Teachers teach, because they love the kids… and they love their subject. As such, we like to empower each other when opportunity arises. This opportunity came to me recently when I was chosen to be a Lead Teacher in a national program called Beyond Benign. According to their website, “the mission of Beyond Benign is to develop and disseminate resources that empower educators, students, and the community to practice sustainability through green chemistry.” The organization was co-founded in 2007 by Drs. John Warner and Amy Cannon. The vision of Beyond Benign is to “make green chemistry an integral part of chemistry education.”
The Beyond Benign Program trains K-12 science educators to be leaders in their region, contributing to curriculum development and professional development workshops for their peers. As a Lead Teacher, I had the opportunity to co-lead a full-day Elementary Teacher Training called “Sustainable STEAM”, held at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts on June 28, 2018 and lead hands-on training in sustainable science for 25 elementary teachers from the Boston area.
The teachers participated in activities that introduced them to biomimicry, which is “the science and art of emulating nature’s best biological ideas to solve human problems.” Green chemists use biomimicry as a tool to “create materials that benefit both human health and the environment.” Our first activity was called “The Secrets of Sharks’ Skin,” in which the teachers investigated the properties of Sharklet film, an antimicrobial film designed to mimic the skin of a shark, which has tiny dermal denticles that naturally prevent the growth of bacteria. If chemists can replicate the surface of a shark’s skin, they can create products with surfaces that will naturally inhibit bacterial growth, such as exam room tables in doctor’s offices and hospitals.
Next, the teachers rotated through lab stations that introduced them to hands-on activities they could use in the classroom to guide their students through investigations of adhesives found in nature. After this, I coached the teachers through a lab called “Blue Mussels,” in which we investigated the adhesive properties of the blue mussel, a bivalve mollusk. Blue mussels stay attached to rocks and other surfaces and withstand high-energy ocean environments. If chemists can replicate the adhesive of the blue mussel, they can create greener alternatives to the chemical adhesives that are on the market today.
A final activity that the teachers participated in was a desalination and filtering lab. Half of the teachers were given the task of creating an effective water filter for dirty water, using only renewable or recyclable materials. The other half of the teachers were tasked with designing a model that would desalinate salt water so that it could be drinkable. Again, the teachers were only allowed to use materials that are renewable or recyclable.
I am one of two elementary teachers in the Lead Teacher Program, and during this school year we will be rewriting some of the high-school level Beyond Benign curriculum so that elementary teachers can use it in their classrooms. Being involved in this program is great for Socrates scholars because they receive the benefit of my collaboration with other classroom teachers. I continue to incorporate green chemistry into the activities with our fifth-graders during my science lessons in hopes that they will foster a love for sustainability that will serve them throughout a lifetime.
I am humbled and honored to be part of Beyond Benign, and I hope you will take a minute to visit their website at www.beyondbenign.org.