When I first started teaching I was very fortunate that a local teacher invited me to a high school chemistry teachers meeting. I was really young and really motivated to be a better teacher. I registered immediately and went to an all day event held at Occidental College here in Los Angeles. I don’t think many of you would have heard of Oxy except maybe if you had read President Obama’s Biography since it is where he spent his first two years of undergrad.
I was floored by this meeting. It was nothing like an NSTA meeting. It was just a room full of chemistry teachers (over 100 of them) watching their colleagues get up and share 10-15 minute talks about a lab or demo that they had a really neat trick for. I think I learned more that day than I did in all of my teacher training. It was for chemistry teachers by chemistry teachers. I told the organizer I wanted to present the next year, went back to my classroom, and used some of what I saw the very next week. One of the best things about this meeting was it only cost $5 to register and they even fed you lunch in the faculty dining room!
Over the next five year or so I presented at every Occidental meeting, started going to their physics teachers meetings also, and made some very valuable contacts that I still work with to this day. But the meetings started getting smaller and eventually the organizer stepped down, and they disappeared. I really missed that meeting and a few years back reached out to a few friends and said, bad movie pun here, “Let’s get the band back together”.
So what do you have to do to plan a meeting? The first step was to find out if Occidental was still interested in hosting it. I spoke with one of their chemistry Professors who had been at every one of the meetings. He was on board and even willing to get us the space for free! But he could not convince the department to pay for lunch. I had become quite active with the local ACS section and was a member of their executive committee so they were willing to help with logistics. That was great because you never want to mix school money with your own personal accounts! They even agreed to keep track of the registrations. Food was a challenge. We decided to use the in house catering at the college. They knew the “Lay of the Land”, were reliable, and not that much more expensive than what we could find on the outside.
Now the hard part. The majority of the teachers who had been present for most of those meetings and had presented were retired. Who was going to talk? I convinced a few of those retired teacher to come out of retirement for a day. I got a bunch of my friends to come and one person from the local ACS chapter was willing to come and talk about National Chemistry Week and Chemists Celebrate Earth Day.
We sent out the announcement and got a small but a good crowd to come. We were not able to reach the same numbers of attendence as those meetings in the 1980’s. Not as many of our colleagues today are willing to give up a Saturday. But it worked and we are now trying to host it again every year. Reaching out to teachers is a challenge. The local ACS section had a mailing list of teachers, I reached out to all the local science advisors I could find in southern California, and did something new! I contacted the teacher training programs at local colleges to invite preservice teachers also. But I have tried to keep to the original theme of the meeting, “By high school teachers for high school teachers”.
That first attempt at reviving the meeting was certainly different from my past experience! Three of the speakers were focused on classroom management systems and other technology applications. Fewer people wanted to show demonstrations and only one came to talk about a lab experiment. But, of course, times change.
I have received support from the American Association of Chemistry Teachers with advertising and cool swag to give away at the meeting. Great things have also been donated by Flinn Scientific, Educational Innovations, ACS Chem Clubs, ACS Publications, the ACS Office of High School Chemistry and some publishers. Of course, ChemEd X and JChemEd are sending swag as well.
2017 will be the fifth time we have had what we now call the AACT.SCALACS/Oxy Chemistry Teachers Meeting. I am sending out emails and trying to convince my friends to present. So if you are in the greater Los Angeles area please come by. You can find more details on our website.
So with all of this now said, have you ever considered sponsoring a local teachers meeting?