Labs of Learning

New chemistry teacher Matt Perkins emphasizes hands-on learning via labs

Two grams of yeast mixed with four tablespoons of water, poured into a beaker full of 100 mL of hydrogen peroxide, a squirt of dish soap, and a couple drops of food coloring to create a colorful, foamy science experiment in the lab of new chemistry teacher Matt Perkins.

Although experiments were done periodically in the past, Perkins teaching style involves different elements in classroom including a big emphasizes on the aspect of labs.

“Everyone learns differently. Some of us can learn everything we need to know through a textbook, and others of us have to have our hands involved to learn how it works to remember it better,” Perkins said. “People don’t always remember the homework or the lectures, but they remember the labs.”

Perkins stressed the importance of labs in the classroom by highlighting the many other benefits they provide students.

“It reinforces the concepts of the chapter. If you are talking about a solid becoming a gas and you drop dry ice into a beaker for a demo, it is just a demo, but when you can reinforce the concepts from the chapter, it helps to learn the chapter better,” Perkins said.

In spite of all the benefits that labs bring, they can be taxing for Perkins to prepare and set up for the 47 minutes of that he has class. 

“Normally it takes at least an hour preparation getting a lab written up because I make my own labs and about 30 minutes ahead of time to get the lab setup. Usually I can get it set up the day before,” Perkins said.

Along with time and preparation, Perkins often has to keep in mind the many safety concerns that experiments bring to the lab.

“The chemicals you can have sitting out, you always need to have them under lock and key as much as possible,” Perkins. “Not because anyone would do anything but because there is a safety factor there. I really stress safety. We have aprons and goggles on for not doing much.”

As well as working with chemicals, Perkins also works with math and other hands-on projects throughout his job. 

“Chemistry has a way of combining how you get your hands into it and figuring a lot of math, which I have always enjoyed, and I think the two of them together, physically doing the work in the lab and the math, is a good combination for me,” Perkins said. 

Perkins has always enjoyed chemistry, despite this being his second full year of teaching it at the high school level. 

“The truth is there was a school that needed a chemistry teacher, and I knew enough about it to start teaching it,” Perkins said. “This was a couple of schools ago in Oklahoma because there aren’t that many science teachers around. I was very glad to be able to do it, and I have always enjoyed it.”

With absence of science teachers around, including in the Sterling District, Perkins applied for the position and decided to take the job from Oklahoma.

“The biggest reason I decided to take the job is Sterling’s reputation as a really good, quality school, and I thought that was important,” Perkins said. “I wanted to have students and a staff that are good, quality people and easy to work with.”

As Perkins is adjusting to the differences of Sterling from his previous school, he notes differences that of the two school districts. 

“Things are much more organized as far as structure is concerned. The classrooms are better managed, students are where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there, for the most part. If they are late, they are late a minute if they aren’t early getting in the classroom,” Perkins said. “Sterling also doesn’t seem to have the activity schedule that my old school had. They would have activities all day, all the time, almost from the first day of school. It seems we have more of the class here on a regular basis.”

Perkins also said the available monies for the classroom were an improvement so far this year compared to his last school. 

“Things are also better funded here. I would have to buy my own equipment for demos and labs a lot in Oklahoma to make them have it. There were days I actually lost money,” Perkins said. “I made ice cream one day, and the ingredients for the ice cream was more money than I actually made that day. So I paid the school to teach that day.”

Regardless of funding in his classroom, Perkins wants students to take away the importance of chemistry in everyday life.

“I want the students to have a really good knowledge of how things work when it comes to chemistry and why they work. We always have it all around us, and a lot of us just don’t understand how and why,” Perkins said.

With a mission of teaching in mind, Perkins has already enjoyed many aspects of his new jobs and looks forward to meeting new people as the school year progresses. 

“The best part of this year has been getting to know all of the students and staff as people,” Perkins said. “Teaching is teaching as it doesn’t really change state to state, but getting to know this new group of people has been enjoyable so far.”