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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 – 32 Years Biology – 1 Year Environmental Science (Basic and Advanced) – 27 Years Algebra I – 4 Years AP Chemistry – 32 Years STEM – 8 Years of STEM in the transition program 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 in college; Chem was able to get into J.J.’s classes for chemistry and college algebra; she lost J.J., but enjoyed college chemistry, including undergraduate research, and made it her major. She began teaching high school science courses the year following college graduation. 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 and other science courses as silo courses, that is, she closed her classroom door and taught everything needed to support her class plans for the specific courses each year. She occasionally would use some examples taken from biology and physics in her chemistry classes. She had to teach some applied math to most of her students. 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. Her first two years of teaching found her in the classroom for 2 courses of regular chemistry, 1 course of AP Chemistry, 1 physics course, 1 biology course, and 1 Algebra I. Each class had from 10 to 35 students and she was prepared neither mentally nor with content to teach physics and biology. She also was the assistant coach for 1 varsity sport each season to make the expected payments on $48,000 of student debt.


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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 specific 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. Chem, her colleagues, and administrators concluded she had been very successful throughout her career. However, Chem felt uneasy. Some of her students depended upon her to provide career information for fields of which she had little or no knowledge. Too many of her students found college science courses extremely challenging. And her husband severely criticized the education system for engineers, who lacked practical perspectives and intuition about how materials and designs would function in varied real-world conditions he encountered every day. He also found few recent high school graduates were interested in working for his type of business (plumbing) and most of those who were willing to be hired lacked satisfactory work ethics and ability to apply the basic mathematics and understanding of the physical world needed to be successful in the trade.


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Shifting to ⇒A STEM System⇐ for Stemeter’s students was an upheaval in some ways and easy in others. In the early years of the transition, she continued to teach her regular chemistry classes and added Student Projects that primarily addressed chemistry topics. She was now enjoying the science teachers occasional meetings as a Teacher Team. The new teaching environment was radically different from the one-teacher, one-room teaching design they had all been using previously. The first days of creating the Stemeter STEM curriculum had 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 in their individual classes. Beginning to use the formative testing program, they found they could collect students into groups having homogeneous needs to learn specific content/techniques as other students worked on Student Projects. They found this process would provide efficiencies and create better student responsiveness.

The planning and teamwork associated with the Student Projects added an important feature to the overall ⇒A STEM System⇐ program that seemed appreciated by the students even in the early years of the transition. 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 for Chem) 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 attacking misconceptions and specific inadequacies of 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 her by relating many fundamental concepts and skills to real applications 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 was assembled to participate in or to watch a STEM Dynamo presentation. Everyone got a break from the usual STEM course challenges and received a motivational burst of energy from a well-known advocate of STEM education. Some students were surprised that celebrities unknown to have any connection to STEM believed everyone needed STEM knowledge and skills.


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Further reminiscing took Chem back to her very first Teacher Pre-Class Week 32 years ago ...

Surprise No. 1: Her contract was for teaching chemistry classes and coaching one varsity sport each semester. Her first posted schedule listed two general chemistry classes, one AP Chemistry class, a physics class, a biology class, and one algebra 1 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, physics, and algebra 1 was totally unexpected – and 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. And learning to use the new resources would take substantial time. So, now there would be five preps daily – and new textbooks.


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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 meetings 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 AM 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 training session on Friday.

So …. less than 7 days to the first class … teaching three 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 was like for the lonely chemistry teacher! In the first class-week, her students did not see her best teaching.


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Beginning the Transition: During the first day of Teacher Pre-Class Week 10 years ago, Chem was told that the transition to ⇒A STEM System⇐ would be starting in 2 years and all Stemeter science teachers would be expected to be prepared to work with the new arrangement. She registered that same evening for a STEM Teachers’ Course for the new system 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 fees and gave Chem $10.00 each week for travel expenses.

Now that Stemeter High School entered the final stages of fully implementing ⇒A STEM System⇐, teachers found they were required to teach 3 courses of up to 100 students for each class meeting for a double class period 4 days each week. The new arrangement of a 4-person Teacher Team increased some costs for the school, which were being offset by a 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-two years later using ⇒A STEM System⇐, she began 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 felt inadequate.


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On that first day 32 years ago, Chem was told an updating of the administrative software system had been installed. This version automatically would contact school counselors and parents whose children were absent or tardy, falling behind on homework, had scored poorly on a test, or were exhibiting behavior problems of any kind. Data entries were expected for each student each day and Chem had 116 currently registered. Students missing a daily entry would automatically appear on a list prepared automatically for the principal each day. 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 training for emergency responses, CPR, and accident management certification 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 12:30 PM. She asked that these meetings last not more than 2 hours so teachers could have time to organize their rooms for teaching.


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At 1:45 PM 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 might 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 work 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 into the program she had planned. 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. For the past 32 years, Chem had met the expectations of the education community. 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