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Stemeter High School: Chemteacher Brief Biography of Chemteacher (Chem) 54 Year-old Female Science Concentration: Chemistry

Degrees: A.S. – General Studies (35 years ago) B.S. – Chemistry (33 years ago) M.S. – Education (32 Years ago) Recent Continuing Education: Previous summer: Testing Fundamental Content for ⇒A STEM System⇐ Workshops in previous Years: Teaching STEM 1; Teaching STEM 2; Teaching STEM 3; Working with STEM Catalysts in ⇒A STEM System⇐ Experience: Classroom -- 32 Years Chemistry – 24 Years Biology – 1 Year Environmental Science (Basic and Advanced) – 32 Years Algebra I – 4 Years AP Chemistry – 32 Years STEM – 8 Years of STEM 1 through 4 Married: Spouse has run Stemeter Plumbing Co. for 22 years and employs: 1 Office Manger 3 Journeyman plumbers 2 Laborers 1 Trainee (a former laborer)


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Path to Teaching: Received A grades in middle school science and the usual high school courses; developed a crush for J.J. in AP Environmental Science; J.J. registered for mechanical engineering; Chem was able to get into J.J.’s classes for chemistry and college algebra; she lost J.J., but enjoyed college chemistry and made it her major. Note the lack of any non-academic technical experience.

Looking back as her 33rd school year materialized, Chem wondered how she survived as the only chemistry teacher at Stemeter for 32 years. The first 24 years, she taught chemistry as a silo course, that is she closed her classroom door and taught everything needed to support her class plans each year. There were some examples taken from biology and physics. Some applied math was taught. She tried to scan chemical education journal articles for about an hour each week and occasionally found some ideas she could incorporate into her classes. Other than taking care of administrative needs and sharing some equipment, there had been little time for interaction with other science teachers. She relied on the textbooks to dictate content and organize her class even as various standards and state standardized testing swirled around and got front-page coverage. She had applied a few of the popular teaching fads when they appeared, although she intuitively had used inquiry methods from the beginning. “Try to get students to think” had been her constant mantra. She had started several chemists into their careers and initiated the chemistry component of the careers of several other scientists, engineers, and medical specialists. She could claim success for those 24 years of teaching.


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Her first two years of teaching found her in the classroom for 2 courses of regular chemistry, 1 course of AP Chemistry, 1 basic and 1 advanced environmental science courses, and 1 Algebra 1. Each class had from 10 to 35 students. She also was the assistant coach for 1 varsity sport each season to make the expected payments on $48,000 of student debt. During the first day of Teacher Pre-Class Week 10 years ago, Chem was told that a STEM class would be offered starting in 2 years and all Stemeter science teachers would be expected to be prepared to teach it. She registered that same evening for a STEM Teachers’ Course at the local state university, which required a one-hour commute each way to class two nights per week for a year. Chem also took the second year of the course. Stemeter High School paid the class fee and gave Chem $10.00 each week for travel expenses.


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Shifting to ⇒A STEM System⇐ was an upheaval in some ways and easy in others. Working as a member of a Teacher Team was radically different from the one-teacher one-room teaching design. The first days of creating the Stemeter STEM curriculum demonstrated the overlap of science content among the former courses and the common mathematics needs of all the sciences and engineering. Sharing instructional techniques had been enlightening and demonstrated the creativity of each teacher. Teachers continued to use favored techniques and found that collecting student groups of homogeneous needs to learn specific content/techniques provided efficiencies and created better student responsiveness. The planning and teamwork associated with the Student Projects added an important feature to the overall STEM program that seemed appreciated by the students. Combining this experience with the contributions of the STEM Catalyst, students felt the total STEM experience was a good simulation of the real world in which STEM knowledge and skills were applied. Students seemed to be shifting from “I’ll learn this content because the teacher said to” to “Understanding this content is necessary in real situations.”


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Using two grades for the each STEM course – Foundation and Conceptual – relieved unproductive stress for some students and gave much more information for career and college major considerations. Some students intending to pursue STEM careers realized they were not developing some needed skills even when they understood concepts. Others did more reading and information collection for understanding concepts when they could reduce emphasis on developing foundation skills and quantitative problem-solving. With computer programs analyzing test results for both objective and free-response questions, teachers had more specific information for working with individual students and for addressing class issues.


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Chem found that the STEM Catalysts who were scientists and engineers made the course more interesting for both students and teachers by relating many concepts to real needs that permitted creativity for cutting-edge research and new designs. She also found the STEM Catalysts who were small business entrepreneurs and craft experts could apply STEM concepts to the practices of daily life to make life more enjoyable, stable, and safer. The STEM Catalysts regularly enriched the content knowledge base of all members of the Teaching Team. They also contributed insights about STEM concepts and careers to the students that teachers could never provide. They were indeed catalytic in working with students without overshadowing the teachers. Twice each semester, the entire STEM class is assembled to watch a STEM Dynamo presentation. Everyone gets a break from the usual STEM challenges and receives a motivational burst of energy from a well known advocate of STEM education. Some students are surprised that celebrities unknown to have any connection to STEM believe everyone needs STEM knowledge and skills.


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Further reminiscing took Chem back to her very first Teacher Pre-Class Week ... Surprise No. 1: Her contract was to teach chemistry classes and to coach 1 varsity sport each semester. The posted schedule listed for her two general chemistry classes, one AP Chemistry class, a physics class and a biology class. She had spent all summer working with the previous year’s syllabi and developing class plans for chemistry and AP Chemistry using the current textbooks and resources. Teaching biology and physics was totally unexpected – the first classes were 6 days away. Surprise No. 2: The Vice-Principal for Curriculum had attended a conference the preceding week and decided the textbooks for both chemistry courses needed updating to new, first editions of textbooks released at the beginning of summer. Both texts came with a vast repertoire of aids and online support materials, also in first editions. These changes would require major revisions to the AP Chemistry syllabus, which required approval by the administration and the College Board. So, now there would be four preps daily.


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Surprise No. 3: She and the other science teachers were given the opportunity to visit their rooms and admire the changes made during the summer. Yes, the new ceilings and floors and new paint plus augmentations with the latest audio, video and graphics equipment looked great. But there were no supplies and equipment for hands-on work to be found. As the Teacher Pre-Class Week resumed, the Principal asked for questions about the facilities just toured. Each science teacher’s right hand immediately punched toward the ceiling. The Principal smiled and said, “You will be happy to know that a new sprinkler systems was installed to meet the new local building code. All moveable equipment and supplies were removed to storage and were to be returned last week. However, the storage company encountered many delays due to last week’s rain storms and they have promised to return everything Thursday. I am sure you can get everything arranged by the first class at 7:30 Monday. Surprise No.4: New software was installed for the graphics boards and Internet connections. An instructor for these changes would conduct an all-day session on Friday. So …. less than 6 days to the first class ,,,, teaching two out-of-field classes that Chem learned about today, using new textbooks for her in-field classes, returning supplies and equipment to the stockroom and classroom, preparing a new syllabus for AP Chemistry, 2.5 days of required meetings, and she was the only chemistry teacher! This is what life is like for the lonely science teacher! In the first class-week, her students did not see her best teaching.


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Starting 8 years ago, Chem’s assignment to ⇒A STEM System⇐ implementation required teaching 3 courses of up to 100 students each meeting for a double class period 4 days each week. The new arrangement of a 4-person Teacher Team increased costs for the school, which were being offset by a new federal program established in recognition that the nation’s economy could not be maintained using the old educational structure for STEM dating from 1916. At the beginning of the 2050/51 school year, Chem took a few minutes to contrast the STEM System in 2050 with conditions in 2018, her first year of teaching. As she approached graduation with a Master Degree in education, she participated in a school job fair. Having multiple job offers, she decided being the only chemistry teacher at Stemeter was very attractive. The salary was lower than others were offering ; however, she would have much more freedom for building her own chemistry program. Twenty-four years later, ⇒A STEM System⇐ required surrendering the total control of her classroom for a team operation that gave both her and her students greater personal flexibility and gave students ready access to content expertise where she often had felt inadequate.


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An updating of the administrative software system had been installed. This version would automatically contact school counselors and parents whose children were absent or tardy, falling behind on homework, had scored poorly on a recent test, or were exhibiting behavior problems of any kind. Data entries on each student, Chem had 116 currently registered, students missing a daily entry would automatically appear on a list prepared automatically for the principal. A vice-principal noted that parent/teacher meetings could be requested by either party for any time convenient for the parent. Parent/teacher nights already were scheduled for Wednesday evenings twice per quarter. The principal announced that all teachers must report for emergency warning, CPR, and accident management certificate training on Tuesday (tomorrow) afternoon following another morning-long teachers’ meeting and a 30-minute lunch break. Now, the clock read 11:30. The principal announced an early break for lunch and requested that teachers meet at department levels starting at 1:00 pm. She asked that these meeting last not more than 2 hours so teachers could have time to organize their rooms for teaching.


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At 2:45 Chem was beginning to understand how the school worked, when a school counselor walked in, announced adjournment of the meeting, and asked Chem to join her in the chemistry classroom. That meeting had gone something like this: Chem, you have some great students in your classes. This list of 10 students are expected to get grades of A or the parents will be camping on our doorstep each morning. This list of six students have ADHD to varying degrees – some can learn reasonably well if they get a lot of individual attention, a couple are unlikely to learn anything, and all will disrupt the class regularly. Last year’s chemistry classes scored 10 points below the state average on the standardized science test, we want the average scores to increase to the statewide average this year. As the first day ended, Chem felt overwhelmed. Had she the experience she had now, Tuesday morning migtht have found her sleeping until noon after mailing a brief resignation letter. Instead, she got to school at 5:30 AM and started work on the AP Chemistry syllabus that had to be submitted to The College Board after approval by the principal. Two weeks after classes began, the curriculum Vice Principal (VP) visited Chem’s room during a school break and inquired about her plans for increasing multidisciplinary STEM activities in her classes. The VP said she thought that projects provided an excellent mechanism for helping students develop teamwork skills while also learning about engineering and technology. She suggested that Chem create some new projects.


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That evening, Chem thought about incorporating more project work. She knew of some projects from her recent college classes. She liked the idea of writing some projects of her own and believed she could use some familiar lab experiments, reduce the information and directions, and make suggestions that would get students discussing possible goals and how to get from a specified starting point to the goals. However, she worried about authenticity.

In college she had worked for two years in one professor’s research group. She had become expert in preparing samples and acquiring data for calculating the desired reaction rates for specific temperature/pressure combinations to promote the professor’s research. However, she was aware that most scientists worked for companies and other employers doing work not considered “pure” research. She had no contacts that could give her insights into the world of science outside her college experience. Further, she had little experience that seemed qualified as engineering. There were national high school standards that addressed STEM issues that could guide her, but she had no way of imparting to students the flavor and realities of STEM work outside the hallowed halls of ivy. Chem had met the expectations of the education community throughout her career. However, implementing ⇒A STEM System⇐ offered many opportunities of enabling students to engage directly with personnel from the science-rich communities. Chem thought that should benefit everyone.

Chemteacher  
Chemteacher