Dr. Amy Keirstead, an organic chemistry professor at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, prepares high school science students for college-level education through her role as an ACS Science Coach. By partnering with a high school chemistry teacher at the rural Messalonskee High School in Oakland, Keirstead introduces students to elaborate experiments to pique their interest in science.
Keirstead shows students how to conduct multi-step experiments in an effort to familiarize them with higher-level chemistry concepts. She makes the 1.5 hour drive to Oakland, Maine, to provide condensed lectures on the chemistry involved—material that she typically teaches to her university students—and to assist with the hands-on experiments at the school. (The university loans equipment for the experiments.) To further engage students in chemistry and encourage them to continue studying, they are invited to visit the University of New England campus for a day, where they work with student volunteers to analyze their products using techniques such as NMR and IR spectroscopy, gas chromatography and refractometry, and tour various research laboratories.
In addition to teaching new chemistry concepts and helping with experiments, Keirstead focuses much of her Science Coach efforts on developing students for their post-high school careers. She helps students develop their public speaking and communication skills by working with them to compile their research data into a scientific poster. The students dress professionally and present their results to parents, teachers, and school administrators. And when students visit the University of New England, they receive tours of campus and her lab. She eats with the high school students in the university’s dining hall and arranges for current undergraduates to provide them with a perspective on college.
Why she does it:
Volunteering in a high school chemistry class not only helps students expand their learning experiences, but helps Keirstead become a better teacher too. “As a college professor, it is helpful to have insight into what and how the students are learning in high school. It helps me tune-in to my students’ needs and learning styles,” she says. The interaction with future college students helps Keirstead to plan her university lectures more effectively, with the goal of deepening her students’ understanding of—and appreciation for—organic chemistry.
Advice to those considering becoming an ACS Science Coach:
Curb your fear that science is too complex for students to comprehend. “Don’t be afraid to choose a topic or a project that is advanced—bring the chemistry to the students and make it accessible to them, and they will benefit!,” she says.
Interviewed July 2014.
ACS Science Coaches
ACS Science Coaches are chemistry professionals who share their expertise and enthusiasm for science with an elementary, middle, or high school teacher over the course of one school year.