I will, unfortunately, not be able to meet you tomorrow evening. Here’s what I would have said:
I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself and the about Honors Chemistry class.
This is my 24th year of teaching, 22 of them at Lower Merion High School. I graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Chemistry and got a Masters degree in education from SUNY Cortland.
I believe that I have the best job in the world – teaching chemistry to young minds. To help you understand why I love this job, let me break it into several pieces. I love chemistry and I love teaching chemistry and I love teaching sophomores and the occasional freshman.
The vast majority of students who walk through my door for a first year Honors chemistry class have gotten away with being smart. They have gotten good grades by listening in class and reading through their notes the night before the test. They have excelled by writing everything they could remember the teacher saying on test questions. I understand this; I was one of them a very long time ago.
Chemistry, however, doesn’t work that way. Rather than regurgitating what the teacher has said in class, students have to recognize patterns and apply ideas to new and novel situations. As a result, reading over notes is not an appropriate plan for success. In addition, chemistry class is usually the first place in which students are confronted with math outside of math class. Suddenly, math has a purpose other than satisfying a math teacher, and to make matters worse, EVERYTHING is a word problem.
As a teacher, I have the opportunity to help students develop the study skills and learning strategies that will carry through high school and college. I get to help them understand the difference between being able to recite a rule and being able to apply it. I get to help them find the bigger patterns in sample problems, so that they can deal with the new and novel situations they will face on my tests and beyond.
In addition, I get to teach things like quantum theory. For those of you not familiar with quantum theory, it is the basis for our current understanding of how electrons behave in atoms. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize winning physicist, once told an audience that they shouldn’t feel bad about not understanding the theory since he didn’t really understand the theory himself. That means, of course, that high school sophomores can’t be expected to grasp it. But, it doesn’t mean that they can’t begin to think about the theory and can’t make the effort to wrap their heads around a deep and often counter-intuitive set of ideas, and I love having the opportunity to push young inquisitive minds further than they knew they could be pushed.
I love chemistry. Richard Feynman (I mention him a lot…he’s my science hero…brilliant, irreverent, funny) told a story about an artist he knew. The artist complained that scientists couldn’t see the beauty of a flower because they just took it apart to see how it worked inside. Feynman countered that the truth was the scientists got twice as much beauty out of a flower. They could appreciate the outer beauty of the blossom and could appreciate the beauty of the remarkably complex inner workings. I hope to develop that dual appreciation in your children. I want them to see a sunset and appreciate the fabulous colors and, at the same time, contemplate the diffraction of light by the suspended particles in the air. I want them to be frustrated by ice that needs to be scraped from a windshield at the same time that they are thinking about evaporative cooling.
In short, I want to push your children. I want them to be uncomfortable and to learn. I want them to reach beyond what they have always done and discover how far they can go, and I believe that chemistry is one of the best ways to accomplish that task.
A few notes on the workings of the class:
I am working this year to be as “paperless” as I can. Students are doing labs and worksheets digitally. I am distributing digital copies of materials through Edmodo, and Google docs and communicating through Edmodo and e-mail. Please encourage your children to regularly check their LMHS e-mail account and Edmodo for announcements and assignments.
Grades are weighted into two categories: Excellence Extensions (worth 10%) and Regular Assessments (90%). Regular assessments include tests (which will be roughly 50-60%) , labs (some juts data and calculations, some lab write-ups), and homework quizzes.
Because I believe that learning the material is more important than WHEN you learn it. I will be offering (limited) opportunities for students to “re-take” questions from tests. (See the previous post for more details)
If you don’t know what the Excellence Extensions are, please check the post from 9/11/13 on Excellence in Chemistry and then ask your child about density (the current topic).
As always, if you have questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m happy to speak on the phone or to meet face to face, but e-mail is generally the fastest way to make initial contact (even if its just to set up a meeting). My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for letting me borrow your children