Greg Sloan is a teacher at Woodrow Wilson Middle School (Terre Haute, IN) and a Beyond Benign Lead Teacher. In his over 30 years of teaching, he’s seen Green Chemistry lessons enrich his students’ education, giving them a chance to feel that they have the power to affect important change in the world. In this interview, we talked to Greg about Green Chemistry’s presence in his classroom today.
How have you brought green chemistry into your classroom?
Through the years, I have had the opportunity to develop, pilot, and implement curriculums to help support Green Chemistry education in the middle school classroom. These lessons have allowed students to look at items and events in their everyday lives from different perspectives. There are myriad lessons that allow students to evaluate and question the status quo of product design and development as well as the effects of those processes on the environment. Students identify environmental concerns, seek out alternative options, and propose change. Furthermore, lessons like the ones where students make a bioplastic and create a product prototype allow them to see that their proposed alternatives are viable solutions and a real possibility.
How have you seen students get excited about green chemistry?
A recent activity was to use “Green Chemistry” in a descriptive sentence. A student’s response was, “ I can’t wait to learn more about Green Chemistry because I will be learning how to change the world.” On another question, asking, “Why is green Chemistry important for developing a new way to make things?” a student responded with, “Green Chemistry will be how we save the world. It is our future.” These types of responses are not uncommon once students get immersed in the curriculum. They see the need for change and get excited when they realize that there are simple solutions and that they can be a voice for that change.
Are you working on any green chemistry projects you’d like to share?
I am currently working on a project to bring a multi-lesson, Sustainable Invention curriculum to middle school classrooms. This will be a program that infuses phenomena-based learning, storyline tools, and design and engineering practices into the classroom. This is done by utilizing the exciting energy of green chemistry and the momentum of the environmental change movement to motivate students to explore, learn and love science.
What are your hopes for the future of green chemistry education?
I hope that students continue to become inspired by the possibilities that Green Chemistry holds for the future. I hope educators continue to show students that there are better, more environmentally conscious ways to invent and create. I hope that Green Chemistry careers become commonplace in the workforce. I hope that the term “Green Chemistry” itself becomes antiquated by the sheer fact that it will have become the standard.
What is your favorite green chemistry lab or resource?
It is impossible to have a favorite Green Chemistry resource. However, one of my go-to Green Chemistry lessons is “Cookie Equations.” In this lesson, students visualize that reactants in a chemical equation do not have the same properties as the products. They do see, however, that no atoms are lost; they are just rearranged to form new substances. They do this by using different varieties of sandwich cookies to represent reactants on one side of a chemical equation. Then, they take them apart and reassemble them to represent the products. I tell them they can eat whatever is left over, but they quickly learn about the Law of Conservation of Cookies! Although any lesson that keeps the ideals of Green Chemistry present and prevalent is a tally in the “win” column: a win for the students, a win for the teacher, a win for the Green Chemistry community, and a win for the future!