Taking Time to Recharge during the Summer

close up of tulips in campus garden

"What are we doing to help kids achieve?"

Starting in August and ending in May, most of our lives will change drastically. The drastic change is due to the nature of teaching. Students, emails, committee meetings, grading, labs and phone calls will take over our lives. I love teaching, especially chemistry.  What if somehow it could all be made just a little easier? It is hard to believe, but there are several people who are devoting their professional lives to help chemistry teachers and their students.

Miami University at Oxford put together a Chemistry Education Research Graduate Student and Post-Doc Professional Development Conference. Groups of graduate students and post-docs from all over the country came together to present research and listen to plenary talks. Talks and research focused on helping students and teachers teach, learn and understand chemistry. The poster sessions were all extremely informative and positive. Constructive criticism was encouraged and welcomed by all. The poster sessions with the talks provided a fantastic “snapshot” of the current state of chemical education. Here are just a few of the ideas and questions researchers are tackling.

Why is there a disconnect between chemical education research and classroom practice?

What would happen if professional development organizers treated professors and teachers as students instead of just putting up a powerpoint?

Suppose one studies the POGIL process? Why is it that students who are more active do better? Should students keep the same roles or change them up?

Ask students to explain conservation of mass. Burn some steel wool and find the mass before and after. How would students explain the data? Could their answers demonstrate popular misconceptions? What would the same students say about melting ice or dissolving sugar?

Travis C. Green from Bowling Green State University and group decided to look at common energy and thermodynamic labs with an infrared camera instead of a thermometer.  What would it look like? Can students get similar data from the IR camera attached to their phone as with a traditional thermometer? The answer is “yes” by the way. Can they predict what the colors from the camera would look like and develop particulate models?

It is almost like drinking water through a firehose. The good news is that it does reignite the interest and passion to take risks and try new ideas. The chemical education research may not put more hours in our days. It does serve at least two important purposes. It reminds us that we are not alone in helping students. Many really fantastic professionals do care and are trying to examine tough problems in chemical education.  It also attempts to provide guides for best practice in the chemistry classroom. Yes...it is going to get crazy in a few weeks. However, there are people who are trying to help us and our students be the best we can be during chaotic times.

Maybe you cannot attend a conference similar to this.  I would challenge you to browse through ChemEd X. Think about a lab or an activity you have always wanted to “tweek”.  Look for a different demonstration or lesson. Do not be afraid to try and then let someone know how it went. We are all on the same team. You and your students will be better off for the experience. Here is to another exciting and great school year.