We have also organized field trips to the local water authority lab where they saw science being applied to something they could relate to – clean drinking water. We have also organized trips to the Montgomery County Crime Lab to learn all about drug testing; to the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) Center for Neutron Research, which provides neutron measurement capabilities to the U.S. research community; and to the USA Science and Engineering Festival, which is held every other year in Washington, DC.
I also acquired an atomic absorption instrument – donated from a local lab that was closing down, so we are planning to carry out some basic elemental testing of the school’s drinking water supply. There is no question it has definitely put a "spark" into the chemistry classes. The teachers see the benefits and the students have realized that not only is chemistry a part of everyday life, but it’s also so much fun to learn!
Our programme has been in existence since 2004, when six concerned STEM professionals got together to respond to an editorial in Science magazine about the lack of scientific knowledge amongst the general public. They decided to do something about it and approached the superintendent of their local school district. They suggested a pilot programme of volunteering their time to support STEM teachers who were interested in bringing the real world of STEM into the classroom.
Fourteen years later the programme has almost 250 retired and working STEM professionals bringing the real world of science and engineering to over 20,000 students every week of the school year in the Washington, DC and 10 surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia. I now lead the volunteer programme in Montgomery and Howard Counties, MD, where we have over 100 volunteers supporting about 140 teachers in 85 different elementary, middle and high schools.
If there is one common reason why we do this, it's because we all care passionately about elevating the level and quality of STEM education in the US. We are not only teaching the students about the fundamentals of chemistry, but we are also guiding them how to think critically by being concerned citizens of the world around them, and to question many of the "alternative facts" and untruths that are out there in the public domain.