Two things I never thought would happen:

1. I’m studying in a bar, and

2. I am upset that I won’t be able to take a Chapter Test today.

The only internet connection available this week is at The River’s Edge Bar, so I am studying with bikers and banjo players. I have finished the first section, General Science Knowledge, but the link to the online test is not working. I console myself by moving on to one of my favorite topics: Atomic Theory.

I am astounded to learn that the nature and behavior of atoms were discovered by reason in 500 BC, thanks to Democritus. Unfortunately, his theory was discounted and ignored for 2000 years, thanks to Aristotle. Philosophy trumped Science, and not for the last time. The subsequent journey to discover the the true nature of the atom was epic and surreal; equal parts Kafka and Tolstoy.

After Democritus, we wrote laws about elements, atoms, and chemical reactions. We electrified solutions and we shot rays though tubes of gas. We discovered that atoms aren’t solid, like pudding, but they do have particles like raisins. And these raisins don’t orbit the nucleus in circles but we can predict where that are most likely to appear. The discovery that no novelist could have imagined, however, is that most of these raisins carry a charge (positive or negative). This means that at the tiniest level of our physical being we are all held together with the same force: electricity.

Me, The Sheldon Mountain Boys, Harley, and Davidson are all built of the same stuff and bound by the same glue. I can hear Aristotle rolling in his grave.

Next Up: The Test

Measure for Measure for What?

Today I learned that the Scientific Method not only demands that we observe correctly, but that we communicate our observations effectively as well. Since not all truth can be communicated by blogs, we have a language which is very handy when talking about extremely large (times ten to the sixth power, mega, etc.) and extremely small (times ten to the minus sixth power, micro, etc.) quantities. And no matter how large or small, measurements must be true (accurate) and consistent (precise).

Thankfully, we have invented a battery of instruments that can measure the nearly infinite and nearly infinitesimal. I am excited to think of a lab with meters of all sorts lined up and waiting to go out and measure the world, from light waves to electricity to acidity.

But I am worried about starting this lofty course of study with the mundane matters of measure. It seems backwards, like studying nails and hammers before understanding what a house looks like. Wouldn’t it be more compelling if we started with some of the Classic Mysteries of Chemistry and then learned how Scientific Notation, a Voltmeter, and Precision saved the day?

Next Up: Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Hello Old Friend

I am going to need reference books and an occasional study hall, so I head to the public library in Clinton, Missouri. I find the Henry County Library on a gravel road one block off the historic square. As I pull into the parking lot I notice the Sheriff’s Office next door. I bet that keeps overdue books to a minimum.

The stern sixty-something librarian fits my stereotype perfectly until I notice the court jester tattoo that covers most of her right forearm. She patiently explains that my 15$ annual fee allows me 10 books and 4 dvds with an overdue fine of 2 cents/day. I complete the application, which requires a personal reference, and step inside the cool library quiet.

My first subject is The Scientific Method, aka The Engineers’ Gospel. It feels like catching up with an old friend. That is, an old friend who gives pop quizzes. I am reminded that The Method is nothing without Observation and that Observation is nothing without Measurement. Otherwise, we would still all believe in Spontaneous Generation and that frogs come from mud.

After two hours I am craving coffee, but YELP tells me that the closest coffee shop is 70.7 miles away. That feels as distant as my teaching career. Back to work.

Back to School with Designed Distractors

I downloaded my study materials today. I even set up my course notebook, a time-honored tradition of hole-punching, printing labels, and sliding them into the little colored tabs. I indulge in some reminiscing and wonder – does anyone even make notebooks anymore? It’s been so long.

I have five sections so far:
1. ABCTE Course Checklist
2. Professional Teaching Knowledge (PTK) Study Plan
3. PTK Standards
4. Chemistry Study Plan
5. Chemistry Standards.

I watched the PTK Study Plan presentation, which is all about the test for PTK certification. It has 100 multiple choice questions (2.5 hours) and one essay question (1 hour). The test designers recommend deciding the answer for each question before looking at the choices, because half of them are “designed distractors.”

I decide to start with the Chemistry section instead of PTK because I want to have the content fresh in my mind while I learn to teach and, honestly, right now I’m a lot more comfortable with Chemistry.

Next Up: The Scientific Method


I visited the Marian Koshland Science Museum today in DC for inspiration and courage. She was a brilliant researcher and teacher in the fields of immunology and molecular biology and was devoted to improving public understanding of science.

I took a memory test (passed with flying colors), guessed the sugar amount in a variety of bottled drinks (barely passed that one), and tested the amount of energy wasted by conventional light bulbs. Nice and tangible.

So how will I communicate the invisible miracle of Chemistry? The elegance of the double-helix, the puzzle of the Periodic Table, the simple genius of The Pill, the universality of Avogadro’s mole, the heroism of vaccines?

My metro stop appears and I realize that I am way ahead of myself. First, I should download my study materials.


With an eager heart and a full cup of coffee I watched the on-line Orientation today. I remember sending my daughter to her first day of school, all excitement and promise and new shoes.

My feelings of optimism faded when the online voice brightly explained that they have a 50% pass rate. He went on to remind us that there is no course refund after 30 days, the cost of retakes is 200$ each, and there is no spellcheck feature. He added that most of the failures occur in the written sections and that a fail in that section prevents a pass overall. The phrase “do not underestimate” was used several times.

Another reason for this blog has emerged : so I can get used to writing. It will be a while before I give up spell check, however. I used it 7 times while writing this post.

Counterintuitively, at the end of this presentation we are encouraged to start applying for teaching positions now.

Next: Course Materials and Dreams

Are you ready for the country?

At 55 I have left corporate life and the city of Chicago behind. I want to use my love of chemistry and my engineering degree outside of the cubicle farms of the world’s largest oil company. I have moved, along with my husband, horses, dog and cat, to the real farms of rural Missouri.  As Neil Young wrote; “Because it’s time to go.”

I have limited platform skills, an unremarkable voice, and no classroom experience. However, I have organization skills and a good work ethic so that will have to suffice. Today I enrolled in the program offered by the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) because it is on-line and recognized in the state of Missouri.

I am writing this blog for two reasons:

1. to help me reflect as I learn about teaching

2. to connect with others on this path.

Next step: Orientation.

Getting to Know You

Getting to Know You