News & Events

Justin M. Pratt, Ph.D.

Posted on October 30, 2020


Date - October 30, 2020
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm


Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Corning School of Ocean Studies
Maine Maritime Academy
Talk Title: College Students Teaching Chemistry Through Outreach: Conceptual Understanding of the Elephant Toothpaste Reaction and Making Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream


Outreach conducted by student chapters of the American Chemical Society and Alpha Chi Sigma reach almost one million audience members (mostly children) each year. There is a strongly held belief by chemists in the value of outreach (in this case, for participants and aspiring scientists facilitating outreach events); however, there is little evidence of its efficacy or even a rationale for promotion of outreach by the aforementioned organizations. Additionally, significant financial and human resources are devoted to outreach without a scholarly understanding of teaching and learning in this informal chemistry context, thus warranting investigation. Our goal has been to carefully characterize outreach carried out by the college students in these organizations by examining outreach content and facilitators’ purposes for conducting outreach, criteria for a successful event, training experiences, and chemistry conceptual understanding of common outreach activities. Our national survey of students (N = 206) and faculty (N = 107) from 159 institutions informed a qualitative study that employed a novel, rigorous, multimedia interview protocol to capture a national sample (N = 37) of participants’ ideas. Survey results indicate the prevalence of a few common demonstrations done in outreach, multiple purposes for outreach (with some differences between faculty and students), and virtually no meaningful training or success criteria for events. Interview results indicate significant gaps in students’ foundational chemistry content knowledge. Survey and interview results as well as implications for outreach, undergraduate chemistry teaching and learning, and education research will be presented.