By. Kate Anderson, Director of Education for Beyond Benign
There is no better time to be a chemist than right now. With the global market for green chemistry projected to grow from $11 billion in 2011 to nearly $100 billion by 2020, there is a pressing need to advance green chemistry education as quickly as possible. There is tremendous opportunity for sustainable innovation. Companies are demanding that students have green chemistry skills, as demonstrated by the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council’s position statement on Green Chemistry Education, and students themselves are demanding them as well. Bottom line: fostering the development of green chemistry skills is critical for the next generation of scientists.
Green chemistry is a call to arms for the next generation of students to study the physical sciences. The philosophy of green chemistry puts a subject, which is generally considered abstract and difficult, into a familiar context that is relevant to the daily lives of students. The practice of green chemistry ensures a sustainable future with safer alternatives to conventional chemical products and processes. Within the United States there is a general decline in the percentage of students studying the physical sciences. The message of green chemistry resonates with students and can inspire them to pursue the sciences. Green chemistry materials and programs are needed at all educational levels to provide content for learning about the field. At Beyond Benign, a nonprofit dedicated to green chemistry education, we focus on K-12 and higher education programs and target curriculum development and distribution, teacher training, and community outreach. This article spotlights our efforts in K-12 education, specifically with high school chemistry teachers.
Since 2007, Beyond Benign has trained over 2,500 teachers across the globe. Our teacher training workshops and online courses provide K-12 science teachers with the skills and tools to implement and practice green chemistry in their classrooms. Our approach is to work with educators not only to develop curriculum materials but also as professional development leaders. All of our professional development workshops for teachers are co-lead by Lead Teachers. Participants from our workshops often reflect upon the immense value of hearing directly from another classroom teacher about how they implemented green chemistry with their students.
When asked what excited them most about teaching green chemistry, one of our Lead Teachers responded with the following:
“Young people are drawn toward learning about their environment and societal issues. They are passionate about helping others and preserving the environment and wildlife habitats. Teaching students the principles of green chemistry, which then allows them to view not only chemistry but all of their sciences through the lens of sustainability, is exciting and fulfilling. It helps students to understand the regular chemistry curriculum through a context of applicability”. – Ann Lambert, King Philip High School, Massachusetts
Green chemistry connects abstract chemistry concepts to real world technologies that are solving environmental challenges. This aligns seamlessly with the Next Generation Science Standards which focuses on cross-cutting concepts and practices while building scientific learning by examining systems, evaluating problems, and designing solutions. Beyond Benign’s curriculum resources include over 175 lesson plans and curriculum units focused on green chemistry and related subjects. All curricula is open access and may be downloaded from Beyond Benign’s website free of charge. The materials are designed for teachers, by teachers and linked to national standards.
Many high schools in the United States have chemical closets that are full of legacy and hazardous chemicals. This is a serious challenge for educators and administrators especially given the high cost of disposal for these materials. Often, as in the case with legacy chemicals, they have been passed down from previous teachers and are not always properly stored and categorized. In New York, Beyond Benign was enlisted by the New York State (NYS) Department of Environmental Conservation in an effort to create safer schools and classrooms with a multi-pronged approach in a project funded by EPA: Advancing Green Chemistry with a Focus on Toxics Reductions in New York State Schools.
This project brought together partners such as the NYS Education Department, NYS Board of Cooperative Extension, NYS United Teachers, Beyond Benign, and local colleges and universities. The pro-active pollution prevention approach promoted by the project reduces hazards associated with the improper disposal and storage of hazardous chemicals by introducing green chemistry as a safer, more cost effective way to teach and practice chemistry. The project introduced high school chemistry teachers to the principles of green chemistry and provided lessons and labs to implement green chemistry with their students, along with a detailed chemical inventory and cleanout of hazardous materials. As a result of this project, approximately 250 teachers were introduced to green chemistry principles and practices. In addition, 8 high schools received intensive chemical cleanouts and updated chemical inventories.
When asked if the workshop increased their knowledge of green chemistry, 100% of the participants agreed it had:
“Yes, this workshop has increased my motivation and confidence to incorporate safer labs and real world examples of chemistry for my students.”
“Yes, this was a wonderful, informative, and motivating workshop. Thank you for all the knowledge and free resources. I feel that the implementation of these labs will help me improve as a teacher.”
We have found green chemistry to be an effective vehicle to foster interest in chemistry and the material sciences. We see K-12 education as essential for a sustainable future where green chemistry flourishes and safe, benign products are standard. By introducing students to green chemistry principles and practices, students are challenged to be sustainable innovators and are provided with the context of how chemistry plays a key role in designing sustainable products and processes from the beginning. It is, after all, the next generation of students that must answer the much-needed call to make safer materials for a sustainable future.
About the Author
Kate Anderson is the Director of Education for Beyond Benign. She earned her Master’s in Education: Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Environmental Education from Florida Atlantic University in 2006 after graduating with her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts – Boston. Kate’s previous experience took place in the K-12 classroom setting. As a program coordinator for non-profit environmental education programs, she developed curriculum, taught K-5 programs, managed service-learning projects, and supported professional development workshops and trainings for teachers. Since 2009, Kate has worked at Beyond Benign building green chemistry ambassador teams of exceptional teachers and college students. Kate’s passion is working with students and teachers to improve education. She is dedicated to spreading the word that green chemistry offers solutions to the environmental challenges of today and tomorrow.