Out. . . Friends. . . Stuff . . . Later

Parent: Where are you going?

Teenager: Out.

Parent: Who are you going with?

Teenager: Friends.

Parent: What are you going to do?

Teenager: Stuff.

Parent: When will you be back?

Teenager: Later.

Sound familiar?

Whether you recognize this from the giving end or from the receiving end, you know that when it comes to communicating with their parents, many teenagers, while truthful, can be more than a little succinct.

As teachers we have a unique opportunity to engage our students on just about everything. Sure, I teach chemistry, but it is not what, but whom I teach — teenagers — that really matters. I hear things that parents never hear, or would never want to hear. Sometimes I pretend not to hear. And every once in a while I get asked for advice about more than just finding the limiting reagent.

In just about every class, we — I — talk about something that has to do, at least in some way, with life and with learning. In a recent lesson on trends in the periodic table, we discussed the advantage of thinking about things from first principles. In this case we meant attraction of the nucleus for electrons and of repulsion between electrons. This freed us from relying on memorized information and allowed us to do some real problem solving. Same goes for life's problems. Take it back to first principles. That is, what is the right thing to do? And not usually the easy thing to do . . . and you've got the answer. We saw how a useful problem solving strategy for chemistry can apply to life.

With the recent emphasis on character education in schools, and teachers as mentors or advisors, we need to (continue to) seize the teachable moment. Sometimes that will be in the middle of a chemistry lesson.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going out with friends to do some stuff. I'll be back later.

[Mike’s thoughts are timely in the light of the Amanda Todd case that has captured Canadian attention and has highlighted the tragic repercussions of bullying at school and online. More on this topic can be found on the Globe and Mail website.]