Teaching Chemistry Around the World

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One resource I really wanted to get to start this year was whiteboards, and I started this search as soon as I touched ground in Dubai. At first, I was searching for shower board or something of the sort, then had to just search for whiteboards. The best I could find that was close to the size I wanted was 60cmx90cm, and it was a board that is meant to be hung on the wall.

Can you imagine the kids trying to maneuver those around the classroom? I settled for a 60cmx70cm sticky whiteboard poster stuck to a piece of plywood and wrapped in duct tape. International orders can take up to 6 months to get here.

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We are fortunate in Dubai to have a laboratory distributing company on speed dial, so our labs are always fully stocked. We were able to order these one day, and they were delivered as soon as that afternoon. Last year we performed the lab with copper wire and AgNO 3. Instead of recycling the silver, we were able to give our students little vials to keep forever. I even had a student ask if she could come in and make more to make jewelry out of. I told her if she could show the stoichiometry for how much more she needs, she could make as much as she wants.

Sure enough she was in my lab the next day ready to go. Most private international schools are not part of a larger entity. For the most part, international schools function as their own school which allows teachers more flexibility in planning. Our school adopted NGSS a couple of years ago, and this is our first full year of implementation. This did not come from a district office, nor did someone else write what we will be doing.

We are standards based, and as a department chose what we put in as our standards in our gradebook. We do have a Director of Teaching and Learning who is involved in a lot of our decision making, but his role is only to make sure we are cohesive with other divisions and provide the best education we can to our students. One of the most frustrating parts about living overseas is the difficulty in finding quality professional development during the school year that is specifically catered to high school science teachers.

Most conferences try to cater to a wide variety of educators and are located in other countries. Although most schools offer a professional development stipend ranging anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars, most of the professional development science teachers choose to do is during summer break in the states.


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Class sizes can vary just as they do in the states, but very rarely will you find science classes larger than Most classes will average around , and you might find. Most classes will average around , and you might find some as small as 14 or In the states, I taught 6 of 8 class periods, and one of my periods off was considered my lunch.

My schedule internationally consists of teaching 5 of 8 and a separate lunch. I can usually get all of my planning done during the school day and only have to take grading home in the evenings. This is something that is more relevant to the part of the world I live in.

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My school follows both the American holidays as well as the Muslim holidays. As of right now, the way Eid and Ramadan fall during the year, we are starting later and ending later. In future years, this will not be the case, as Ramadan and Eid move up 2 weeks every year. Because of the late start, the AP classes are extremely crunched for time to cover all of the material before May.

Not to mention, since we end at the end of June, there is a lot of time with AP classes after the major exam has been taken. We have a high population of students who take at least two AP courses, and a significant amount of students who are taking three to four or even five AP classes. You can imagine the difference in their schedules after the exams as opposed to before.

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This causes our students to be under a lot of stress due to losing so much time at the beginning of the year to learn new material. Europe typically starts one week before the Middle East. There is also a test called the MAP Measure of Academic Progress test that the students take every other year in order to show growth, but this is not something the students stress about. This test actually loses its validity after about grade 8 or 9 because of the level of questions being asked.

As a high school teacher, I might lose one day of class a year with my 9th graders for this test. If you were to ask your students tomorrow how many of them hold a passport, what would you predict your numbers would be? When I taught in Texas, several of my students had not ever left the state, let alone the country.

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At the 6th grade, students begin traveling to countries like South Africa, India, Cambodia, and Thailand to immerse themselves in a different culture and serve the people of different countries. At the high school level, we send our students on a wider variety of trips around 30 in order to inspire our students to pursue their passions. For example, a group of students who are passionate about leadership recently went to Switzerland to attend a leadership retreat, and a group of students who are passionate about conservation went to Bali to dive and collect ocean pollution.

You might not find these programs at every international school, but as the years pass, more and more schools are including a service component to their graduation requirement, which includes an international trip. You can imagine the global awareness of the students I teach.

Teaching Chemistry Around the World

No flame retardant desktops. This is meant to be a biology lab but serves as a chemistry lab. This is a view from an open window looking in. Aprons and goggles are shipped in from the states. This is extremely helpful for safety reasons. But as we change this and help them uncover these stories of chemistry, we see how motivating they find this knowledge. One of the fundamental features of learning chemistry is that we need to have robust molecular level images of chemical substances and reactions, and to be able to connect those molecular level images to what we observe the macroscopic , and what we represent the symbolic.

We now have new and powerful computer tools to help students do this. No longer do we need to be limited to static, 2-dimensional molecular level images. By doing so, this is a step towards being able to visualize solutions to larger problems.

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Nowhere is it more imperative that we develop the ability to visualize well than when we picture how the tools of chemistry can be used to tackle the bewildering complexity of climate science, make energy choices to power our planet in the 21st Century, or bring potable water, modern medicine, and secure food supplies to the world.

One outstanding example of this kind of visualization is the set of resources that were completed very recently at explainingclimatechange. In this new resource, learners are not told what to think about climate change, but instead are invited to interrogate the data over the past million years about temperature and concentrations of greenhouse gases. They can use digital learning objects to begin to see and understand how increased carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere can lead to a drop in ocean pH and reduction in carbonate concentrations needed for marine organisms to form their exoskeletons.

We will have utterly failed in meeting the needs of our students and our planet if someone is able to write the same thing 50 years from now! I hope we continue to build strongly on trends that a see chemistry as a human activity, b place the deep knowledge of concepts of chemistry in contexts that matter to our students and the health of our planet, and c that continue to exploit visualization tools to help students see and understand. I have always been curious about the world and love to communicate that curiosity and wonder to others.

I have been inspired by many teachers and mentors, including my year-old mother, who still tutors students with learning needs. I am committed to teaching, especially at the introductory level, that starts with rich contexts — real life challenges or situations to which chemistry can make an important contribution. Almost everything I read gives me ideas for new ways to contextualize learning — and almost every example requires that I move into new territory to learn new things. But important learning also comes from professional conferences, from colleagues, and perhaps most of all, from my students every day.

Faculty and students care about learning, care about each other, and work across disciplines to tackle important problems. In the context of this small university, teaching and research are not competing opposites — but we are fortunate to be able to hire full time undergraduate student collaborators to work with us on research for four months every summer and to continue learning on these projects through academic term research projects.

In carrying out this research and development of interactive learning objects, students learn to research student misconceptions, understand complex science, and imaginatively communicate what they have learned to a global audience over the web. Human Activity, Chemical Reactivity.

Peter Mahaffy received his Ph. He has presented over 50 plenary, keynote or invited lectures to scientists, educators, and the public on six continents in the past five years. Please note that to comment on an article you must be registered and logged in. Registration is for free, you may already be registered to receive, e. All comments are subject to moderation. Search Wiley Online Library. If you would like to reuse any content , in print or online, from ChemistryViews. A product of and Wiley-VCH.

Where Chemical Education is Heading: Interview with Peter Mahaffy Author: Innovative Learning and Teaching Practices Magazine: Best of Magazine: