Michael Miehl is an AP chemistry and honors physics teacher at Sherwood High School, Sandy Spring. He was interviewed Nov. 7 at the school.
How did you get into science and teaching it?
I think it started back when I was a kid. I liked discovery. I liked being outside: animals, plants, gardening, looking at the stars, learning their names. I thought I was good at it.
But I was into other things — music and math. I went to a Catholic college and got interested in theology and philosophy.
The natural progression for a scientist was to get a Ph. D. and I did a summer internship at the University of Pittsburgh and I saw that it was a lot of time alone in a lab. I prefered working with people rather than only with chemicals.
In my senior year of college I started teaching and thatís when it started. I loved science, I didnít want to give that up. I loved working with people so I thought teaching was a good match.
Has it been?
Itís been awesome. The kids always challenge you. I mean that in the positive sense. They cause you to grow.
What do you like best about teaching?
I really enjoy the kids: their questions, their curiosity. I feel I can help in some way. Perhaps they can grow up to be questioning, not take everything just the way they are told.
What is the hardest part?
I guess the part that takes me away from what I want to do is following up on kids that are not doing [their work]. It usually involves parental contact and you have to be sensitive and the most challenging thing is, itís out of your hands.
I know you work with a scientist from the AAAS/SSE STEM [American Association for the Advancement of Science/ Senior Scientists and Engineers -Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] volunteer program in your AP Chemistry class. Can you tell me about that?
That is Robert Thomas. What we do with Rob is support the interest in chemistry and take it further with applications of the chemistry we are learning. He comes once a week. He does presentations, other scientists [in the program] advise or help with science fair projects, it depends on what they want to do.
Through Rob the AP chemistry class went on a field trip which, as far as I know, is the first to visit the WSSC Water Analysis Plant in Silver Spring and we went to the National Science Festival.
Does he co-teach with you?
No, he selects a topic, something he is familiar with as an analytical chemist and that has to do with what we are doing or something in the news.
For instance when there was the Fukushima Power Plant meltdown (in Japan), he discussed how radioactivity is measured and how itís analyzed. He also got into the politics of nuclear power, just to have the kids think about it.
Another time he discussed the metals used in cell phones. Many are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The analogy is of the Blood Diamonds of Sierra Leone. Through analytical chemistry there are ways to trace where the metals come from. Itís a long, complicated thing he was able to [explain] whereas I couldnít.
Does he take one class period a week from you?
Yes. We try to dialogue and Iím always in the classroom if a student has questions. Itís a way to get them to think about what they are learning beyond just to get an A on a test. You want them to keep that interest.
What do you want to leave your students with?
Just to be curious and relate that to the world to make it a better place. There are so many things chemistry can rectify. I want them to have a holistic view of chemistry not just to be good test takers.