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3 The High School Chemistry Teacher: Status and Outlook Major Points in Chapter 3 Longitudinal data demonstrate that exposure to particular subjects in high school chemistry, frequent peer interactions, and studying high-level mathematics are positively associated with chemistry grades in college, while time spent on community and student projects, labs, and instructional technologies can be negatively associated with college chemistry grades. Most high school chemistry teachers have taken college courses above the level they are assigned to teach, but they report needing help using technology in science instruction, teaching classes with special needs students, and using inquiry- oriented teaching methods. Laboratories in high school chemistry tend to be disconnected from coursework, to focus on procedures rather than on clear learning outcomes, and to provide few opportunities for discussion or reflection. New requirements that high school students take more advanced science courses have increased the need for well-prepared chemistry teachers. A major challenge for high school chemistry teachers is connecting the subject to everyday experiences, and professional development that focuses on this linkage can be especially valuable. High school teachers can have a tremendous impact on Yet how can anyone know that this kind of anecdotal studentsâ interest and performance in the sciences. Many evidence is representative? Only broad-based representative scientists talk about an especially inspiring teacher they had sampling can provide solid data about the effects of high in high school. High school teachers often report that former school science classes in general, Tai pointed out. Without students have told them about successes in college that they such data, several important questions are left unanswered. attribute to experiences in that teacherâs class. âThereâs very How pervasive is teachersâ influence? Are some teaching little doubt in anyoneâs mind that teachers can, conceiv- practices more effective than others? Can teachersâ influence ably, have a tremendous impact on studentsâ interest and span the years from high school to college? performance in the sciences,â said Robert Tai, an associate The data needed to answer these questions must be professor in the Curry School of Education at the University drawn from many students and classes, be representative of of Virginia. students, and in many cases, extend over periods of years.
10 STRENGTHENING HIGH SCHOOL CHEMISTRY EDUCATION Ideally, such data would include information about what in those fields when they first became interested in science. students were doing when they were very young and what About 70 percent of both groups reported developing an they were doing in college. The questions asked of students interest in science in grades K-8, about 24 percent reported need to be specific enough to determine why they made developing their interest in grades 9-12, and about 6 percent the choices they did, and the people who are answering the reported developing their interest in college (Figure 3.1). questions need to care enough about the project to provide However, when asked when they developed an interest in thoughtful responses. their âcareer discipline,â the results were somewhat differ- Tai and his colleagues have used three different data sets ent. The survey showed that 29 percent of scientists and to explore these issues. The first is the National Education 23 percent of graduate students reported developing their Longitudinal Study (NELS), which has been collecting data interest in grades K-8, 52 percent of scientists and 56 per- from a sample of several thousand students since 1988. cent of graduate students reported developing their interest The second is Project FICSSâFactors Influencing College in high school, and 18 percent of scientists and 21 percent Science Successâa national survey of introductory college of graduate students reported developing their interest in science students in biology, chemistry, and physics in which college (Figure 3.2). Thus, âyou canât ignore any particular 67 colleges and universities have participated. The third is level,â Tai said. To realize the full potential of the workforce Project Crossover, which is a nationally representative survey to understand and contribute to science, the subject needs to of approximately 3,000 chemists and physicists and 1,000 be emphasized at each grade level. graduate students in those disciplines. Tai and his collaborators also have looked specifically at One of the questions on the NELS questionnaire has been, the factors that contribute to success in chemistry in college, What kind of work do you expect to be doing when you are as measured by the grades received in their college chem- 30 years old? In a study published in Science in 2006, Tai istry classes. They investigated instructional practices, key and his collaborators combined the answers to this question content and concepts, lab experiences, the use of technology, by eighth graders with data on factors such as demographic and student projects. They then constructed comprehensive indicators, school attendance, and results on standardized models of the connections between these factors and college achievement tests. They asked whether an eighth grader performance in both physics and chemistry. âWhat weâre who expressed an interest in a science-related career was finding is that there is a connection, and itâs robust and fairly more likely to graduate college with a degree in science. As consistent from sample to sample.â Yet the connection also expected, they found that students who said they wanted to leads to some surprising and counterintuitive conclusions be in a career related to the life sciences, physical sciences, about high school science classes. or engineering were two to three times more likely to earn a degree in that area than students who did not express this interest. 50% They also found that eighth graders who performed higher on standardized tests in mathematics were more likely to 40% Student Scientist graduate with a degree in the sciences or engineering. How- 30% ever, their analysis produced an unexpected result. Eighth Percent graders who are interested in science or engineering but with 20% average mathematics scores are more likely to graduate with a college degree in those fields than the eighth graders who 10% scored highest in mathematics. âThat means that there is 0% some indication that itâs not all about test scores, especially K-5th grade 6-8th grade 9-10th grade 11-12th grade first 2 yr after 2 yr of college not in the eighth grade,â said Tai. Yet those eighth grade college scores are used to track students into mathematics classes when they enter high school, meaning that some students When did you first become interested in science? with an interest in science and engineering could be tracked into high school classes that make it difficult or impossible FIGURE 3.1â The majority of graduate students and scientists report for them to achieve their goals. âWe should take a very close becoming interested in scienceNewelementary and middle school, in 3-1 look at how we go about doing this kind of thing. . . . Thatâs but about 30 percent develop their interest in high school and col- an approach that we really need to reevaluate.â lege. SOURCE: Tai, R. H. 2008. Research on Student Interest and One of the questions in the Project Crossover survey Performance: Factors within a Teacherâs Influence. Presentation to asked practicing chemists, physicists, and graduate students Chemical Sciences Roundtable, Washington, DC, August 4, 2008. Based on results of Tai, R. H. and F. Xitao. Project Crossover: A Study of the Transition from Science Graduate Student to Scientist, R. H. Tai, C. Q. Liu, A. V. Maltese, and X. Fan. 2006. Planning early (NSF grant REC 0440002). University of Virginia. for careers in science. Science 312(5777):1143-1144.
THE HIGH SCHOOL CHEMISTRY TEACHER 11 50% that focus on the demonstrations themselves and not on what the demonstrations mean. 40% Student Having students interact with each other in high school Scientist chemistry classes, as opposed to having them work indi- 30% vidually, positively affects their performance in college. Yet time spent preparing for standardized tests has a negative Percent 20% effect. Time spent on community and student projects also has a negative effect on grades, especially for the weaker 10% students in high school chemistry. Community and student projects may in general be too open-ended, Tai observed. 0% Such projects can have relatively little structure, which may not be a problem for high-performing students, but âthe ones K-5th grade 6-8th grade 9-10th grade 11-12th grade first 2 yr college after 2 yr of college who are struggling in school . . . typically are struggling to understand whatâs going on and need to have some kind of When did you first become interested in chemistry/physics? structure in their learning.â Especially for students without a preexisting understanding of and interest in science, projects FIGURE 3.2â Slightly more than half of graduate students and may have to be combined with robust content instruction. scientists report becoming New 3-2 in their career discipline interested Furthermore, different students may need different kinds of during high school, but significant fractions do so both earlier and instruction. âThe same science doesnât fit all students,â said later than high school. SOURCE: Tai, R. H. 2008. Research on ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Tai. âDifferent approaches work better for some students Student Interest and Performance: Factors within a Teacherâs Influ- versus others.â ence. Presentation to Chemical Sciences Roundtable, Washington, Having large numbers of laboratories in high school chem- DC, August 4, 2008. Based on results of Tai, R. H. and F. Xitao. istry is negatively associated with grades in college. That Project Crossover: A Study of the Transition from Science Gradu- does not necessarily mean that all labs are bad, Tai cautioned. ate Student to Scientist, (NSF grant REC 0440002). University of âIt may well be that loading students up on these hands-on Virginia. experiences without the kind of debriefing thatâs necessary to help them understand what it is that theyâre doing in the labs isnât that helpful.â Similarly, time spent preparing for One conclusion is that the inclusion of particular concepts and understanding lab procedures had a negative effect on in high school chemistry has an impact on student perfor- college grades. These findings have not been very popular mance in college. For example, students who received recur- with chemistry educators, Tai admitted, yet they can reveal ring exposure to the subject of stoichiometry did better than some important aspects of the interaction between students students who had no exposure to the subject. Yet students and the content of a high school chemistry course. who had recurring exposure to nuclear reactions did worse in In work that was still unpublished at the time of the meet- college chemistry than did students who had no high school ing, Tai examined the effect of instructional technology in exposure to the subject at all. The reason seems to be that high school chemistry courses on college performance in nuclear reactions are among the last topics covered in the chemistry classes. Although many billions of dollars have high school chemistry curriculum, which means that teachers been spent on instructional technologies in high schools, have to be speeding through the material to get to it, accord- students who use these technologies frequently in their ing to Tai. âYouâre flying along too fast, basically, covering chemistry classes do worse overall in college. âThis is a bit way too much stuff. Thatâs what this is indicating.â distressing, given the amount of money that weâre spend- In a study published in 2007, Taiâs research group looked ing,â Tai said. Yet it may be an indication that âmainly what at the connection between instructional practices and grades weâre doing is asking teachers to fit their teaching to the in college chemistry classes. Surprisingly, they found that technology and not so much fitting the technology to the the more demonstrations students observe in high school teacher. It may well be that weâre proliferating technology chemistry, the worse they do in college. Tai speculated that faster than the teachers are able to incorporate it into what too many demonstrations might be âdog-and-pony showsâ it is they are doing. District- or school-level policies also can affect high Tai, school chemistry instruction with a corresponding influence R. H., Ward, R. B., and Sadler, P. M. (2006). High school chemis- try content background of introductory college chemistry students and its on college chemistry performance. For example, lengthening association with college chemistry grades. Journal of Chemical Education 83(11):1703-1711. Tai, R. H., and P. M. Sadler. 2007. High school chemistry instructional R. H. Tai, P. M. Sadler, and J. F. Loehr. 2005. Factors influencing practices and their association with college chemistry grades. Journal of success in introductory college chemistry. Journal of Research in Science Chemical Education 84(6):1040-1046. Teaching 42(9):987-1012.
12 STRENGTHENING HIGH SCHOOL CHEMISTRY EDUCATION of high school class periods from 45 or 50 minutes to an hour Table 3.1â College Science and Education Courses Taken and a quarter or an hour and a half did not make much differ- by High School Chemistry Teachers ence to college grades. Class size does have an influence, but Course Percentage only if the classes are very smallâ10 students or fewerâand â¢ General methods of teaching 90% the only state that has classes that small is Vermont, where â¢ Methods of teaching science 73% high school class size averages about 11. â¢ Supervised student teaching in science 66% Finally, Taiâs group has looked at whether taking a differ- â¢ Instructional uses: computers/other technologies 42% ent science class in high school improves grades in college â¢ General introductory chemistry 99% chemistry. No such effect was observed for either biology â¢ Organic chemistry 93% or physics classes. However, taking calculus in high school â¢ Analytical chemistry 68% had a big effect not only on chemistry grades but on college â¢ Physical chemistry 51% physics and biology grades as well. âI donât think itâs nec- essarily the content,â said Tai. âIt may well be the type of â¢ Biochemistry 47% â¢ Other chemistry 44% reasoning and understanding thatâs required, the organization â¢ Quantum chemistry 16% of thought thatâs required to progress in mathematics.â At the end of his talk and again during the question-and- SOURCE: Smith, P. S. (2002). The 2000 national survey of science and answer session, Tai discussed the nature of the link between mathematics education: Status of high school chemistry teaching. Chapel Hill, NC: Horizon Research, Inc. teaching practices in high school chemistry classes and grades in college chemistry. His results are all associational, he cautioned, making it difficult to draw causal links from including different levels of chemistry, other science courses, any given practice or action to an outcome. âBut the fact that or courses outside science. the same students were followed for this period of time gives According to the same data source, 99 percent of high us more of a basis to draw conclusion about whether [a given school chemistry teachers have completed a college course practice] is important.â in general introductory chemistry, 93 percent have done so for organic chemistry, 68 percent have had analytical chem- AN OVERVIEW OF HIGH SCHOOL CHEMISTRY istry, and 51 percent have had physical chemistry (Table TEACHERS 3.1) âMost have had courses above the level theyâve been assigned to teach,â said Wheeler. âThatâs not true in middle- There are between 30,000 and 40,000 high school chem- level and elementary math and science. There are many times istry teachers in the United States, according to informed in elementary math and science where teachers are actually, estimates discussed at the meeting. Pinning down an exact shocking as it is, teaching material that is higher than the number is difficult because many teachers are engaged in level they took in their preparation.â teaching that is out of their fields. According to data gathered More than half of chemistry teachers say that they need in 2000, slightly more than half of all high school chemistry help in using technology in science instruction, teaching teachers in the United States are female, 91 percent are white, classes with special needs students, and using inquiry-ori- roughly half have a masterâs degree, and approximately one- ented teaching methods. Between one-third and one-half of third may be reaching retirement in the next 10 years. The teachers report needing help in understanding student think- data may be somewhat old, said Gerry Wheeler, executive ing in science, learning how to assess student learning in sci- director of the National Science Teachers Association, but ence, and deepening their own science content knowledge. they probably still capture fairly well the demographics of Chemistry teachers, like high school science teachers in high school chemistry teachers. The most surprising statis- general, also report low levels of participation in professional tic to him, said Wheeler, is that roughly one-third of those development that is specific to science teaching. Schools face who teach chemistry have three or more preparations a day, a dilemma in that regard, said Wheeler. The needs of their teachers are so varied that they find it easier to hire a gen- K. eralist to talk about motivation, management, or some other M. Dexter, R. H. Tai, and P. M. Sadler. 2006. Traditional and block general subject rather than addressing the content needs of scheduling for college science preparation: A comparison of college science success of students who report different high school scheduling plans. High individual science teachers. Even science teachers need very School Journal 89(4):22-33. different kinds of professional development. âThe variation V. L. Wyss, R. H. Tai, and P. M. Sadler. 2007. High school class size and is so wide that I havenât found schools being able to solve college performance in science. High School Journal 90(3):45-53. that problem.â P. M. Sadler and R. H. Tai. 2007. The two high-school pillars supporting According to data gathered by the Council of Chief State college science. Science 317(5837):457-458. Smith, P. S. (2002). The 2000 national survey of science and mathemat- School Officers, the proportions of students taking chemistry ics education: Status of high school chemistry teaching. Chapel Hill, NC: in high school range from 87 percent in Texas to 13 percent Horizon Research, Inc.
THE HIGH SCHOOL CHEMISTRY TEACHER 13 Table 3.2 Percentage of Students Who Have Taken to teaching science. Yet lab experiences have often been iso- Chemistry Courses in High School lated from the general flow of science teaching. For example, State 2006 a Changeb Wheeler pointed out that in two of the universities he has been associated with, the chemistry labs were independent Texas 87 +32 Iowa 86 +18 of the chemistry course in the sense that the two could be South Carolina 82 â taken at completely different times, and the same disconnect District of Columbia 76 â1 between labs and course work often happens in high school. Wisconsin 74 â2 Instead of being integrated into what the teacher is trying to Pennsylvania 69 +3 accomplish, the lab is isolated and independent. Louisiana 66 +12 Tennessee 66 +14 Current labs have other negative characteristics. They New York 62 â2 tend to be focused on procedures rather than clear learning Ohio 62 +4 outcomes. They provide few opportunities for reflection or Arkansas 59 â6 discussion. They do not integrate the learning of content with South Dakota 58 +6 the processes of science; they do not reflect instructional Indiana 56 â1 North Dakota 55 â5 design based on recent cognitive research; and future teach- North Carolina 54 â9 ers are not exposed to good labs as models of experiential Wyoming 51 â learning. California 49 +10 Labs provide a prime opportunity to teach students who Minnesota 49 â2 will not become scientists about the nature of science, yet Mississippi 48 â10 Utah 48 +1 this remains one of the greatest failings of high school sci- Missouri 48 â3 ence classes. Wheeler said that he spends considerable time Michigan 43 â defending the high school biology curriculum from demands New Mexico 41 0 that creationist ideas be included in the science curriculum. Oklahoma 39 â1 If Americans had a better grasp of the nature of science, they Idaho 29 â12 West Virginia 13 â47 would be less likely to call for the inclusion of religious ideas in science classrooms. NOTE: The numbers range from 87 percent to 13 percent, with substantial Major changes will be required in several areas to improve changes both upward and downward between 1996 and 2006. â aPercentage. high school labs. Schools, districts, and states will need to â bPercent change between 1996 and 2006. support meaningful reform in the design and use of labs. Undergraduate science education will have to change, and SOURCE: Council of Chief State School Officers. (2007). State Indicators state standards will need to change so as not to discour- of Science and Mathematics Education: 2007. Washington, DC: Author. age teachers from dedicating the time needed for effective http://www.ccsso.org/publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=371. labs. For example, the skills being tested at the state level through âNo Child Left Behindâ have nothing to do with in West Virginia (Table 3.2). Even within states, there is great lab experience that students should have. The high-stakes variation in how many students take chemistry and other tests that have been adopted by many states end up âvalu- science classes in high school. âWeâve got 16,000 school ing what we measure instead of measuring what we value,â districts making 16,000 different kinds of decisions.â Wheeler said. A particularly problematic aspect of high school chem- Current assessments are not designed to measure accu- istry is its use of labs, Wheeler pointed out. âThe general rately the outcomes of lab experiences. Developing and laboratory situation is pretty deplorable.â He pointed to a improving these assessments is not easy and will be expen- recent National Research Council study that examined the sive. âItâs a very challenging problem to assess student current state and effectiveness of high school labs, their achievement in the things we actually value,â said Wheeler. interactions with technologies and school policies, and pos- Even today, most assessments are unaligned with even the sible alternatives to labs. Though the report addressed all best standards, and most sets of state standards are far from high school labs, its points are just as relevant when made optimal. Although the standards developed by the National about chemistry labs. Research Council and the American Association for the The report pointed out that there is no consensus on what Advancement of Science are high quality, said Wheeler, the the goals of labs are or should be. For more than 150 years, states have altered and in many cases expanded them. âWe scientists and educators have assumed that labs are essential now have 50 different state standards that are filled with factoids.â Beyond the problem of labs, said Wheeler, the great- National Research Council. 2005. Americaâs Lab Report: Investigations est challenge is at the middle school level. Teachers need in High School Science. Susan R. Singer, Margaret L. Hilton, and Heidi A. to understand the subjects they are assigned to teach. Yet Schweingruber, eds. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
14 STRENGTHENING HIGH SCHOOL CHEMISTRY EDUCATION especially in middle school, teachers are often misassigned. school science teachers taught an integrated physics and âWhen I was in my first year of teaching, we joked and chemistry course. These teachers now are being expected said, âDonât hum when youâre walking down the hallway. to teach physics and/or chemistry, creating a great need for The principal will turn you into the music teacher.ââ Despite additional teacher training. Many school districts also like regulations at the state and district levels about teacher to hire teachers trained in composite science, because they qualifications, inside an individual school, said Wheeler, âall can teach many different science courses. Unfortunately, as bets are off.â a result of this broad training, these teachers often lack depth Efforts to change education also must address the problem in individual subjects. Furthermore, many teachers are not of scale. Teaching is a huge profession. There are 1.7 million adequately trained to supervise students in labs, and most teachers of science in the United States, including the 1.5 teacher training programs do not focus on lab skills. million elementary school teachers who are studentsâ first Many high school science teachers come through alter- teachers of science. Programs that reach just a few teachers nate certification routes from industry. They know the con- may be important but cannot overcome the problems of scale tent well but have few teaching skills or little knowledge that must be addressed. For example, sending underprepared of how to teach. Mentoring can be a great help to them, middle school teachers back to college and university classes but the quality of mentors differs greatly. Funding is also cannot raise their content knowledge enough for them to a very significant issue in Texas, with large disparities in teach science well, especially given estimates that half of all the amounts different schools have to spend. For example, chemistry teachers leave the profession within five years. âmost chemistry teachers do not have supply budgets,â Allen Instead, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) observed. Class sizes can be very large: When Allen taught has been working to create a large Web site that offers highly in public school, she had 37 students in one of her classes. interactive four-hour engagements with science content âYou cannot do a lab when you have 37 students and you designed for the adult novice learner. Another initiative have desks and lab tables for 24.â More and more districts has been to connect early-career teachers with experienced in Texas are adopting block scheduling, which is cheaper teachers through an electronic network. That effort has in for schools. This results in less contact time with students turn led to the formation of the NSTA New Science Teacher and makes it harder for students to absorb the large amounts Academy, which uses mentoring and other professional of material presented in a single class. Block scheduling is development resources to support science teachers during especially difficult for advanced placement (AP) courses, their initial years. which are designed for daily classes. The Science Teachers Association of Texas holds an annual Conference for the Advancement of Science Teach- CHEMISTRY AT THE STATE LEVEL ers. The two- to three-day program features many hands-on Although no national organization representing chemistry workshops, which âis critical,â Allen said. âIf you donât try teachers exists, many states have an active group for high something, then youâre probably not going to do it when you school chemistry teachers. For example, the Associated get back to your classroom.â Chemistry Teachers of Texas (ACT2), was created 27 years The ACT2 has a membership of about 800, with anywhere ago and is an affiliate organization of the Science Teachers from 50 to 150 teachers coming to conferences held every Association of Texas. âItâs not anywhere near the numbers other year. The group also has a very active e-mail network, we would like,â said Roxie Allen, a former ACT2 president part of which is devoted to employment assistance. In addi- and a teacher at St. Johnâs School in Houston, but âitâs a very tion, it has local groupsâthe local group in the Houston area viable chemistry teacher group.â is the Metropolitan Houston Chemistry Teachers Associa- The issues associated with high school chemistry in Texas tion, which meets three to four times a year. This organiza- are representative of those that occur throughout the nation. tional structure enables extensive networking, Allen said. âI The Texas Education Agency sets the content to be taught donât know that a lot of states have the kinds of opportunities in science classes through the Texas Essential Knowledge that we have to communicate with each other.â and Standards, which include a large number of content ACT2 meets during the state conferences and during requirements along with laboratory skills. Texas is also regional miniconferences of the Science Teachers Associa- moving to a requirement that high school students take four tion of Texas. The president-elect of ACT2 hosts the ACT2 years of science, which has caused the number of students conference in a city near where he or she lives, generally taking chemistry in Texas to rise from 32 to 87 percent, with at a local university or college. Costs are kept very low, so an ultimate goal of 100 percent. In addition, end-of-course that more teachers can attend. The emphasis is on hands-on exams are being instituted for chemistry and other subjects activities that teachers can take back to their classrooms. in Texas, with the chemistry exams now being field-tested. Teachers also have an opportunity to network with college These changes in requirements have greatly increased the and university professors from the area. Outside funding need for chemistry teachers in Texas. Previously, many high is important to some of these activities, so when funding
THE HIGH SCHOOL CHEMISTRY TEACHER 15 changes or becomes less available, less can be done. Mem- preparing twice as much content and not given any more time bers of the group also interact with national groups, includ- to do it,â said Galatis. Most teachers set up labs before and ing the NSTA, and Texas hosted the ChemEd conference after school, and âthereâs a lot of time involved.â last year. A lack of mentors also has a negative effect on retention. ACT2 has had trouble attracting members among younger Even in the Fairfax County system, which provides more teachers. The resulting loss of membership reduces funding, support for teachers than most systems, âvery little support which dampens the number and scale of activities that can is given to new teachers who come into the profession, and I be conducted. âWe have very few young teachers who are donât care whether theyâre young teachers or old teachers.â joining us,â said Allen. With a third of teachers expected to The disparities that exist between states also exist within retire in the next 10 years, âorganizations like ours are going states. Although Galatis teaches in one of the richest coun- to be impacted seriously.â ties in the state, she also owns property in one of the stateâs In response to a question about how to improve the fund- poorest counties. In Fairfax County, more than 90 percent of ing of high school chemistry, Allen noted that teachers do not high school students graduate with a credit in chemistry. In know whom to contact in industry to get financial support, the county where she owns property, she estimates that the even when a company may be willing to provide assistance. percentage is probably less than 40 percent. âIt would be wonderful if industry and even academia would The two factors that have had the greatest impact on figure out a way to help high school teachers know how to science teaching during her career have been the âScience get money to do things like workshops.â Most teachers com- for Allâ movement and state exit exams, which Virginia ing to workshops held by ACT2 are probably paying their instituted in the 1990s. When she began teaching, probably own way, even though funding may be available to subsidize 30 to 40 percent of students took chemistryâmostly col- their attendance. lege-bound students who were interested in science. Now most students who intend to enter four-year colleges are expected to have taken chemistry. The movement toward ON THE FRONT LINES Science for All has been implemented very differently in High school chemistry teachers generally enter the pro- the State of Virginia. In Fairfax County, most students take fession in one of three ways, said Caryn Galatis, who has four science credits in three different science areas, so most been teaching in the Fairfax County public school system college-bound students take biology, chemistry, and phys- in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC for more than 30 ics. In other places in the state, students need three science years. A very small number come directly into teaching after credits to graduate, which they can do without ever taking finishing their bachelorâs degrees. âIn the last 20 years that chemistry or physics. Iâve been involved in hiring practices at my school, I think Nevertheless, many more students take chemistry now Iâve only interviewed three or four teachers that are directly than in the past, which means that many chemistry students out of undergraduate education.â have very weak mathematics backgrounds. âYouâre teaching The second route is that people work in industry for sev- chemistry to students who donât necessarily have an interest eral years but find that they are unhappy and decide to try in science. Theyâre taking it because they need it to graduate, teaching. The third route is to switch careers from another which changes greatly what teacher[s] need in their skill set profession into teaching. in order to teach the complexity of chemistry.â The greater In the State of Virginia, high school chemistry teachers diversity of students is especially a problem for older teach- cannot get a high school teaching certificate without an ers who are within 10 years of retirement and do not neces- undergraduate degree in chemistry or the equivalent number sarily have the skill sets to teach less prepared students. of courses, though this is not a requirement for certification Galatis said that she is a firm believer âthat all kids can in all states. Virginia also requires five different educa- learn chemistry,â but âthey canât all learn it the same way.â tion courses for certification, one of which is in science Younger teachers coming right out of their undergraduate methods. education are much better prepared than are many older However, most of the people Ms. Galatis has interviewed teachers to teach chemistry to a broad range of students, so were not certified. Instead, new chemistry teachers are hired âat least in the State of Virginia, I know the universities are with a provisional contract and are given three years to fulfill doing a pretty good job with that population.â the education requirements for certification. Galatis spends many hours after school mentoring other Also, retention of science teachers is difficult, she said, teachers, if she can get them to work after hours. Yet teach- âpartly because retention in teaching in general is difficult. ers wish they had more time to improve their skills. While People tend to stay three to six years and are out.â High many training sessions and other opportunities are available, school chemistry teaching is especially difficult because they can be expensive and far away. Without this training, teachers need to plan, teach, and manage their classes and teachers are less able to show their students the excitement of also prepare for and run a laboratory program. âYouâre almost chemistry through labs and other hands-on experiences.
16 STRENGTHENING HIGH SCHOOL CHEMISTRY EDUCATION Her school has recently made an effort to give its chem- given the status of the economy, and especially the housing istry labs a much more practical base, so they do relatively market. In Fairfax County, the funds available for the school few textbook labs. Instead, they do more content-specific system depend heavily on the state of the housing market. labs that connect students with particular problems. âDoing As real estate prices drop, so does the funding for education. a lab that makes kids see the connection between content Corporations and government need to increase their support thatâs hard for them, giving them that mental picture in their of education to make up for the shortfall, he said. head, so itâs not just memorization and textbook learning, is Finally, Kiara Hargrove from Baltimore Polytechnic Insti- whatâs going to get kids to stay in science.â tute said that she was inspired by her high school chemistry Brian Kennedy, who teaches at Thomas Jefferson High teacher, but she wanted to pursue a career in the biomedical School for Science and Technology in the Virginia suburbs sciences. As a researcher, however, she found that she got of Washington, DC, said that he got interested in chemistry much more enjoyment out of presenting papers and talk- in college, when a particularly inspiring organic chemistry ing with people at meetings than working in the lab, so she teacher made him decide to major in chemistry. While in decided to go into teaching, where she could interact with graduate school in chemistry, he began to meet people who students and watch them move into their own careers. had been involved in the Teach for America program. After She began teaching at the middle school level, which a postdoctoral fellowship at the Army Research Laboratory âis a very different beast than teaching just chemistry at in Maryland, he entered Teach for America. âI was probably the high school level.â She was teaching all of the physical quite an anomaly to go into Teach for America after 12 years sciences, algebra, and later, biotechnology at a mathemat- of college-type work,â he said. ics and science magnet school in Baltimore County. That After teaching in Houston, he began teaching in a rural experience allowed her to learn about and experiment with area of North Carolina in one of the lowest-performing the methodology of teaching, she said, which was easier schools in the state. âIt was an extremely challenging envi- for her because she already knew most of the content. ronmentâ marked by many long days and nights of teaching, After six years she began teaching chemistry at the high coaching, and helping the students in his classes. âI was able school she had attended. Baltimore Polytechnic Institute to see firsthand the extreme difficulties that a lot of kids is a mathematics, science, and engineering magnet school had beyond the classroom.â Many of his students could not that is among the top schools in the State of Maryland. The read at a high school level, much less take chemistry, âyet students can take organic chemistry and biochemistry as here they were in a chemistry class. It was an extreme chal- well as AP chemistry. lenge to get them where you want them to be to do well in Hargrove teaches health as well as chemistry. It is chal- chemistry.â lenging, she says, to prepare for another course in a different Resources were virtually nonexistentâsometimes he had discipline, but her experience in the biomedical sciences has a computer and a printer but very few materials or supplies, made it easier for her to be enthusiastic about that assign- and the computer had no access to the Internet. âIt took me ment. The school has three positions for chemistry teachers: a long time and a lot of grant writing to get the materials I One teaches just chemistry; one teaches chemistry, health, needed for how I wanted to teach.â and one other course; and the third teaches chemistry, organic After interviewing for a new teaching position, he ended chemistry, physics, and possibly environmental science. up at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and âThe retention of that teacher is very hard,â she said. âWeâve Technology, which is one of the top high schools in the had a new teacher in that position for the past four years.â country. For the past six years, he has taught all levels of Chemistry is not one of the subjects that undergoes a chemistry there, including organic chemistry with instrumen- major assessment in the State of Maryland. As a conse- tal methods of analysis. quence, chemistry teaching is not a focus of the schoolâs pro- Even though he now teaches in a very different environ- fessional development activities. Yet the chemistry teachers ment than before, âthere still seems to be an issue of getting feel that they need professional development opportunities, the financial resources you need to do things for the caliber whether from the school, the district, or elsewhere. of student you think you have. Thatâs been a common thread The size of her classes varies from 30 to 39 students. anywhere Iâve taught.â Conducting labs is very challenging, she says, but âI try Teachers need greater access to outreach programs, Ken- to figure out ways that I can get 39 students in a lab,â even nedy said. Many colleges and government agencies have without an assistant. Sometimes she brings in her own programs designed to help, yet there is a disconnect between materials, and sometimes she tries to do labs with everyday the teachers and the programs. âIf teachers themselves could materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe. She says be more involved with creating the outreach opportunities, that she tries to make the labs correlate with the curriculum theyâre the ones who are in the trenches and understand what guide, even though the labs take longer than they do for the real issues are.â other teachers when she uses them to engage in âmeaningful Funding for education is becoming increasingly tight conversations.â
THE HIGH SCHOOL CHEMISTRY TEACHER 17 During the question-and-answer period, the three teachers have extremely varied sets of skills. âYou have to figure out emphasized the importance of using professional develop- how to address those students and address their needs.â Also, ment opportunities to connect chemistry with the context of many teachers have good content knowledge in chemistry but daily life. âThatâs where the kids really see the excitement lack the communication and social skills to work effectively and learning with chemistry and the sciences is when you put with students. âProfessional development that addresses those two together,â said Hargrove. These connections can how to reach those students who may seem unreachableâ help fulfill the mission statement of the chemistry teacher, is important. which the panelists described as comprising the chemis- Galatis said that the best professional development she try education of both future citizens and future scientists. has done has been run by universities or companies, espe- According to Galatis, forging links across disciplines is also cially when they provide an opportunity to learn a new tech- essential, both in teaching and among teachers. It can be nique or use new equipment. âImagine trying to be in front hard to coordinate across curricula within a school, but this of 20 to 30 kids doing a lab when you have never touched kind of coordination can be greatly beneficial for students the equipment yourself. Itâs an impossible task to ask of and teachers alike. teachers, and we ask teachers to do that in large numbers of When asked about their best professional development ways.â Professional development workshops also have their activity, Kennedy said that learning the basics of teaching place because she can come away from them with ideas that were most important for him, since he already knew the con- can be readily applied in the classroom. tent. For example, What will you do on the first day of class? Galatis also said that teachers need help connecting the If all 50 students have a piece of paper in their hands, what curriculum they are given with the practical day-to-day tools is the best way to collect those papers? âFor new aspiring that are needed for students to understand concepts. âOne of teachers, if you want to keep them in the classroom, profes- the biggest problems with chemistry teachers who actually sional development that would help them get through that have the content is that they never struggled with learning first year would be a crucial step.â chemistry. They donât understand what these kids donât For Hargrove, the most valuable professional develop- know.â They need tools to help kids understand the concepts ment has been how to differentiate instruction. Her students that are being presented.