Last month I attended the American Chemical Society National meeting in the beautiful city of New Orleans- along with nearly 17,000 other chemistry teachers, students, researchers, and vendors! As a Lead Teacher representing Beyond Benign, I co-presented a workshop during high school day where the participants made and tested dye-sensitized solar cells using blackberries (kits can be purchased from Flinn Scientific). This workshop fit right in with this year’s meeting theme which was: “Nexus of Food, Energy & Water”. Nearly every talk and symposia I attended focused on chemistry’s role in achieving global food, energy, and water security. There were several opportunities to meet and mingle with other educators to learn how they are implementing innovative chemistry teaching practices. It was exciting to be a part of what appears to be the beginning of a ‘paradigm shift’ in chemistry and other STEM fields towards more sustainable products and practices. Holding the national meeting in New Orleans was a great reminder about why we all need to practice living and working in a more sustainable way.
We already understand that underrepresented groups are disproportionately affected by environmental pollution, health compromising foods (e.g., food deserts), hazardous wastes, and industrial accidents. From a pedagogical perspective, these social factors present compelling science and engineering design challenges for those in education willing to recognize and address the systems responsible for delivering these unacceptable outcomes. In fact, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) clearly call for crosscutting elements of design in the context of socio-scientific challenges like climate change. If there is evidence to support that the educational outcomes of green chemistry are as beneficial to students as traditional chemistry, why would anyone want to practice in the traditional paradigm? In this case educators, not scientists, could potentially reinforce a ‘paradigm shift’ in the way we practice science. So while the environmental benefits of green chemistry practice appear to be self-evident, we need more research conducted by teachers, for teachers, to underscore the educational benefits of green chemistry practices.