Episode #132: Potpourri of Clues with Dr. Colleen Kelley
Dr. Colleen Kelley embraced the use of case studies in her chemistry courses for the past few decades. She has used these in graduate-level courses in medicinal chemistry and most recently in her 100-level course at the University of Arizona that led to a series of chemistry mysteries in a comic book format for students ages 8 to 12.
Over the course of my 25-year career teaching chemistry, I noticed that many students appeared to be overwhelmed once they took chemistry at the college level. Through conversations with middle and high school science teachers, I embarked on a mission to identify the shortcomings in chemistry curricula that leave many learners struggling with the subject in college.
I saw that there is a massive leap between what is expected of students taking chemistry in middle school and what is expected in high school. This prompted me to think of ways I could help bridge that gap. However, once I began to interview middle school chemistry teachers, I saw another issue – many of them seem to not enjoy chemistry in the slightest, so I looked for ways that would inspire them to teach a curriculum that’s more robust and accessible to the students at the same time.
Some knowledge of chemistry is important for incoming college students. Majors related to biology, environmental sciences, atmospheric sciences, and pre-medicine, for example, require two to three years of chemistry instruction as a prerequisite. I believe early exposure to molecular models and other ideas unique to chemistry is the best way to prepare students.
My theory is to get them in as early, eager learners and get them accustomed to symbols, and later introduce some math and conceptual ideas, so by the time they get to high school and college, they can take off.
Background, where you grew up – your family
I am a first-generation college student from central Pennsylvania. My grandma worked at a bookstore and from a very young age, I loved to read. She lived close by and was always bringing me books. There were two series that I read when I was in elementary and middle school that have influenced my comic books. The first is the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries which I devoured in 3rd and 4th grades. The other one is the mystery series by Agatha Christie – I read all of them! Solving mysteries was fun for me!
Science per se wasn’t part of my world as a child. My parents owned an insurance agency and my older brother was an artist. I liked to invent stories as a child and create games around these stories. We had ‘woods’ (a forested area) near our home. My friends and I would play in the woods and pretend that a …