Making chemistry fun for everyone

Huntsville High School chemistry teacher Thomas Presswood integrates virtual technology into his class year-round, making the transition to at-home learning an easy task for his students.

While this time away from classrooms has brought up many questions throughout the community, one has been echoed widely – how do lab-heavy courses like chemistry work outside of the classroom?

According to third year Huntsville High School chemistry teacher Thomas Presswood, it’s not that difficult.

Presswood’s class has always integrated virtual learning throughout the year with videos and virtual labs in a game format to engage his students.

“You just have to do stuff that relates to them, things that they can do at home, or things they never really thought had chemistry in it and relate it to the real world and their interests,” Thomas Presswood said. He also shares his experiences from working in an environmental lab before following a career in teaching.

With only six weeks left of school at the time of closure, Presswood did not have many labs planned for the remainder of the year. Presswood recorded himself doing the experiments for his class to observe at home, however he wishes he could have used more of the time to recap on the semester and chemistry as a whole.

While Presswood understands that chemistry may not appeal to all of his students and be difficult to understand, he tries to make everything as simplified as possible for his students. If a student can understand what he is saying, they are more inclined to find interest in the subject and succeed.

“They all want it to be explosions and big reactions, and that’s not really what chemistry is. You kind of have to show them the other side of it,” Presswood said, adding that chemistry is actually a very controlled practice.

Chemistry serves as the backbone of careers like cooking, cosmetology and welding that many of his students are looking to pursue in their futures, but also affects the minute aspects of our everyday lives. While not every student will need to know how to perform certain chemical equations in their futures, the class is not for nothing.

“It’s not so much that you need chemistry, but it’s the idea that you can learn something. If you’re doing the same exact thing every day, life is boring,” Presswood said.

“You know not everyone is going to know chemistry, and you're not shooting for their knowledge of chemistry, but just to push the whole idea of education,” Presswood said. “I'm not one of those teachers that says that everyone needs to go to college … yes, you should want to shoot for higher education, but you just want to shoot to better yourself.”

His greatest fulfillment from the job is knowing that he helped instill a fragment of education in his students that they can take forward into life and their future careers post graduation.

“I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s definitely different, it keeps you on your toes. It’s much more fulfilling, and at least one student a year will come back and say, ‘I learned this in your class, thanks for teaching me,’ and that’s really why you do it,” Presswood said.