Chemistry Class Sparks Reaction

By Miriam Lee

The Charter News – 4/10/19

Student class schedules for 2019-2020 will be out this May, and high schoolers may be anticipating the new Chemistry class. The question is, which lucky sixteen students will be accepted into the class?

A staged photo of Rylie Young.

Although Chemistry has been offered in the past, for middle schoolers and once for high schoolers, it hasn’t been an ongoing class at ACA until now. It has been taken on by Julie Pen, who teaches 7-12th grade science.

Before now, there haven’t been any teachers qualified to teach high school Chemistry at ACA. Pen says that around five years ago—when Michele Herrmann taught the class—she would sit in and watch her teach, knowing that she would like to someday become a chemistry teacher herself.

Now that the time has come, Pen says that she feels she has learned a lot and is excited to start teaching the high school class. Even though she has been teaching science for a little over ten years, and has a degree in biology, she is not yet certified to teach chemistry to high schoolers. She intends to take a test over the summer called the ORELA, which will determine whether she is suitable to run the class.

Many science teachers have expressed their excitement for the added class. One of those teachers, Ann Heppner, said that Pen is a wonderful teacher who, “will fill a void and will round out our menu of science strands.” Other teachers have added that Pen will bring many, wonderful ideas and suggestions to the science department.

“Having chemistry here will add depth to student understanding in my Anatomy and Physiology class, in my Bioethics class and in Mrs. Monte’s Natural Hazards. This will enable us to dig deeper and spend less time teaching concepts that students have not been exposed to. Students will have a broader, deeper background of concepts that will strengthen their science base of knowledge. HOW LOVELY!” says Ann Heppner, explaining her perspective on how the high school Chemistry class will add to the science department.

Another reason for delaying the start of a high school chemistry class at ACA, was lack of safety equipment. There’s no shower or fume hood, which restricts the class from performing more extreme experiments. According to an ACA science teacher, Margo Edinger, the staff at ACA attempted to add a shower to one of the bathrooms located in between the elementary and high school science rooms—but despite their best efforts—it didn’t work out.

Most of the science department have said that they believe the class will be taught more conceptually—with a lot theory and problem solving, and less lab work—due to shortage of safety equipment. They say this is how the previous high school Chemistry class was taught, however Pen has described other intentions.

“We don’t have a shower, but we would make do; probably run outside and find the hose, and hose someone down, which is not pleasant, but it’s not pleasant standing under a shower anyways. Most of the chemicals we’ll be using are not that strong or toxic,” says Pen, envisioning how the class can work around lack of resources.

She also says that her class won’t be able to do any labs that require a fume hood, this means that there will be no experiments that give off toxic fumes and would be too dangerous without the proper equipment. “So I’ll just choose labs that aren’t super dangerous. Like things where you set stuff on fire.” says Pen after explaining the limitations of our equipment, “We will be blowing stuff up, but maybe not the way you expect.”

Despite those drawbacks, there is an eyewash station, and Pen is still planning to have at least one lab every week, or some type of hands-on activity. On the days she doesn’t have planned labs or activities, she plans on doing more problem solving as a class.

The class is intended to be difficult, but Edinger says, “I think it’s exciting, I know Mrs. Pen is amazing,” referring to the new Chemistry class, having observed Pen teaching the middle school Chemistry class this year.

“I’d like students to know that a lot of chemistry is math, and so students need to be really strong in their algebra skills, they need to have completed Algebra 1 with a C or better, because we’ll be using those skills every single week. The other thing I’d like students to know is that it’s a really challenging class, because the whole year long, everything we learn each week, will build on the next thing… If you get lost during some part, or miss a bunch of classes, or you don’t master this one skill, it’s a real disadvantage moving forward, because all those skills build on each other,” says Pen.

She’s planning on teaching middle school science as well as the high school Chemistry class at ACA. Not only will she be working at ACA, but she will also be teaching the same classes at another school called First Class Clackamas Teens; where she’s been teaching about five years. On Mondays and Wednesdays she’ll teach there, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays she’ll be at ACA.

“Our core science teachers, myself, Mrs. Monte and Mrs. Edinger, who have been here since ACA began, have been strengthened and inspired the last two years by the addition of Mr. Lancaster and Mr. Holland. Now adding Mrs. Pen this year is truly wonderful!” Heppner adds.

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Edinger, Margo. Personal Interview. March 19th, 2019.

Pen, Julie. Personal Interview. March 21st, 2019.

Heppner, Ann. Personal Interview. April 5th, 2019.

Monte, Denise. Personal Interview. April 6th, 2019.