Bring a Scientist into Class

I am currently teaching an introduction chemistry course.  It has been a lot of fun, but I can honestly say that my chemistry background is not that strong having only taken/took (clearly my English background also isn’t that strong) a handful of chemistry courses in my undergraduate studies.  Despite that, I have made it my goal of this course to show my students what science is and can be and try to give them an idea of what it’s like to be a scientist.

I have to admit, it’s pretty tough to show students what it is like to be a scientist if you’ve never been a scientist.  Sure, I like to think I have a good idea of what a scientist does, but I haven’t experienced it first hand.  I owe it to my students to give them a clear picture, which is something I don’t think I can provide them myself.

Luckily for me, I know people that can.  When I decided that I needed to find someone to teach my students about being a scientist, I  immediately turned to my good friend Mac Hird (@ImMacHird), who I met working for a summer science, engineering and technology program during my undergrad summer breaks.

Mac is currently  finishing up his masters in physics at MIT, where he is studying K-12 education as a complex system.  I honestly don’t know the details of his research, but knowing Mac, I’m sure he’d love to discuss it with anyone who was interested.  The greatest thing about Mac is that he wants to share his knowledge and passion for science with the world.  Mac also has a passion for science education and his studies are focused on investigating how to improve it.

So I decided to bring Mac into my classroom using web conferencing tools.  We have used both Skype and Google+ Hangouts to bring Mac into class three times this trimester (I prefer Hangouts, but that’s not what this post is about).

This is the same class where I get my students to blog about current events in science.  For one of my blogging assignments, I asked my students to reflect on our first session with Mac.  Almost every single student’s post started with something like “I thought this was going to be really lame and boring”, but they all went on to explain that they found the class fascinating and interesting.

Observing these web conferences, I witnessed a level of engagement and curiosity I have not seen in these students yet.  Speaking to a real scientist about real science in a fun, safe environment proved to be an incredible experience for my students.   They learned about things they never knew existed.  On one of our chats right before winter break, Mac told us breaking news about a new state of matter that’s research was released only hours earlier from MIT.  The science was way above my and my students’ heads, but they were so thrilled and excited to learn about something so new and cool from where it was happening.

We brought Mac back into class this past week and I was able to record the session using Google+ Hangouts which automatically can record to YouTube.  If you’d like a taste of what our conversation looked like, just hit play below!

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