles are perspective pieces by teachers. In this issue, the collection provides advice on how to match learning objectives with resources and learning activities, an argument for open AP enrollment, and a piece that addresses equity in education. In the Nuts & Bolts section, teachers share methods they use in their teaching. This issue includes articles about a teacher’s experience with each of the following topics: POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning), Socratic-Dialogue-Inducing (SDI) labs (student-centered demonstrations), the Science Literacy Framework, and ideas on how to keep students engaged in their learning. This issue’s In My Element, an autobiography by a teacher of chemistry about their pathway to teaching, features a teacher who never thought teaching, especially chemistry, would be in his future—but who now teaches all of the chemistry and physical science classes in a rural Ohio school district.
This issue introduces a new article type, Resource Feature. In these articles, teachers write about a lesson they’ve created and give insight about how they developed the lesson, why it’s unique, and other reflections on the development or implementation of the activity. This issue includes an activity that introduces students to particle diagrams, which emphasize that observations made with the naked eye have an explanation at the particle level, and a lab that has been converted into a safe demonstration about the industrial process thermal cracking.
Speaking of safety
In the past two months, a number of events have made national news about teachers, museum personnel, and Boy Scout leaders using methanol in unsafe ways. Students have been sent to the hospital with major injuries as a result of someone’s lack of caution when carrying out a demo.
Safety is always a primary focus for AACT. Every activity available on our website has a section devoted to safety. Some precautions may seem obvious, but they are there to avoid incidents like the ones we’ve recently heard about.
The Nuts & Bolts article about SDI labs was inspired by the events that occurred in September. Not only does the lab provide students with the opportunity to learn chemistry, but the teacher can take advantage of the chemicals used to discuss safety. The original lab the author shares with the article used methanol, but he updated it to use isopropyl alcohol in the name of safety.
Likewise, the Resource Feature about thermal cracking was inspired by safety concerns. The original lab had a complicated set up, which could result in an explosion if not assembled properly. The author created a microscale version that is safer, and in the article he explains how to prepare and handle chemicals used in the experiment in a safe and appropriate way.
AACT is here to support K–12 teachers of chemistry. That means resources to most, but safety is an added concern for those in this field that other educators don’t have to consider in the same way. In an English class, a student may break a toe from dropping a dictionary on their foot. In a chemistry class, a student could end up in the hospital with third-degree burns or worse. It is up to us as responsible educators to know as much as we can about the content and how to help students learn it safely.
And if you don’t know, remember, it is always okay to ask.
As the AACT community grows, we want teachers to build networks about best practices—safety being one of them. Visit the AACT safety page for more information about how to practice safe chemistry. And if you have other outlets that you use, please share them with us and we’ll disseminate the information to the community.
Enjoy this issue of Chemistry Solutions!
Chemistry Solutions editor
Photo credit: Depositphotos.com/katemlk023 (top), Depositphotos.com/keeweeboy (bottom)