Chemistry professor to be honored at Convocation for his teaching

By Jake DiPaola

Elm Staff Writer

Washington College will honor Clarence C. White Associate Professor of Chemistry and Department Co-Chair Dr. Aaron Amick for his innovative teaching at spring Convocation. 

Dr. Amick was announced as the recipient of Cromwell Award for Innovation in Teaching for both his efforts to better students’ education and his creative solutions to overcome obstacles.

As a high school student, Dr. Amick wanted to pursue pre-med. His parents were both in the medical field; however, after surviving some bad chemistry classes and going to Juniata College, he began considering chemistry. 

“When I went to college, I was not a chemistry major — I did not like chemistry,” Dr. Amick said. “When I got to college and I saw the interconnections of chemistry to everything else, that is what drew me there. If you told me, when I was a freshman in high school, that I was going to be here, sitting in this chair right now, teaching chemistry in college, I would have thought you were crazy.” 

Dr. Amick’s joined WC’s faculty in 2009, being drawn to the small classrooms and liberal arts style of WC after being a graduate-student teaching assistant at Boston College.

One of the first defining moments Dr. Amick had as a WC professor was when his student broke their writing hand. 

The class was drawing and writing heavy, so it was nearly impossible to complete the course using pen and paper. 

Director of Educational Technology Nancy Cross and Dr. Amick figured that the student could use an iPad to take notes. 

“Because they could blow-up and enlarge an area, even though they had a cast on their hand, it looked okay,” said Dr. Amick. 

After seeing his student excel, Dr. Amick investigated how he could enhance learning with technology. 

His ability to use technology in the classroom was tested in the spring of 2014 when a period of snow canceled or delayed many classes. 

Dr. Amick saw that his classes were falling behind. Instead of hosting additional Saturday classes, Dr. Amick decided to try something new. 

He flipped his classroom by recording lectures for his students to watch at home and uploading worksheets to complete. 

While many students found it helpful, Dr. Amick could see that it needed fine-tuning. 

After receiving two grants from Cromwell Center for Teaching and Learning, Dr. Amick could purchase the equipment to improve the flipped classroom style. 

Using an iPad, stylus, and a pair of earbuds, Dr. Amick recorded every lecture. 

Students could follow along on a guided packet while listening to lectures and drawing on an uploaded version of the same packet.

“The nature of the flipped classroom put more work on me as a student, I was responsible for learning the material outside of class so that I could apply it in class. While the workload was higher, I also felt like I got a lot more out of class time,” said senior Corbin Hudson. “Dr. Amick’s personality and teaching style made the class feel more like a conversation then a lecture.” 

After viewing the data by tracking his students’ grades over 10 years, Dr. Amick found that between five years of traditional and five years of flipped classes, students were doing better with the flipped classroom.

Senior Danny Gonzales said that despite the unconventional classroom design, the education benefited.

“When I took Dr. Amick’s course, I was very skeptical of the format because it was the first time that I had to attempt to understand concepts without the ability to ask extra questions. However, Dr. Amick puts as much time and effort into his lecture videos that all concepts are explained perfectly and left me without questions,” said Gonzales.

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