Teaching Introductory Chemistry by Scott Milam

Teaching Introductory Chemistry book cover

Co-Authored by Kristen Drury*, Daniel Floyd** and Amy Snyder***

*19th year teacher, NY **5th year teacher, MO ***20th year teacher, TX


Kristen Drury - 19th year teacher in New York

I am going into my 19th year of teaching first year (Regents) and AP Chemistry. In the two years leading up to the publication of this book, I had attended two modeling trainings through American Modeling Teachers Association (AMTA). Those two training workshops helped shift my teaching strategies and philosophy in a way that greatly impacted the success and flow of my classroom. The book Teaching Introductory Chemistry, by Scott Milam, helped reinforce the new ideas I learned in the workshops but also provided additional ideas and examples to help implement what I had learned. I specifically like the narratives that explain not only what to teach and how to introduce topics, but also why it was effective. Each chapter provides content and some history about a topic as well as student struggles (and how to overcome them), phenomena ideas (collection of demos, activities, and lab ideas), and flash cards (example problems that are deeper than simple multiple choice questions). There are numerous interesting graphics and examples that can be used with students to help them wonder about and interact with chemistry.

In addition to teaching high school chemistry, I adjunct at a local university and I instruct aspiring teachers in a science pedagogy class. Many books about education are written at a level that is often too advanced for a new teacher or just too overwhelming to start implementing in the first few years. The first thing that I instantly liked about the book was that it is written in a way that is easy to read and reflect on. A teacher can read it in the order it is written or they can read the chapters in the order they teach them and still get a lot of valuable ideas from the book. I found that reading the chapter I was about to implement about  two weeks in advance was helpful in pacing the reading of the book so it wasn’t overwhelming and that allowed me to sit with the ideas one topic at a time. Needless to say, I recommend this book to all my chemistry university students!


Daniel Floyd - 5th year teacher in Missouri

I am a relatively new chemistry teacher (going into my 5th year), and I have found Teaching Introductory Chemistry to be an indispensable resource. I have used it repeatedly throughout the school year since I purchased it. This book isn’t just about what to teach in chemistry; it’s about how to teach chemistry. Moving forward, I plan to give this book as a gift to any young chemistry teachers I meet.

Each chapter focuses on a unit that is typically found in a high school chemistry course - ranging from general chemistry to honors level chemistry. The content of each chapter is detailed enough to give teachers actionable takeaways, yet broad enough to expand how teachers think about their units at the conceptual level.

The chapter on bonding is a great example of this. Before Teaching Introductory Chemistry, my bonding unit simply amounted to slideshow presentations and worksheets. My lessons lacked both hands-on and collaborative experiences for students. Scott’s “Am I breaking bonds?” and LEGO activities were excellent antidotes. Through these activities, students now have the opportunity to work together while making sense of bonding in a more concrete manner.

For me, Teaching Introductory Chemistry is more than a repository of activities. My most significant takeaway from the bonding chapter (and the chapters on other topics) is the conceptual framework of bonding that Scott highlights. In addition to providing innovative activities for teachers to use, Scott uses the chapter to walk through a learning progression that shows how students can learn bonding by constructing a multifaceted mental model that is explicitly connected to phenomena.

Rather than address Lewis dot theory, intermolecular forces, types of bonds, and molecular orbital theory as disparate topics, Scott shows how these topics can be approached in such a way as to build on each other. This allows students to learn the content in a more natural, narrative-based manner, which leads them to develop a deeper, more complex understanding of bonding.

From these takeaways, my bonding unit is more dynamic and engaging for students. Thus, more importantly, students learn chemistry better than they did before.


Amy Snyder - 19th year teacher in Texas

In this book, Scott Milam has woven several aspects into a well-structured guide about best teaching practices in the Chemistry field. He discusses Chemistry’s history, pedagogy, concepts and cognitive science in a way that any teacher, pre-service to veteran, can benefit. I particularly enjoyed the interjections of his personal stories and humor, as it made it easier for me to make my own meaning and relate his ideas to my teaching practice.  

Teachers don’t need to read this book cover to cover to be able to integrate its ideas into their curriculum scope or sequence. Each chapter is specific to concepts we all cover in any General Chemistry course and is organized to include the historical development of the topic; Scott’s experience elucidating student misconceptions and how to avoid them; specific demonstrations or phenomena you can easily set up to aid in student meaning making; and helpful flashcards that I personally use as warmups and exit tickets to check for understanding. You don’t have to teach in any specific sequence to benefit from his work- take what you need when you need it. For example, I had a group of AP Chemistry learners that were having a particularly difficult time with thermochemistry, and I was able to quickly integrate Scott’s explanation and methods of using LOL diagrams. Even though I’ve been through a cursory Modeling Instruction training that uses LOL diagrams, having Scott’s next level explanation of how he uses it in his classroom really helped bring my students to mastery. This year, I’ve already written into my Environmental Chemistry plan his acid rain simulation activities and thoughts on combining molarity and enthalpy into our Stoichiometry unit. Physical Chemistry is not one of my strengths, but I’ve improved my teaching from his explanation of Atomic Structure and Bonding. 

I strongly recommend this book for anyone passionate about improving their teaching practice, as I’m confident everyone can find a take away that is easily and immediately applicable to their classrooms.

Teaching Introductory Chemistry can be purchased through Amazon. 

Publication information
Pick Attribution: 

Scott Milam, Teaching Introductory Chemistry, July 2022.

Publication Date: 
Friday, July 22, 2022
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Comments 1

Chad Husting's picture
Chad Husting | Mon, 09/04/2023 - 18:30

I totally love the book.  I have been teaching chemistry for 20 + years and I still find Scott's book incredibly helpful.  Quick question...how do you or others use the flash cards at the end of each chapter?  From a pedagogical point of view...what works well for you?