High School Chemistry Guidelines │ Preparations and Responsibilities

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Preparation and Responsibilities

Expectations of Educators

Nationwide, teachers of science are expected to be well qualified in their field. In some states this will mean that chemistry teachers are expected to have degrees in chemistry, while in others it will mean teachers must have a degree in any field of science along with a minimum number of college chemistry courses. In addition, it is expected that any qualified chemistry teacher has completed specific training in chemical and laboratory preparation and safety, including the ability to conduct hazard reviews of laboratory experiments and class demonstrations. Classroom teachers are advised that assistance may be provided by the district chemical safety officer.

Safety training is critical for any chemistry teacher, for his or her own legal and physical protection, and, of course, for the safety of all students. Knowledge of local and school district waste disposal and fire code requirements is essential. Resources for safety training are available through some vendors of scientific supplies such as VWR International, LLC, or Flinn Scientific, Inc. The Laboratory Safety Institute provides multiple online and print resources covering all areas of chemical safety. Some states may require and provide additional, specific training related to the storage, use, and disposal of chemicals in the academic laboratory


The ACS has produced many publications that explain the organization’s beliefs and values with respect to equity. This document is not intended to supersede the previous version of the ACS guidance document, titled “ACS High School Chemistry Guidelines and Recommendations,” only to apply it to the context of the classroom setting. “Science for All,” a phrase used by many—most notably the American Association for the Advancement of Science—is the cornerstone of the vision for high school chemistry. The ACS fully supports the goal of a scientifically literate society and maintains that one way to achieve this goal is by providing equal opportunities for all students to learn chemistry.

The implications of this position extend well beyond the needs of a single classroom. Schools and the states that support them are responsible for supplying the resources needed for the development and enactment of a chemistry program that is inquiry-based, student-centered, and accessible so that all learners have an equal opportunity for success.

The resources needed to provide this education include, but are not necessarily limited to, facilities, funding for materials, appropriate instructional time for planning and enactment, and professional development for the instructors. Schools are charged with the responsibility of hiring professional teachers whose values align with the Science for All philosophy, who possess the pedagogical content knowledge required to enact this curriculum, and who view themselves as lifelong learners.

Some of the research-based strategies that will enable chemistry teachers to grow toward this vision of equity, include the following:

  • Being aware of the research on best practices aimed at teaching and reaching all students;
  • Transforming and adapting instructional practices to promote student learning;
  • Serving as equity role models in their classrooms and in the larger community;
  • Recognizing and teaching to their students’ strengths;
  • Providing a learning environment focused on trust and fairness; and
  • Connecting with the culture of their students, the students’ families, and the community.


Chemistry teachers work as both professional teachers and as science professionals. In addition to adopting an ethical practice as science professionals, chemistry teachers are also responsible for adhering to ethical conduct within the scope of their practice in the classroom. The disclaimer found in the beginning of the above section on equity applies equally to ethics.

Ethical chemistry teachers model within their instructional practices a safe and productive learning environment with equal opportunities for all students, and present course content without “distortion, bias, or personal prejudice.” Educators must maintain confidential information and show fiscal responsibility. They shall refrain from misrepresentation of self and others, and not engage in fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism of ideas or information.

Chemistry teachers should make conscious decisions to limit the negative environmental impact in the design and enactment of their curriculum. They should model environmentally responsible actions for their students. Teachers should consider how they and their students consume energy and other natural resources. Similarly, in the laboratory, an environmentally responsible curriculum includes, but is not limited to: the appropriate selection, storage, use and disposal of chemical reagents; and the use of micro procedures, where suitable. Resources from the ACS GCI may be helpful for teachers in designing a green curriculum.

Professional Development

The ACS recognizes that teaching is a complex and intellectually challenging profession. Chemistry teachers must adopt the stance of lifelong learning and be willing to collaborate and share their expertise with other education and science professionals.

Professional development should encompass disciplinary content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and how students understand content knowledge. Education research finds that the most effective professional development is sustained throughout the teacher’s practice, teacher led, and focused on improved student leaning.

Other characteristics of effective professional development for chemistry teachers include:

  • Active learning opportunities for teachers;
  • Opportunities to develop skills and knowledge, use it in practice, reflect, and share;
  • Deep understanding of focus area;
  • Collaborative learning;
  • Learning opportunities derived from both research and practice;
  • Systemic initiatives for school and education reform; and
  • Support for teachers in leadership roles.

Effective professional development opportunities also involve collaboration with members of the greater educational and scientific communities. Professional networking can be accomplished in meetings and workshops, or via online communication. Affiliations with local and state professional organizations are another possible source of important regional support. It should be noted that the ACS expects the full support of each chemistry teacher’s school in their effort to grow as a professional educator. Support includes developing a school environment that encourages teachers’ inquiry into their own practice, providing the resources to promote teacher leadership in professional learning communities, as well as providing opportunities for teachers to network with other professionals.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Membership and active participation in professional organizations provide chemistry teachers with a host of opportunities to network with other education professionals on multiple levels. This can be accomplished through active membership, use of online resources, and attendance at local, state, and national conferences associated with such professional organizations. In addition to the ACS, teachers have opportunities to be members of organizations at the local, state, and national levels. Organizations such as these provide many opportunities for continued teacher learning, including resources, workshops, grant announcements, and so forth, as a means to provide teachers with ideas for their classes.

Select association and professional development organizations include the following:

The Society Committee on Education (SOCED) is another ACS resource that supports the development and implementation of programs that bring the wonder, excitement, opportunities, and challenges of modern chemical science to students of all ages. SOCED maintains a program of national and regional conferences in which teachers can network with other teachers and come into contact with the ideas being promoted by leaders in the field of chemical education. It is always helpful to be aware of current science education research and to anticipate common student misconceptions in chemistry. The ACS Journal of Chemical Education (JCE, 2011) provides a variety of articles, as well as a Chemistry Concepts Inventory.

Extracurricular Activities

Chemistry teachers seek out opportunities for their students to connect classroom learning to the world around them. By extending the focus of chemistry beyond the classroom, teachers will be positioned to provide students with enriching activities designed to ignite the interest and imagination of the participants. A few examples of extracurricular opportunities sponsored by the ACS available to chemistry teachers and their students include the ChemClub, Chemistry Olympiad, Project SEED, ChemMatters magazine, the Scholars Program, college planning resources, and summer research programs for students and teachers.

The ACS ChemClub provides fun, authentic, and hands-on opportunities to experience chemistry beyond the classroom. The Chemistry Olympiad competition brings together the world’s most talented high school students to test their knowledge and skills in chemistry. Project SEED is a summer research program for economically disadvantaged students. Also, teachers may consider encouraging his/her students to apply to one of the many summer research programs that provide students with academic enrichment and real-world experience working alongside scientists in a research laboratory.

The following organizations offer summer research programs for high school students:

ChemMatters is an award-winning magazine that demystifies chemistry for high school students. The ACS also promotes the ACS Scholars Program for African American, Hispanic, and American Indian students pursuing a college degree in the chemical sciences or chemical technology. These students are eligible to apply for a scholarship through the ACS Scholars Program. For additional college planning, the ACS Web site provides information on what it takes to earn a degree in chemistry, the benefits of finding a mentor and building a professional network, and much more.