State of Our Schools – Great chemistry = excellent teaching

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Teresa Ware wants to start a chain reaction in her students’ brains.
“We don’t like a week to go by without a lab,” said the 17-year veteran who teaches chemistry and AP Biology at Tupelo High School. “It is awesome. It helps them understand the concept.”
One of her favorites comes as students are learning chemical equations. After her students have mastered the theory and the mechanics of the math, they get to see what happens when they mix iron and copper sulfate. The iron filings will dissolve in the boiling blue copper sulfate liquid.
As students worked in groups to measure their iron filings and light their Bunsen burners, Ware put on some chemistry-inspired music and circulated through the room, questioning and coaching.
“If you’re ready to add the iron, don’t miss the magic,” she told them.
The blue boiling liquid turned gray and in the bottom of the beakers, bright, shiny copper appeared for most of the groups.
“What’s happening?” she asked one group. “It bonded,” they decided.
A couple of groups still had a lot of blue liquid in their beakers. That indicated they didn’t weigh the iron correctly and didn’t get enough into the solution. It can be hard not to solve the problem for them, Ware said.
“Sometimes you bite your tongue because it’s something they need to learn,” Ware said. “They’ll figure out what they’ve done wrong. Failures are helpful.”
Ware – who is working on her masters degree in teaching biology – is pumped about the chemistry she’s seen with block scheduling, which allows for longer class times.
“You can talk about it and then move to the lab,” said Ware, who has also seen the benefits in building relationships with students.
Block scheduling works in tandem with common planning time for departments.
“We sit down and talk to each other,” Ware said. “There’s more sharing resources, more feedback on labs.”
The right structures and support at schools can really encourage excellent teaching, she said. In addition to common planning within departments, there’s planning across the curriculum, support with discipline and evaluations that offer immediate feedback.
“Everybody has the opportunity to be excellent now,” Ware said.
michaela.morris@journalinc.com