Gordon Research Conference

July 7, 2017
Teaching & Learning

Gordon Research Conference (GRC) for Chemistry Education Research and Practice

As a faculty wife, I knew something about Gordon Conferences. My chemist husband would go off for a week to a small school in New England to present his latest research, play softball, and sleep in dorm rooms – it was like “summer camp for chemists.” Though I now realize that there are GRCs for a wide variety of academic subjects from Adhesion to Wnt Signaling.

In June 2017, I had the opportunity to experience my own GRC, and it was what I described above, but we substituted a trip to the Maine shore for the softball game.

At Land's end on Bailey Island, Maine, with GRC ChemEd Friends

 As a GRC newbie, I had a special dot on my name tag and was supposed to raise my hand for questions with a peace sign so as to encourage first-timers to participate in discussions after talks. These plenary sessions occurred in the morning and then again after dinner, with a 2-hour poster session in late afternoon, and a social hour until midnight (or later) after the talks. That schedule, for 5 days – a pretty intense regimen for an academic conference.

 I was not only new to the GRC, I was also fairly new to the discipline of Chemical Education Research. My focus for 25 years has been as a “practitioner,” i.e. an instructor, and a high school teacher at that. The research side of the ChemEd world was filtered through my experience of teaching adolescents; in every talk or poster session, I looked for nuggets of understanding that I could have used in my classroom. 

 There are very specific GRC rules about sharing the work presented, because so much is yet-to-be published by the participants. By keeping this content under wraps except in face-to-face interactions at the conference, researchers feel freer to share and discuss these very fresh results. This sharing restriction is a big feature of the Gordon Conferences and allows formative discussions with peers as studies are in process.

 The best part of the week was connecting and re-connecting with folks that love chemistry and chemical education. Through the active chemistry social media network and at the other chemistry education conferences (BCCE — Biennial Conference on Chemical Education and ChemEd, this summer in South Dakota), I have found a community that embraces change, yet understands the biggest impact is made not by the method of instruction, but by a healthy relationship between a teacher and student. That message came through in conversations with both researchers and practitioners at the Chemistry Education GRC in 2017.

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