Readers likely recognize Tom Kuntzleman from his numerous ChemEd X blog posts and Journal of Chemical Education articles as well as his dazzling demonstrations on his Tommy Technetium YouTube and TikTok channels! He is clearly a passionate educator! Let’s get to know Tom better in this interview...
Q. Tell us about yourself.
A. I fell in love with science during my 7 years teaching science in the public schools of North Carolina. I now teach chemistry and education courses at a small university in Michigan.
Q. What made you decide to become a chemistry teacher?
A. I had a professor named Emeric Schultz for General Chemistry 2 my sophomore year in college. He performed many chemical demonstrations during his lectures, and this was the first time I ever saw live chemistry experiments. I was mesmerized by these experiments, and decided that I wanted to teach chemistry and do experiments for students, just like Dr. Schultz.
Video 1: How Do Color Wonder Markers Work? has been viewed over 1 million times on Tommy Technetium You Tube Channel (the channel has over 100,000 subscribers), accessed 7/21/2022.
Q. Describe your passion for education.
A. I view teaching as an art. Like art, teaching involves creating and sharing ideas, passions, and visions about the world in an aesthetically pleasing way. I see beauty in scientific phenomena, reasoning, theory, and practice. I endeavor to share this view with others in a way they might also find attractive, fascinating, and motivating.
Q. How do you remain up to date with current science topics and methods of teaching?
A. By reading up on topics and experiments that are new to me. I often attempt to repeat experiments that are reported by others. I also try to envision, design, and perform new experiments to carry out.
Q. Describe a teaching strategy that works well for you and your students.
A. I enjoy working with my students to explore various phenomena using a practice that I call “synergistic inquiry”. See ChemEd X blog post: Synergistic Inquiry (January 2019).
Q. How has your teaching style/philosophy changed throughout your career?
A. I can more easily tell you a philosophy that has stayed the same: the belief that people learn more when they are interested in a subject.
Q. Describe your favorite laboratory activity.
A. Conducting original, exploratory investigations with my students.
Q. What chemistry concept do you find to be the most challenging for students and how do you approach the challenge?
A. Chemistry is the study of matter and its interaction with energy. As a result, I believe students should actively interact with matter – or at least observe the behavior of matter – as much as possible. Therefore, I attempt to teach students through reference to actual, live experimentation. Having said all this, it should be obvious that I struggle to teach abstract concepts that do not naturally or easily lend themselves to live experimentation. Electronic configurations, electronic orbitals, VSEPR theory, molecular orbital theory, and valence bond theory are concepts that come to mind. I usually have students use various computer programs to observe, explore and manipulate electronic and molecular orbitals or VSEPR shapes. However, the lack of interaction with real matter in this approach – in my opinion – leaves something to be desired.
Q. Describe the contribution to ChemEd X that you are most proud of.
A. The “Chemical Mysteries” series. (See figure 1 for an early example.)
Q. What is your favorite ChemEd X resource?
A. The relationships I have made with some very wonderful people.
Q. What advice do you have for teachers who would like to become more involved with ChemEd X?
A. The simplest thing you can do is send us a quick note of interest using our Contact Form and let us know your thoughts. You can also get started by checking out the ChemEd X Call for Contributions.
Tom Kuntzleman became one of the first Lead Contributors for ChemEd X when he joined our team in 2014. He became an associate editor in 2018 and still serves in that role. We have tremendous appreciation for him! Follow Tom on his ChemEd X blog and on Twitter @TommyTechnetium!