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Virginia Teacher: Tough Times Make Students Better People

Growing up, Megan Wong regularly saw students come up to her mom, a math teacher, when they were at a grocery store or restaurant. Students told mom Susana how much she meant to them, and Wong witnessed her mom’s investment in these students.

These experiences stuck with Wong and played a major role in her choice to become a teacher.

An Advanced Placement® Chemistry teacher at Landstown High School in Virginia Beach, Wong is NMSI’s October teacher of the month.

“Megan goes beyond the curriculum to bring chemistry to life,” says Landstown Principal Cheryl Askew. “She often conducts innovative labs and is by the students’ side as they work through the scientific process. She doesn’t give students the answer, but instead pushes students to find the answers for themselves.”

Wong has been teaching all her students virtually since the start of the school year, which presents challenges for chemistry – typically group-oriented in hands-on lab environments. Known for her positive nature, she isn’t letting this obstacle stand in the way of interactive learning and is utilizing digital versions of labs to keep students engaged.

We asked Wong, who has a decade of teaching experience, to share what she’s passionate about, how she’s navigating this challenging year and advice she has for new teachers.

Why did you want to become a chemistry teacher?

Chemistry explains so much about the world around us. Everything revolves around matter, and that’s what chemistry is – the study of matter and what it’s made of. Why does this float on top of water, or why does it sink? Why is it a gas or solid? I find it fascinating. All science in my eyes is fascinating, but I have a special place in my heart for chemistry.

How are you incorporating chemistry labs into a remote, virtual classroom?

Some other chemistry teachers and me spent time in the summer filming lab demos for the kids to watch and got ready to use an online simulation produced by Vernier. This enables students to do the lab virtually and receive data from the experiment that they can analyze – as if they were doing it in person.

Another good simulation is from the University of Colorado website PhET, which is great with conceptual stuff. We can’t see atoms with our own eyes, but the simulations help us understand the structure of an atom and see it in an interactive way.

In the future, I think I’m going to need days to go into the school and do demos via Zoom so the kids can see how a lab is done live.

How does an online lab simulation work?

Let’s say the lab deals with understanding the pressure, volume and temperature of gases. Students can experiment virtually in Pivot Interactives and can change variables and adjust the temperature and be able to see and measure the volume of that gas. Then, they can record and analyze that data and see the relationship between those two variables.

We can’t have the students do the labs at home because there’s a lot of safety concerns with the special equipment and working with hazardous materials. I’m working through the challenges of how to replicate the hands-on lab experience. It’s a work in progress.

What are some other challenges you’ve faced this year?

The students have been apprehensive to talk in a Zoom call in front of the entire class. It’s a lot of building up their confidence and overall comfort level with each other in the virtual world.

Kids got to know each other a lot quicker when they were seeing each other face-to-face every day, and it’s much easier to bounce ideas off of each other. They used to get in small groups and write all over the classroom white boards to facilitate discussions. In the virtual setting, I’m using Google Jamboard, like a digital white board.

It’s a lot of rethinking the way in-person discussions can happen virtually. Kids are really flexible and know I’m learning, too. That’s the best model for kids – that they see their teachers being flexible in this environment and being OK with being wrong. We are helping each other and learning from mistakes and overall, we’re getting better at it.

What advice would you give a new teacher?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to colleagues, advisers and mentors because you can’t do it all by yourself. You’ve got to bounce ideas off other people and create a network of colleagues you can call and email.

While teaching virtually, what NMSI resources and supports are helpful?

I was on the NMSI Blackboard last week and thought, “Y’all have stepped up your game.” I’m quite impressed. You broke it down by topic and then difficulty level. I’m excited to incorporate these resources, and I’ve signed up for a lot of the NMSI self-paced courses for teachers. You’re giving teachers a lot options to choose from, and to choose what we feel meets our needs at that given time. I was just in a meeting talking about NMSI offering student study sessions online, which is great.

What’s giving you hope right now?

My hope is that students are seeing value in their education and showing up every day because they want to learn. That they are taking these classes to learn the material but also to learn more about themselves and their study habits and the way they learn. That’s what’s keeping me going.

They’re going to be better people because of this time, and we’re all in this together and learning so much along the way. It’s that grit to really push yourself to keep going, even when times are tough.

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