The Role of Elementary and Secondary Schools and Their Teachers

Jan 14, 2014 - “I was never very good at chemistry in high school: all that balancing and those equations were just over my head.” Although ... Fo...
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The Role of Elementary and Secondary Schools and Their Teachers of Chemistry Norbert J. Pienta* Department of Chemistry, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602-2556, United States ABSTRACT: The 91st volume is introduced with a discussion about the importance of teaching and learning chemistry in K− 12. The issue features special commentaries about a new organization for those who teach chemistry at that level, a historical article about the origins of the Journal, and additional content for our constituency in this area. KEYWORDS: General Public, Elementary/Middle School Science, High School/Introductory Chemistry


student success such as the College Board’s advanced placement (AP) courses4 and the international baccalaureate courses;5 and the need to understand and comply with state standards, seek professional development credit and cope with one’s students, colleagues, and administrators. Parallel concerns, both positive and negative, relate to our colleagues who teach science and chemistry at the K−8 levels also. This issue begins with a series of commentaries related to the formation of a national organization for teachers of chemistry being organized and underwritten by the American Chemical Society. Your editor supports the general idea and provides this venue for several perspectives on the subject: an essay by George Bodner6 that includes some historical, philosophical, and organizational perspectives; editorials by JCE’s own Associate Editors Deanna Cullen7 and Greg Rushton,8 whose careers include high school teaching; and an international perspective provided by Peter Mahaffy.9 In addition, this issue contains a special historical article by former editor Joseph Lagowski10 about JCE’s origins and the importance of chemical education at the secondary school level. This topic was an integral part of our origins and has continued to be so for the intervening 90 years. We also begin the 91st volume with additional content of interest to and related to high school chemistry.

olidays bring people together in social settings, and parties afford opportunities to make new acquaintances. “So what do you do?” “I teach chemistry at the University.” “I was never very good at chemistry in high school: all that balancing and those equations were just over my head.” Although there are some variations, your editor has replayed this scenario in his head a few times. Social pressures keep people from ever saying that they are functionally illiterate with miserable spelling and grammar, but it is acceptable to admit ignorance of science. On the other hand, a positive version often starts with a story of a clever and inspiring science teacher. “Mr. Curvish always had some zany demonstrations to demonstrate a point or to get us to pay attention and to ask questions.” During my multidecade career, this academic chemist has enjoyed the research and scholarship (both in physical organic chemistry and in discipline-based education research) as well as the undergraduate and graduate teaching. To stay informed about teaching and learning, one must keep up with the literature and best practices; in the case of this author, that must seem obvious. Making personal decisions about teaching practice and administering my university’s general chemistry program using the evidence-based literature seems like a logical next step. Your editor has nearly been heckled out of a departmental colloquium (at an unnamed university) for deriding the use of 17-year-old lecture notes (and 100-yearold pedagogies), but recognizes that the university setting gives us great freedom. To the best of my recollection, no one has told me that I could not revert to the most egregious collection of “worst practices”. Those days may be coming to an end at universities that are experiencing a greater demand for accountability, assessment, and evidence. As a director of a general chemistry instruction program at a large, public institution, one is confronted by many aspects of high school instruction, student preparedness, and other philosophical and practical matters that have us looking into the high schools. Those who teach high school have been challenged by a complex litany of issues that have accompanied a national interest in promoting STEM; a virtual roller coaster of accountability initiatives, including the ubiquitous “No Teacher Left Behind”;1 a host of programs for curricular revision such as the National Science Education Standards2 and the Next Generation Science Standards NGSS;3 programs for © 2014 American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.


Corresponding Author

*E-mail: [email protected]. Notes

Views expressed in this editorial are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the ACS.


(1) For information about “No Teacher Left Behind”, see http:// (accessed Dec 2013). (2) For information about chemistry in the National Science Education Standards, see education/policies/hsstandards.html (accessed Dec 2013).

Published: January 14, 2014 1 | J. Chem. Educ. 2014, 91, 1−2

Journal of Chemical Education


(3) NGSS can be found at (accessed Dec 2013). (4) For a description of AP chemistry courses and exams, see: (accessed Dec 2013). (5) For a description of international baccalaureate courses and exams, see: (accessed Dec 2013). (6) Bodner, G. M. Creation of an American Association of Chemistry Teachers. J. Chem. Educ. DOI: 10.1021/ed4007887. (7) Cullen, D. M. Welcome Home. J. Chem. Educ. DOI: 10.1021/ ed400743f. (8) Rushton, G. T. From Occupation to Profession: A Perspective on the American Association of Chemistry Teachers. J. Chem. Educ. DOI: 10.1021/ed400764z. (9) Mahaffy, P. G. Of Compliments and ComplementsInternational Perspectives on the American Association of Chemistry Teachers. J. Chem. Educ. DOI: 10.1021/ed400825k. (10) Lagowski, J. J. From the Beginning: The Journal of Chemical Education and Secondary School Chemistry. J. Chem. Educ. DOI: 10.1021/ed300820v.

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