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Reflections on a (Virtual) Guest Speaker Visit to my Chemistry Class

Lowell Thomson's picture
Sat, 05/31/2014 - 22:57 -- Lowell Thomson

I've mentioned previously that my current grade 10 class is reading "The Case of the Frozen Addicts" together. As my students starting writing their blogs to respond to the reading, I saw quite a few questions that I couldn't answer. But I didn't want to leave the questions there with no response, so I went to Twitter to find scientists to join my class as a guest speaker.

 

Lucky for me, I got a positive response from Heidi at the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK.

 

After a few quick emails, Heidi connected me with a medicinal chemist from the University of Dundee in Leeds, Dr. David Foley. Through a few more emails, he and I worked out the details of his visit. Given that we were so far apart, Skype was the answer. His visit started with approximately 25 minutes of background on drug design. The topics were quite varied, but the students were struck by Dr. Foley's statement that 90+% of the work of a medicinal chemist ends in failure.

Following the more formal presentation, Dr. Foley started addressing student questions. As a class, we had been working on questions we could ask him, so he started by answering these questions. We then diverged into a much more informal Q&A, with students thinking of impromptu questions to ask - and Dr. Foley providing his honest answers in return. This went on for the remainder of the 80-minute block we shared.

This was truly one of the coolest days I've ever had as a teacher. I got to share in the learning with my students by inviting an expert into our classroom. They were excited and inspired by the visit as well, talking about it for days, sharing thoughts and reflections on the day. One additional benefit for the students was seeing the real-world application of something they had just learned about: thin layer chromatography. This connection made the concept much more relevant and worthy of learning.

In terms of pragmatics, during his Skype visit I asked my students to join me in a backchannel discussion on Twitter (curated here using Storify) using our class hashtag (#MT4P). I jumped in with tweets when I thought a concept might need a bit of scaffolding, and the students jumped in with questions and comments to each other in a discussion that went beyond just what was on the projector at the front of the room. I've used Twitter for a backchannel before (discussed here) but this was the first time I'd had a guest speaker since I joined the Twitter-verse, so this was a new experience. It really added some depth to the discussion and allowed for some clarification of concepts being discussed.

My students have been blogging all semester, and a few of them chose to write some reflections on Dr. Foley's visit. If you are interested in the student perspective, they can be viewed here, here and here. And in a first for me, our guest speaker even shared his own blog post reflections about his visit with us. I'd never had a guest speaker blog about the class visit before, so this was yet another new experience for me and my students. Given that I've asked my students to blog, I was quite pleased with this development as it showed them a real-world example of blogging as a reflective tool.

And that is one of my messages in writing this: Connecting my students to the real world was an invaluable experience. I am currently in Bucharest, Romania. I would admit that I am not very well connected to the local chemical industry nor local universities. So I turned to Twitter to find my guest speaker. If you are in a similar situation (whether due to language and/or cultural barriers, or simply in a rural setting without these resources), I'd suggest Twitter as a great tool to make these connections. Use #chemistry or #realtimechemistry as hashtags in your search for a guest speaker. This year alone I've found two guest speakers this way, and will continue to look for speakers in the future.

If you are a regular here at ChemEdX-Change, you’ve heard a fair amount about the formation of the AACT1. One of my hopes for the AACT is the creation of a guest-speaker network. The AACT can help facilitate the connection between chemistry teachers and chemists in industry and academia. As I look back at my 20 years of teaching, the years I've made the effort to bring in guest speakers have often been my better years as a teacher. And I'm hopeful the AACT will make that even easier in years to come.

Have you brought guest speakers into your classroom? If so, please share what worked, both in terms of finding the guest speakers and the outcome with your students.




End-Notes

  1. The AACT was introduced to us in January in this blog post from Erica Posthuma Adams. Sarah Kong shared some of her own thoughts on the formation of AACT in her own blog post. And just recently, Shelly Belleau added to the discussion with another blog post about the intriguing possibilities once AACT becomes official later this year. For more information visit www.acs.org/aact

Comments

Deanna Cullen's picture
Submitted by Deanna Cullen on

I hope that the AACT will bring chemistry teachers into a closer relationship with their local ACS groups in the US. This could facilitate local guest speakers. I do like the idea of the virtual guest speaker though when the scientist of interest is not local.

After reading your post, I am inspired to see if we can compile a list of willing chemists here at ChemEdX.

Thanks for the inspiration, Lowell! You are doing great work!

Deanna Cullen

Whitehall High School, MI

@CullenChemEdX