Ypsi teacher receives national award for classroom teaching and popular YouTube chemistry channel

An Ypsilanti chemistry teacher was recently recognized by the American Chemical Society (ACS) for his work in the classroom as well as his educational YouTube video series. 

ACS named Josh Kenney, a teacher at the Early College Alliance at Eastern Michigan University (ECA), the 2023 Central Region Award recipient for Excellence in High School Teaching. Originally from Ontario, Kenney describes himself as a "pretty poor student in high school" whose desire to teach was ignited by a chemistry professor when he attended college.

"My professor was very dynamic and excited about chemistry, but also about communicating it to the students," he says. "When I became interested, suddenly it became fun. That's why I love being in high school, because I can present chemistry to my students in a way that's exciting so they can enjoy it, too."

After teaching for eight years at Lenawee Christian School in Adrian, Mich., Kenney came to the University of Michigan for a master's degree in chemistry. He fell in love with both the Washtenaw County area as well as the ECA, where he has been teaching for the past four years.

"The ECA gives students an option to do high school in a very different way," he says. "I'm a part of helping them get to college and get the skills they need to be a college student. It's cool to see them move on to college and continue supporting them while they're there."

Kenney supplements his work in the classroom with a YouTube channel called The Science Classroom, which currently has 55,000 subscribers and over 300 short videos on various chemistry concepts. Kenney started the channel 10 years ago as a way to make complex concepts more accessible to his students, especially those who did not speak English as a first language.

"Ten years ago on YouTube, videos tended to be really long with a lot of long-winded explanations, which can be hard for someone who is learning English. I decided to start making my own videos that were shorter so it would be easier for students to review," Kenney says. "I think other people liked it. People started watching my channel, and I still make videos on a weekly basis."

Kenney says the recognition from ACS has allowed him to connect with many local chemists who are working both in academia and in industry, which in turn connects him with additional resources to utilize in his classroom. Through inviting local chemists into his classroom, he hopes his students can see themselves represented in the field and get excited about the possibility of going into chemistry themselves.

"It's important that students feel like they fit in my class," Kenney says. "They're gonna learn content, but if they come out of it feeling good, that means a lot more to me."

To learn more about the ECA, visit its website. For more information on the ACS, visit its website.

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

Photo courtesy of Josh Kenney.
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