School News: Distilling Complex Science Topics

Summer 2022

This article appeared as “Talking Science” in the Summer 2022 issue of Independent School.
The pandemic presented a prime example of why it’s so important to communicate public health information in an easily accessible way—and why it’s so challenging. After watching public health officials attempt to regularly communicate critical information about topics like how vaccines work, what it means to flatten the curve, and why masking is important, Victoria Perrone, a chemistry teacher at Boston University Academy (MA), decided to create a science communication series focused on helping students distill complex information into digestible language.

First offered to 10th graders as part of her introductory chemistry course during the 2021–2022 school year, the series gives students the opportunity to practice their communication skills while learning about topics that are not usually easily incorporated into the curriculum, such as careers that use chemistry and underrepresented chemists. In addition to basic chemistry, other assignments include summer reading, discussions of news articles, three mini-research “pop” presentations, and a final research project that includes a five-page paper and a 10-minute presentation on a topic of their choice related to chemistry and its societal impact.

Students were able to do research at home for the pop presentations but were not given advance notice about when they would occur; on the days the presentations did take place, students had 10 to 15 minutes of class time to prepare. Students used the peer feedback to help them prepare for their final presentations, which included topics such as the chemistry of hair coloring/straightening, the chemistry of air pollution and how it affects countries neighboring China, and the chemistry of nuclear submarines.

“Beyond teaching students how to communicate about complex science topics, I want students to see the connection between chemistry and their lives and the world,” says Perrone, who plans to teach the series again this coming school year.

Nikhil Rich presents his research on the chemistry of planetary nebulae.                  

Joelangie Arias Soto presents her research project “Chemical Hair Straightening and the Pursuit of Good Hair.”


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