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Starring:
Pete Karpyk


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Santa himself never could have anticipated the lasting impact the gift of a chemistry set would have on young Pete Karpyk. That gift enabled him to discover a love of chemistry and served as a key to his future. In no time, the elementary student had set up a chemistry lab in his basement!

Today, as a chemistry teacher at Weir High School in Weirton, West Virginia, Karpyk shrink-wraps students and makes exploding soap bubbles to illustrate chemistry concepts that not every child instinctively finds exciting and easy to understand.

Pete Karpyk with a Van de Graaf generator.

"Early on in my teaching career, I realized that different people learn in different ways," Karpyk told Education World. "I always learned best by doing hands-on activities and I base my teaching style on how I would like to be taught."

Karpyk isn't known just for shrink-wrapping, however. Other experiments he uses to capture the interest of his students include exploding pumpkins, liquid nitrogen demonstrations, exploding Easter eggs, Van de Graaf activities, Lycopodium rockets, and polymer labs.

"Memorable moments in the classroom occur when my students respond positively to a lesson," Karpyk observed, but "the most memorable moments occur many years later, when former students share their successes with me and discuss the influence my class had on them."

Karpyk, a Ukrainian immigrant who came to this country at age four, also worked the night shift at a mill during high school, which made his studies a challenge. He didn't enjoy school and lacked direction, but after college he married his interest in science with a talent for working with kids and became a chemistry teacher.

"My own experience as a student makes me realize that students have a life outside of the classroom," explained Karpyk. "Even if a student should fail in mastering a chemistry concept, that student still can leave my class with a positive attitude toward the course and himself."

The key to success as a teacher is a simple one for Karpyk -- you have to love what you are doing. "Students have to come ahead of the material that you are teaching," he said. "Every new teacher has to develop a style that is truly him or her and stay with it."

Photo provided by Pete Karpyk.

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World

12/09/2005