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American Association of Chemistry Teachers

Shelly Belleau's picture
Wed, 05/28/2014 - 09:19 -- Shelly Belleau

I have been a member of the American Association for Physics Teachers (AAPT) since I began teaching in 2010. Each summer I attend the AAPT national meeting and give a short talk or poster presentation about some form of research that I conducted in my classroom that year. Each year I find interacting with the network of physics teachers at the AAPT meeting helps me return to the classroom invigorated and ready to refine my practice based on what I’ve learned.

While my science teaching practice as a whole has benefitted from my participation with AAPT, I’ve noticed I have gained a much deeper understanding of how students learn physics than chemistry. I couldn’t help but long for a similar organization in chemistry that would provide resources, a community, and ways for me to critically reflect on my chemistry teaching practice. Why didn’t such an organization exist for chemistry teachers? I was not alone in hoping for a national network for teachers of chemistry. Regularly, I would discuss my AAPT experiences with other teachers only to hear teachers exclaim that they also wished a national chemistry teacher organization existed.

Thanks to a lot of behind-the-scenes work from the education division at the American Chemical Society and many teachers who have volunteered their support and input, this hope for a chemistry teaching organization is becoming a reality. This fall the American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT) will launch, providing K-12 teachers of chemistry a professional organization where they can engage with a community of teachers and grow in their practice. Members of AACT will have access to high-quality resources and participate in professional development opportunities designed especially for them. Perhaps what I’m most excited for is the compilation of trusted resources; hopefully my days of searching for lab ideas on Google are over! Not only will these resources include labs, simulations, and NGSS and Common Core lessons, but teachers will also have access to webinars, ChemMatters, and a journal for chemistry teachers called Chemistry Solutions.

Surely I don’t need to give you reasons to join AACT, but I would like to share a personal story to illustrate one way this organization will be beneficial to teachers across the country. I was hired as the chemistry teacher at a small school in a district where I was the only science teacher with a chemistry degree. When I was hired, I inherited a stockroom full of old chemicals, some that are no longer allowed in schools, and others that were unlabeled and sitting on the floor. I opened the acids cabinet to find some bottles that were unlabeled and others that had clearly become more concentrated, evidenced by the one-inch crystals around their lids. Neither my chemistry coursework nor my teacher preparation included lessons about how to organize chemicals or how to handle the bottle labeled as “waste” in the stockroom. I was ill prepared for the challenges in my new teaching situation, alone, and didn’t know where to turn for help.

I did what most of us would do in this situation – I consulted the internet (well, I first asked for help from administrators, but they did not have the science understanding or resources to provide support). I found the safety videos from Flinn Scientific, which were invaluable, and I slowly started to clean and appropriately organize the stockroom. While this was certainly a learning experience, it could have been streamlined if I had a community of chemistry teachers to whom I could reach out. Moving forward, I will, and more importantly, other teachers who are in a similar situation to me will have that community.

AACT will launch in just a few months (September 2014), and I strongly encourage you to join. I know that by intentionally pursuing this type of community and professional development, all teachers of chemistry can deepen their practice and find the support they need to best meet their students’ needs.

What type of challenging situations have you found yourself in? How do you think you might grow from participating in AACT, and what do you think you can contribute to this organization?