Speaker Teaches from Experience

by Adam Levine ‘20

In chemistry classes at Sherwood, Fridays may also be known as “Thomas Friday,” a name coined by the chemistry teachers who organized the weekly, specialized learning class period. The day gets its name from the guest speaker, Robert Thomas, who comes to the school weekly to speak about chemistry and its applications to the real world.

“I always liked the sciences in school,” said Thomas. “I knew when I went to university, I was always going to major in chemistry.” As he ended high school, Thomas began to take advanced level classes in chemistry, physics, and math, and at University of Wales, Thomas majored in Pure and Applied Chemistry while also taking a variety of different chemistry classes.

For over 30 years, Thomas worked in the field of scientific instrumentation research for the PerkinElmer Corporation. Now, Thomas spends his time writing about the same topic, whether it be writing for different scientific magazines or journals or writing his very own chemistry textbooks.

Thomas also volunteers at Sherwood with a program linked to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) called the AAAS STEM volunteer program. This aims to teach kids of all ages about science, technology, engineering, and math through the real world experiences of retired scientists, like Thomas.

Thomas found out about the program from an ad in a local newspaper and took the opportunity to be more involved in the education of his daughters, who attended a nearby school. He wanted to know what his daughters were learning in chemistry and how he could relate it to the real-world applications of science. In 2008, Thomas began speaking to chemistry classes at Sherwood. For “Thomas Friday,” he prepares a lesson in the form of a PowerPoint presentation that details certain real-world applications of chemistry.

The first Sherwood teacher Thomas supported was chemistry teacher Michael Miehl. “It’s just a way to go beyond what we are doing in the classroom that we wouldn’t have time to research or to prepare a presentation or to know because we’re teachers [and] he’s a professional chemist,” said Miehl. “He’s lived his life doing chemistry and can share that with us.”

Thomas’ ten years of volunteering with AAAS STEM earned him the position as a Team Leader of the Montgomery County volunteer teams. The program supports other school systems in the area, in both Maryland and Virgina. If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering with the AAAS STEM program, please email Thomas at robert. james.thomas@verizon.net.