Black Lives Matter

The first 12 years of my professional life were spent at Chicago State University, a primarily minority serving undergraduate institution located in South Side Chicago. I remember very clearly my interview with the faculty, often being asked how I (a white guy) could contribute to the successful education of young black scientists.

Having grown up in a very monolithic community, the only honest answer I could give was to state that I was open to guidance, willing to learn and committed to doing what it takes to promote student success.

I experienced many joys when students became the first graduates of their families; I experienced great sorrow mourning the loss of students who were victims of gang violence. My students and I continued to challenge one another, learn from one another and become better because of one another.

I feel sorry for racists who do not value diversity. Their ignorance puts them at a disadvantage and makes them weak. It closes doors to them that would lead to remarkable experiences and growth.

The students of Chicago State opened my eyes and mind in ways that I still find difficult to express because they still impact me three years after leaving the college for another school. I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to teach chemistry to the future black leaders of our field and to learn about learning in an environment very different from what I had known.

This is why Black Lives Matter to me, and why I stand by those who continue to fight against the injustice and inequality that should have been left behind in the last millennium.

COVID is just a catalyst

Science educators have been grappling with the challenges of remote instruction long before the pandemic. The virus has simply lowered the activation barrier to implementation.  The chemistry education community has yet to adopt a remote alternative to time and resource intensive laboratory instruction, and the result of this nonconcurrence is the messiness, fear and uncertainty you witness today.

There are plenty of alternatives to face-to-face laboratory instruction: virtual laboratory simulations; videos of faculty performing experiments; kits where students can perform experiments at home.  These solutions may have worked adequately this past semester, given that those of us who had a week to transition to on-line formats were considered “fortunate”, but they are not long-term solutions.  The reason being: we don’t really know what problem we are trying to solve.

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The COVID on-line transition

As part of my mad dash to transition to on-line teaching, I’ve started making videos. Since I’m not a fan of on-line teaching, I thought I would at least try to make it interesting and play around with some film design. At the very least, I hope that it is geeky/dorky enough to keep students’ attentions for the duration of the video.

I figured out how to embed a quiz into a video, one of which is shown below. What’s really exciting is that the quiz, if it is in a learning management system like Blackboard, can be integrated into the grade center, so I can now use videos as a form of interactive pseudo-just-in-time assessment.

Take your fall

Nage-no kata, first three sets of throws, which our club uses as a test for a black belt in judo

Last millennium, while in college, I was introduced to Judo. While I enjoyed the sport, I was not the least bit athletic and didn’t take it too seriously. Fast forward to 2012 and an overweight, under-exercised, overly stressed BoBtheChemist decided he needed to get his act together (or brutally punish his body) and decided to get back in to the sport. (Actually, the real catalyst was seeing Kayla Harrison win the first Olympic gold medal for the USA in the sport. I’ve told this story before, but who checks blog archives?)

I promised myself that I would stick with it for a month. Then a month became a season, then a year. I set a goal of competing before I turned 40 (met that goal by a few months, and thankful I didn’t make a goal if winning before 40). I never set as my goal to achieve the rank of shodan – that was simply fantasy talk.

Fast forward again to February, 2019, and there I am with my fellow Judoka from Brockport taking my black belt test. My performance was considered well done, although I am a bit more critical as I know I could have done better. All that’s left is for the US Judo Federation to cash my check (which is in the mail) and it will be official.