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Operation Chemistry

Operation Chemistry (OpChem) is a national program designed ultimately to provide professional development to teachers of chemistry in grades 4-8 by four-person teams that include a college faculty chemist or science educator and a chemist from industry or other applied area.

Scope. OpChem's National Science Foundation funding began in 1994 and ends in 1997. So far, the program has trained 72 four-person teams in 38 states to provide professional development to teachers who teach chemistry in grades 4-8 in those states or in regions comprising those states. The training of the teachers is not covered by NSF funds but, rather, through local sources. So it is anticipated that this training will continue throughout the country for many years, as has the training of physics teachers by teams from Operation Physics. See Examples: Operation Primary Physical Science and choose Detail: Operation Physics.

Summer Institutes for Training Teams. OpChem's teams are trained during summer institutes, which are held at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh and at Purdue University. At these locations, each OpChem team engages in model workshops taught by OpChem instructors and based on activities from the 12 Operation Chemistry workshop books.

Eight of the workshops are a day long each and are taught in a way that is meant to model the interaction between chemistry knowledge and pedagogy. The workshops are on some of the most commonly taught chemistry concepts in grades 4-8: energy, matter and its changes, acids and bases, density, polymers, chemical reactions, environmental chemistry, and industrial chemistry. Recently, the workshop books have been cross-referenced with the National Science Education Standards.

Four of the workshops are only two hours each and are planned and carried out by the OpChem teams themselves. These workshops are based on workshop books entitled "Chemistry of the Space Shuttle," "Chemistry of Food," and "Chemistry of Life."

In addition, the teams participate in sessions on several non-chemistry topics that will prove important in the team's work with teachers: assessment, writing grant proposals, working with adult learners, learning theory, managing materials, science education standards, working with industry, and so on.

Structure of Teams. Each OpChem team consists of a college chemistry or science-education faculty member, a high-school chemistry teacher, an elementary- or middle-school science teacher, and an industrial chemist or other practitioner of the chemical sciences.

Each member brings a particular type of expertise to the team in the form of content knowledge, pedagogical experience, or experience connecting chemistry to the "real world." In addition, some of the team members may offer various types of material support. For example, the college faculty member can often provide a site for the subsequent teacher training, support staff, teacher-recruitment connections, and grant-writing ability. The industrial chemist may be able to provide materials, may be a possible source of funds, and may be able to arrange summer employment opportunities for teachers.

Recruitment and Training of Teachers by OpChem Teams. OpChem teams recruit teachers for the program though mailings to science centers, school districts, and universities. The teams must also find financial support. Then they plan and execute their training program, devoting at least 72 hours each to providing professional development to teachers in their areas. What each member does during the professional development hours largely depends on local circumstances. Often working in pairs, team members can conduct the training in the form of school workshops, pre-service academic-year courses, inservice summer courses, a series of Saturday half-day sessions, hands-on experiences at conferences or conventions, and so on. OpChem teams often patch into pre-existing professional development programs.

On average, individual teachers reached by the program receive 12 staff development hours in their first year of participation. Four to five topics are usually covered during those hours. Most teachers go on to complete a sufficient number of hours to cover all of the program's topics within two to three years.

Evaluation. OpChem teams have worked with thousands of teachers. In evaluating the first two years, OpChem surveyed teachers and team members. The surveys found that the teams able to train the greatest number of teachers were those with the financial means to do so; they had been successful in pulling state or other moneys, such as corporate, into the program. Some of the teams also managed to become part of existing staff development programs in their school districts.

Many of the teams also indicated that the groundwork laid by Operation Physics, had helped them in their own efforts. Also, teachers had liked the Operation Physics workshops and had looked for more of the same from Operation Chemistry.

Important obstacles were also identified, including school system restructuring, cut-backs in staff development budgets, travel requirements, and teacher burn-out.

Roles for Scientists. As of this writing, scientists can no longer join OpChem teams because NSF funding for team training is ending. However, OpChem teams are still in operation nationwide, providing professional development to teachers using OpChem materials and continuing to show the importance of educational efforts that unite the academic and industrial chemist. Scientists with an interest in science education can visit an OpChem workshop for teachers to observe one of the ways in which their colleagues are helping to make a difference.

Two Related Programs. Operation Chemistry is modeled on Operation Physics, a project that began in 1987 and was focused on training teams to train grades 4-8 physics teachers. A significant modification made to the training teams by OpChem was the addition of the industrial chemist. This introduced a "real-world" perspective and opened a range of resources (including financial) that only such a team member could provide. A second modification was the requirement that one team member be on a college faculty; in OpPhys, that role was often played by a science coordinator within a school system. A third modification was the abandonment of a two-tier training system, in which the OpPhys teams were responsible not only for training teachers but other teams as well. Evaluation showed this system did not work well in OpPhys.

OpChem and OpPhys have been joined recently by Operation Primary Physical Science (OPPS) . This program trains teams to train teachers who teach physical science in grades K-4. OPPS teams have three members, as did the OpPhys teams, but one member must come from a college faculty. Also, in OPPS, seed money is available for teacher training--about half of what is required to train teachers over three years.

For further information on Operation Chemistry, contact

Garry Dikeos at the ACS
Phone: 202-872-6125


Ann Benbow at the ACS
Phone: 202-872-6179

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