“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, since eighth or ninth grade. And I knew I wanted to go into science because it was so engaging,” Scott Milam told me in an interview. Milam earned his B.S. in Chemistry in 2006 and is a high school teacher at Plymouth High School. He was recently awarded the Michigan Science Teachers Association High School Science Teacher of the Year.
He has been teaching at Plymouth High School for eight years, and became involved with the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme upon its implementation in the school. The IB is an international curriculum that develops “students who have excellent breadth and depth of knowledge”. The Higher Level IB Chemistry course that Milam teaches spans two full school years and allows for deeper investigation into chemical concepts.
As an IB Diploma holder, I found a love for chemistry during my IB Chemistry course, which led me on a path to receive my B.S. and begin earning my Ph.D. in Chemistry. I know that I am not alone in saying that my high school chemistry teacher inspired me to become a chemist, so I was extremely excited to speak to a teacher who inspires high school students to follow in this path.
Despite winning a prestigious award, Milam was incredibly humble about the experience. He expressed that getting all of his materials ready to apply for the award was a practice in self-evaluation. “It was a really great experience… as an exercise in improving my teaching,” he said. Milam is no stranger to personal reflection. “For the past few years or so, I’ve been doing a weekly evaluation that’s public. I evaluate my classes and my teaching, and then I do an external one, which is anything outside the classroom… like reading books.”
Casey Swanson, Director of the IB Programme at Plymouth High School, praised Milam’s teaching and his reflections. “As a colleague I am impressed, and often challenged, by Scott’s perpetual reflection.
“Scott treats his students the same way. His communication with them is thoughtful, direct, and most importantly genuine, caring, and growth-orientated,” Swanson reported in an email. “Scott brings sincerity, high expectations, and an endless work ethic.”
Swanson explained that Milam’s commitment to the content is clear. “In a world where knowledge is provisional and temporary, his desire to continue his chemistry education demonstrates the characteristics of lifelong learning to both his students and his colleagues. Science, be it chemistry or physics, is the medium through which Scott builds relationships [with the students].”
Milam’s mastery of the concepts has allowed him to reach his students in nontraditional ways. “When you teach a chemistry course,” Milam said, “you are the representative of all the best things we have ever learned.” Finding ways to communicate this extensive knowledge of science has been extremely fulfilling, he told me.One way he has found to reach his students is via audio-visual means. “I had a student one year who was really great at editing videos, so I learned how to make videos about chemistry,” he explained. The international IB curriculum and the power of the internet has ignited global reach and his YouTube channel boasts videos entitled “Let it Orgo” (an organic chemistry parody of Let It Go), “Concentration over Time” (Beauty and the Beast kinetics), and “Oompa Loompa Redox” (with 8000 views).
Milam cultivates his educational development using his Twitter presence as “IB Chem Jedi”. He gets new ideas and perspective from other teachers by engaging with them online, he explained. “I like to connect with other teachers and scientists,” he said about his large Twitter following. “You can just find some really cool stuff. I’m actually as surprised as anyone… Twitter is the best thing ever,” he said. “It’s such a great resource for teachers who want to get better at what they are doing.”
As we chat about his time at Michigan, his face lit up. “I love Ann Arbor,” he said, looking around at the Michigan League, where we spoke on a Sunday afternoon. “I come to all the football games.” He relies heavily on his experiences taking Chemistry and Education courses at Michigan, and even brought his students through the Chemistry Department for a tour. “I was like a kid in a candy store,” he said of the experience.
Scott Milam deserves endless thanks for his tireless efforts in making science accessible and fun for students of all backgrounds. We are proud that the 2017 Michigan Science Teacher of the Year had his start in the University of Michigan’s Chemistry Department.
Taylor Soucy is pursuing a doctorate in Chemistry and is the MichiganChem Science Communications Fellow.