An Educator’s Journey to Now…

start here winding road

Hello to the ChemEd Xchange community! My name is Phil Root and I am happy to join this community of educators, researchers, and learners this year as two-year college lead contributor. For my first blog post I'd like to share some background and what you might expect from me this year, in hopes that many of us can engage and interact with each other regarding chemistry education.

Currently, I am a chemistry faculty at Scottsdale Community College (Phoenix, AZ area), but my path to now involved many stops and lots of learning along the way. Like many chemistry educators, my first official teaching job was as a teaching assistant while an undergraduate at Arizona State University (ASU). Teaching in the labs and working in the tutoring center was a challenging and rewarding experience that drew me into teaching and to pursue a Chemistry Education undergraduate degree.

I got my first teaching job at Chandler High School in the Phoenix, Arizona area. I was actually assigned to teach Physics my first year, even though my degree was in Chemistry Education. The fortunate outcome of this was meeting an experienced physics teacher in the district before the year started. I was handed a CD of teacher notes and materials called "Modeling Instruction". This also came with the instruction that I could use these materials, but I really needed to take a summer workshop. 

That turned out to be the best advice I think I could have received as an inexperienced, unseasoned chemistry teacher. After fumbling my way through the materials that first year, I took my first Modeling Instruction workshop the following summer. That was my first experience with an explicit exploration of data-driven instruction and student-centered engagement and discourse. As it turns out, this workshop provided me with tools and curriculum that aligned more with how I viewed my role as an educator: the guide-by-the-side rather than the sage-on-the-stage. I remember consistently starting off an activity in "student mode" and not really sure where the workshop leader was headed. Then some way into the activity I realized where it was headed and thought, "Wow, this is excellent!" Since that first workshop, I have continued taking and leading workshops, and applying the concepts of data-driven instruction and student-centered discourse in my classroom. My involvement with modeling instruction even led to my earning a Masters of Natural Sciences in Physics from ASU.

I taught high school for almost ten years and used methods learned in those workshops to teach on-level, honors, and Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate classes in chemistry. In 2013 I was hired on as a residential faculty at Scottsdale Community College where I continue to apply the principles of data-driven instruction and student-centered discourse in both the college lab and classroom.

Before going any further, let me clarify the terms data-driven instruction and student-centered discourse. These two terms can be "buzzy" and frequently mean different things to different educators. As I use it data-driven instruction refers to one of the core tenets of modeling instruction: students observe and study a phenomenon in the lab then use generated data and observations to construct scientific interpretations, or models, that accurately describe and possibly explain the phenomenon. As such lab time is not used to verify concepts students were taught about in a lecture. Lab is a place of discovery and the jumping off point for concept development. For more information on lab-centered curriculum and the modeling instruction method, please check out

When I use the term student-centered discourse, I'm referring to a classroom that actively engages students in dialogue and presentation of their ideas, whether that be verbally or using presentation tools like whiteboards (or, as during the pandemic, collaborative Google slides). The instructor participates in a Socratic dialogue, probing student thought and understanding, gently guiding discussion as students question ideas and formulate their models. By no means do I claim to be the expert or great at this, but this type of interaction is the goal in my classroom. For more information about active engagement and student discourse in the classroom, the following articles are of interest:

This is the lens from which I plan to approach my blog posts for ChemEd X as a two-year college lead contributor. I hope to share activities and ideas based on best practices in science education, with an emphasis on either data-driven, lab-based instruction and/or active engagement of students in the process. Rather than provide easy answers for difficult classroom content (which I do not think exist), I hope that the posts will serve as a jumping off point for discussion and further idea exploration as a community. I look forward to actively engaging with this community, sharing as much as I can, and learning even more from all of us.