by Ben Conception
Fortune sticks, creepy cats and “Hotel California” by the Eagles are all parts of chemistry teacher Paul Dean’s unique teaching style, based on his view of education, that he has crafted over years.
“I’m always trying to bring out the relevance,” Dean said.
Relevance means a lot to Dean, who tries to connect chemistry to every student’s life.
“Chemistry is not everyone’s favorite subject,” he said. “But it’s not some inscrutable, unattainable idea. You deal with chemistry every day.”
Dean has been teaching at Lake Braddock for 13 years, beginning in 2004. He said that every student is different, and he appreciates their diversity.
“It’s always educational to see what people seize on in the lab,” he said. “I’ve done these labs dozens of times. Some students will seize on something, and it’s like, ‘Hey, that’s beside the point.’ But it’s great if they get excited about it.”
Dean has lots of labs in his class and has altered the way he runs his labs over the years. The first lab in his class is always a simulation of baking brownies. The same skills used for cooking are important in chemistry. Sometimes students will try to eat his 10 year-old brownie mix. Dean is often surprised by the behavior of students during class, he said.
Even though the chemicals and flames used in chemistry labs can be very dangerous, he has had almost no safety issues during his career.
“I’ve only had to use the eyewash once; It wasn’t even a lab,” he said. “They were passing around glow sticks. And a student twisted it into a sort of pretzel shape, and it squirted into her eye.”
Dean, who has a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia, first came to Lake Braddock after he left his engineering career. He said that he has always been interested in education.
Dean said that mastery of the material in class is important for students to be successful.
“Besides mastery, I’m all about ‘effort equals achievement,’ ” Dean said. “Ninety-five percent of those kids won’t remember all that chemistry when they graduate, but the whole point of education is not to be a know-it-all but to be able to put in the time and the effort. ”