Learning from the help of others and the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education at Purdue

Nomenclature Poker

Every summer I try to put myself in a different situation so I remember what it is like to be a student. Every summer, at some point, I hit a brick wall with whatever I am learning. Last summer I was learning Greek. I got through the alphabet and some general terms. Multiple tenses on the verbs got me. This year it was lock picking. The cheap padlocks are not too difficult because they are locks only in the cheapest sense of the word. Toss in some security pins and I am in trouble. I learned a valuable lesson from attempting Greek, lock picking and the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education 2022 at Purdue. Bottom line, everybody needs somebody, especially when it comes to learning and doing hard things.

The Biennial Conference on Chemical Education reinforced this idea. Scott Donnelly started off Monday with an excellent workshop on active learning. Scott began with a simple icebreaker activity on knot tying. I came in late because the workshop I had planned on going to was cancelled. It felt weird to be a “student” who showed up late and could not do the task that everyone else seemed to have mastered. Lesson learned. One lady had experience sailing and quickly mastered the knots. Scott said, “O.K. now it is your turn to help someone else.” Second lesson learned. Scott often uses the “Think Pair Share” method in his college classes. He provided us with a number of difficult problems. I “thought” I had the answer in the “think” portion. I “shared” my answer with a partner and they did the same. I then revised my answer as I experienced a solution through another person’s eyes. Again, lesson learned. You would think that after a million years in a public high school classroom I would be aware of the value of teamwork. It never gets old and it is always important to learn and experience it again.

Linda Cummings and Greta Glucoski-Sharp tweeted out that their workshop would be open to anyone who could stop by. I was able to look at and work through some of the multiple lab stations for quick wonderful lab activities for an AP or honors level class. I have to admit that I was not familiar with some of the concepts (such as the electrochemistry shown below). Again, my partner and I worked through it as students. I found it was a clear case in which I was able to achieve more working with someone and exchanging ideas than if I were to have gone solo. Again, the gift of seeing a problem through another’s eyes helped me to learn more than just being on my own.

I was able to tag on the ChemEd Xchange symposium in the afternoon on Wednesday.  Every talk was wonderful. It was the second time I had the privilege of hearing Clarissa Sorensen-Unruh speak. During the little time I have come to know her she strikes me as one of the most thoughtful, reflective and probably smartest educators I will ever meet. She provided us with a beautiful quote.

“We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, from “Little Gidding,” Four Quartets (Gardners Books; Main edition, April 30, 2001) Originally published 1943.”

I can honestly say that I have been teaching for “a very long time”.  Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking I have things figured out. Then the world comes crashing down and it becomes extremely evident I do not have things figured out. The journey of exploration is always made better and easier with the help of others. Because of the patience, kindness, intelligence and sharing of others, I am starting to see the same classroom and students in a different way….perhaps getting to know the place for the first time.  For that, I am grateful and blessed…and looking forward to having a great new school year with some great teachers and students.