Beyond the Curriculum

I always find this time of year quite harrowing. I am right in the middle of academic competition season with Olympiads in physics, chemistry, biology, and math. I have science bowl and ocean bowl along with bridge building all on the same day. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Well I have some idea about why especially when it comes to Chemistry Olympiad. I have never been as motivated as I am when I am trying to prepare my kids for this event. I like teaching AP Chemistry but I do find that the syllabus makes me follow a pretty specific set of topics and the questions are going to come from that set of topics. Many people might jump all over that statement but I am not trying to start an argument. I am just saying we pretty well know what is going to be asked. Chemistry Olympiad is different. There are a really good number of surprises that pop up and over the past three or four years it has expanded nicely.

I know that my inner city students with very weak backgrounds in all skill areas are going to be challenged by this exam. They will not have the skills to just read Zumdahl once and get a good score. I have to work with them and train them to “think different” as Steve Jobs was famous for saying. I am teaching extra lectures now just focusing on material that is fair game on chemistry Olympiad and not likely to be on the AP exam. We are having a great deal of fun covering biochemistry, quantum mechanics, radiation, organic, simultaneous equilibriums, unit cells, complex ions, and transition metal chemistry. I am running laboratories that I do not do with my AP class and these labs last longer. How am I getting this done?

My kids have convinced me to run an after school program to accomplish this. Since it is after school anyone who wants to come is allowed in and not one student gets a grade. This relieves much of the everyday pressure kids experience. Students from other chemistry classes and even other schools are in attendance. I get so excited for this every week that I don’t care I am not getting paid for it. There may be teachers that will accuse me of being a martyr because I offer this time without pay. I am just trying to get a chance to teach some cool chemistry and enjoy it while I can. Each Friday I am getting about 35 kids dropping in for this class. Mostly it is the same kids each week but it changes from time to time. I have been running it for three years now and last year one of the most exciting aspects started to develop. Other teachers from the school began to join us.

I love team teaching. I have done it for years including a weekend course at UCLA I teach with two of the best chemistry teachers in the area. We love lecturing together and are always chiming in on each others explanations. Now I am getting to do this with one of the teachers from my own school. The best part might even be that she is British. Every time we go into something new she ends up saying “well when I taught in London we did this… or that” the kids absolutely love hearing this very different approach, different lab, and different style to the subject matter.

To me it is amazing how much energy I can have on a Friday afternoon! These events provide me with a different outlet and I get to work with other teachers I really enjoy working with.