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Nikki Chamberlain knows she has to make connections with students before she can get them to buy into learning chemistry.
“I teach kids, not content,” Chamberlain states.
Chamberlain received her bachelor’s in education in 2003 and a master’s of curriculum and instruction in 2007, both from Kansas State University. She is currently studying for an endorsement in building level leadership from Fort Hays State University. She has taught chemistry at Salina South High School since 2003.
Chamberlain understands while students may have diverse abilities and interests, they all have one thing in common, “Students have to see connections to their daily lives in the material we cover… From fireworks to climate change, chemistry can explain the phenomena that we encounter every day.”
While students in her class spend time making a chemical reaction happen faster, determining which food dyes are in use, they also have time to eat ice cream – after they have made it while testing freezing point depression. Her students explore chemical engineering through designing airbags for baby carriages, building rockets to determine ideal fuel to oxygen ratio, and designing safe hand warmers and cold packs.
In 2005, she started the Lab Chicks club. “I wanted to help inspire other women to love math and science as much as I do,” she said. Lab Chicks engages high school girls in science, exposes them to career fields they may not be aware of, and provides them with mentors. What started as a group of less than 15 students now has more than 70 members. In 2006, Lab Chicks organized its initial Girls in the Lab Day for girls in grades 4-8. This now annual event allows the younger girls to take part in inquiry-based activities and meet with female scientists and engineers. In 2007, Lab Chicks began a reading program and now visits K-1 classrooms to read books combining science and phonics.
Numerous letters of support praised Chamberlain for her enthusiasm for students and instruction, and documented her successes: a young woman with Asperger’s syndrome is a sophomore in college studying chemistry education, another is about to pursue a double major in chemical engineering and chemistry, another is to study biochemistry.
How does this happen? As one student stated, “I walked into her class as an apprehensive sophomore who had no plans for the future and will walk out of her class this May driven toward a career in pharmaceutical chemistry.”
“The most important lesson she teaches her students is that hard works pays off, a lesson for which she visibly sets the example.”