Teaching During Difficult Times

Garden beds along side of a building

¨What are we doing to help kids achieve?¨

I have to be honest. I never thought I would be writing a blog about teaching from home for weeks on end. The entire scenario gets stranger by the day. It is ironic that everyone reading this is a teacher who probably has a heightened sense of compassion. We are now in a situation in which the most compassionate response to our students is to stay six feet away. Regardless of the circumstances, we still need to find a way to help our students. (Check out a few great tips from Melissa.) I am supposed to be on spring break. Starting on Monday, I will be meeting with students virtually for five bells a day. I will need to teach in a way I have never taught. Lou Holtz has a great theory when facing a challenge. It is an acronym called WIN. This stands for ¨What is Important Now¨. Here are some tips that I am hoping will be useful for myself and for other teachers.

Start slow. Needless to say, students are probably in somewhat of a state of shock. Also, I have no idea how their parents are holding up. I am not going to assign a ton of work the first day. I want to make sure they are okay. We will go over a general plan. I want my students to feel safe and to know we will try to do meaningful work.

Mindfulness Training. Fear is a natural emotion at a time like this. We can respond one of three ways. First we can allow the fear to dictate our lives. Second, we can push the fear away. I am not sure either of those are good options. The third possibility is to recognize we are somewhat fearful, live with it for awhile, and then ask the questions, ¨What is useful now?¨ Can we respond in a rational and reasonable way? This is where mindfulness training can come into play. I cannot make my students practice mindfulness. But, I can suggest it. Currently, there are several apps and some Youtube live sessions each day where people can practice mindfulness one or more times every day.

Starting slow and being mindful can help. I will have to introduce curriculum at some point. Currently, the list of curriculum resources is growing and can be overwhelming (some of those resources are listed in a post pinned on the homepage of ChemEd X). I am asking two questions in my planning. Is this material interesting to students? Is this part of a standard or topic we should think about covering? I pretty much have decided to turn my house into a high school science lab to help answer these questions. Much of the focus of the curriculum will be the chemistry of food and cooking. It is something that directly impacts students every day.

The first exploration into this is roasting coffee and thermodynamics. As much as students like gourmet coffee drinks, they might find that nothing is better than a cup of coffee that is freshly roasted (see video 1 below). A knowledge of thermodynamics is critical when roasting coffee. To make a long story short, coffee roasting is an exothermic reaction that can quickly get out of control if you are not careful.


Video 1: Roasting coffee beans


Next, I have turned a portion of my yard into a raised bed and hydroponic garden (figure 1). One reason I did this is because there is a huge number of chemical principles to introduce to students such as solutions, bonding, measuring and acid base chemistry just to name a few. Another reason I did this is because in uncertain times it is comforting to engage in an activity that supports new life.

Figure 1: Raised bed and hydroponic garden


Finally, I hope to introduce students to one of my favorite laboratory spaces….the kitchen. There are plenty of chemicals, reactions and even a hotplate. Most students can relate to or even engage in these experiments.

Most importantly, I want my students to understand that every day they can choose to help someone. If one hundred students ask the question, ¨How can I help¨ to three different people a day, that means that the whole group may possibly help 300 people in one day and thousands by the end of the week. Now that will really help to flatten the curve. That is something to get excited about...




General Safety

For Laboratory Work: Please refer to the ACS Guidelines for Chemical Laboratory Safety in Secondary Schools (2016).  

For Demonstrations: Please refer to the ACS Division of Chemical Education Safety Guidelines for Chemical Demonstrations.

Other Safety resources

RAMP: Recognize hazards; Assess the risks of hazards; Minimize the risks of hazards; Prepare for emergencies