Who inspires you? Do you have a “chem teaching rockstar” whose work fires you up as you enter another school year? Is there an author whose work you consistently turn to for his or her insights into the chemistry classroom? Or maybe memories of a past teacher of yours?
One source to regularly turn to for an annual dose of inspiration is the awardee of the American Chemical Society’s James Bryant Conant Award in Teaching High School Chemistry. A list of past winners reads like a veritable Who’s Who list of chemistry educators. For many of the winners, the Journal of Chemical Education has taken the opportunity to share their words and their inspiration with readers. JCE’s August 2016 article Endowing Inspiration (available to JCE subscribers) focuses on 2015 Conant winner, Jenelle L. Ball. A neat inclusion as online supporting information for this year’s article is a short video of JCE Associate Editor Deanna Cullen interviewing Ball. For pieces about past winners, there is a collection of links to JCE, ChemEd XChange, and Chemical & Engineering News articles.
I’m thrilled to see that the ChemEd Xchange and JCE are sponsoring the Conant award permanently beginning in 2017 through an endowment. I look forward to learning from these inspiring educators for many years to come.
“Don’t Stop Trying To Learn About Chemistry”
The quote above comes from Jenelle Ball’s video interview. In Endowing Inspiration, she also encourages “the new and veteran teacher alike … to continue to find opportunities for growth in the content as well as pedagogy.” You’ll find suggestions for what form effective and lasting professional development opportunities can take in No Teacher Is an Island: Bridging the Gap between Teachers’ Professional Practice and Research Findings (available to JCE subscribers). Authors Herrington and Daubenmire describe a gap between research that has been done in teaching and learning chemistry and what actually occurs in many high school chemistry classrooms. They make the case that “teachers need to be involved in trying out and analyzing their practice and making data driven decisions to transform their teaching,” through collaborations between the high school teachers and college chemistry education faculty.
They describe three programs that have been successful at bridging this gap: Chemical Thinking Learning Progression, Target Inquiry, and Families, Organizations, and Communities Understanding Science, Sustainability, and Service Program. I’ve interacted with and heard presentations by teachers from the Target Inquiry program. They were passionate about their collaborations and the work it produced. These are not one-day-and-done professional development experiences. Rather, they are long-term connections and development that can have an impact on a teacher’s actual practices long into the future, as they continue to reflect on their teaching and how it can/should align with current chemical education research.
There are obstacles. The authors mention several. Some high school teachers are not aware of chemical education research literature. Some teachers are aware, but do not have access to the journals where the literature is published. It also takes a substantial investment of time and energy, often in short supply for teachers. They include a call for considering how to provide such access, for “recognizing teachers for the time and efforts they contribute to such communities and rewarding them,” and for funding.
Have you participated in these or a similar program? How did it impact your classroom? Are there existing teacher education programs designed around these models? How can we as a chemical education community make the experience more accessible to teachers?
For more from the August 2016 issue, see Mary Saecker’s JCE 93.08 August 2016 Issue Highlights.