Beyond Benign

Lead Teacher Blog

An Interview of Erika Fatura by Scott Carlson

How Green Chemistry aligns in Modeling Instruction™

One of the things I love most about my job is that there is no one right way to teach. From Wiggins and McTighe to Danielson to Bronfenbrenner and Thorndike, there are a wide range of views on what it means to be a ‘perfect teacher.’

In pursuit of that ideal, we as teachers try to test different teaching methods constantly. After each lesson, we reflect and assess if it worked. We look at the data we collect from our classroom’s responses and reactions, and we conclude if we should try to repeat it or try something entirely new. This is the nature of inquiry, and teachers, whether we realize it or not, are constantly in a state of inquiry. Even if sometimes the guiding question is ‘Why did I do this to myself?’

Through the lead teacher program, I’ve had the pleasure of a virtual experience seeing how Erika Fatura teaches green chemistry to her high school students. She’s a 8-12 Teacher in a school with about 285 students in her K-12  school system in Pentwater, Michigan. Needless to say, she’s got a lot to say about green chemistry and how it fits within her latest passion: Modeling Instruction™.

So, join me in exploring the marriage of Modeling Instruction with green chemistry. I asked Erika to start at the beginning with me, and help me understanding the logistics of modeling. She shared with me that upon joining the American Modeling Teachers Association, there is a three-week training that is highly intensive and specified. She selected to be trained in physical science, but in addition to this specialized training, she also received access to their curriculum resources. Erika shared that, “It’s really nice and well laid out and it’s funny because it’s rigid, yet it’s not.” The program shares its philosophy in demonstrative teaching through both specific recommended demonstrations, but also allowing ample room for flexibility towards each different group of students. “Therefore, the ideas and the labs are kind of prescribed for you, but then the direction that your class takes it is very unique and different.”

Intrigued by both this rigidity and flexibility, I wanted to know how green chemistry is weaved into the teaching ideology of modeling. Erika shared that “I think green chemistry is a lot more inquiry driven (than traditional chemistry), which is obviously super important, in both in NGSS and in a more overarching sense; what we want as a goal for our students.” She added, “In general, it’s just the right thing to do; we can make our students think in the lens of ‘Why would you do that reaction?’” When Erika’s students are part of the conversation of explaining a reaction’s purpose and principle, the class is able to learn more deeply. In additional to deepening theory learning, Erika explains that because of the safety built into green chemistry, she can allow her chemistry students to experiment in the lab. The freedom green chemistry gives students in both laboratory and theory exploration pairs well with the inquiry-based philosophy of modeling teaching.

Erika is a fantastic teacher, and the state of Michigan seems to agree. She has recently won Michigan’s Excellence in education award. I asked her how it felt to gain this recognition. Being the great educator she is, she used this spotlight to share her involvement with Beyond Benign and spread knowledge of green chemistry. This award will aid the funding for growing Pentwater High’s chemistry program, especially since Erika is the only chemistry teacher. And something I think all teachers can relate to, Erika told me that the true award she receives in teaching chemistry is “ …what happens in my classroom every day, or an ‘aha moment’, or a student coming back years later and saying how you impacted their life. That’s worth way more.”

Thank you Erika, for sharing your passions and inviting us into your classroom. Stay tuned for next time when we visit with Annette Sebuyira in upstate New York.

Sign up to get notifications for when the next blog is written, you can expect one a month, each featuring a different high school teacher’s story of incorporating green chemistry into their classroom. Enjoy!

Comment below to let us know what you think of green chemistry aligning in Modeling Instruction™. 

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