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Taylor Prep Brings Real Life into Chemistry

Meet Ashleigh Walters, a sophomore chemistry teacher at Taylor Preparatory High School who works hard to make sure her students understand chemistry.
 
“It is important for students to learn chemistry because chemistry is taking place all around us, everywhere from reactions in the air that we breathe to right inside of our own bodies,” said Ms. Walters. “There are tens, if not hundreds, of things that we encounter each and every day that can be explained using chemistry, even if the students don't know it yet.”
 

She knows chemistry is a difficult subject for many students, and she believes a lot of students struggle to identify how it relates to them. With a “challenge accepted” attitude, she has set out to help connect chemistry to their lives in a way that sticks.
 
“I strive to connect chemistry to real life because it makes it easier to understand as well as more realistic and applicable for the students. The goal for teaching is setting students up with the knowledge and practices that they will need to be successful in the future, and if they can explain even one thing that they will encounter later in life based on something that they learned in my class, then I have done my job.”
Take stoichiometry, her favorite thing to teach (and her favorite topic to learn when she took chemistry), which is figuring out how much of something you can make based on how much of each component you started with. Ms. Walters breaks it down in a way that makes sense.
 
“A really good way of learning the concept of stoichiometry is thinking about it in terms of making food, especially s'mores (and who doesn't love a good s'more),” she said. “To do this, the students are presented with a certain amount of ingredients, a recipe to make a s'more, and then are asked how many total s'mores they can make. This gets them thinking about limiting and excess reactants and just how much of a product you can make.”
 
The most rewarding reason she loves teaching stoichiometry is the enjoyment she receives from seeing the students, who struggled at first reach a point of understanding and the pride they feel when they accomplish it.
 
“It's a very difficult topic in a very difficult class, so every little achievement that a student reaches brings a huge amount of pride to them in class,” she said.

Another way she teaches chemistry in a way students can relate is when she covers gas laws. She uses hot air balloons to explain the concept.

“As the temperature inside the balloon increases, the volume increases, which makes it less dense than the air around it, ultimately causing the balloon to start floating,” shared Ms. Walters.

She also likes to ask her students if they have seen the concept they’re discussing in their lives, and she provides time to talk through their examples. It’s just another way she can help students bring their personal lives into class.



“I love my school because the students, staff, and administration all feel like we are one unit working towards the end goal of getting the students to be as successful, not only in school but in life as well, as possible,” she said. “The students never fail to put a smile on my face each and every day whether it's telling me a story about something that happened in their lives or answering a question correctly in front of the class for the first time and showing how proud they are of themselves.”

Taylor Preparatory High School, a school in Taylor, Michigan, is a partner school in the National Heritage Academies network of over 90 tuition-free, public charter schools across nine states, serving more than 60,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.

Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Walters!