Finding the right chemistry

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks: Texico High chemistry teacher Wayne Anderson tracks the flight of a metal ring that was part of an class experiment Wednesday on electrons.

By Marlena Hartz : CNJ staff writer

Taped on the wall, there are nature’s elements — symbols on a periodic table. Wayne Anderson campaigns to reveal them.

The Texico High School chemistry teacher does so in many ways. An annual tradition in his classroom: A fireworks display at a football game. His students make the explosives and set them off.

They learn the colors in the sky are born from elements. Nickel burns in a burst of green, sulfur in yellow, copper in blue.

“Fireworks are great chemistry,” said Anderson, an animated man deeply invested in the science of substances.

“Of course,” he chuckled, “we don’t tell them everything they need to know, because we don’t want them making (fireworks) at home.

“Most kids,” Anderson said, “are used to following directions. They are not used to solving problems. In my classroom, they are given an unknown and they have to find a solution,” he said.

This afternoon, 14 juniors and seniors explore electrical currents with a tesla coil, a device that contains unharnessed electricity, designed to detect leaks in electrical circuits.

“I’m gonna need some help with this,” Anderson said, as he prepared to demonstrate the effects of the coil on a sheet of paper. “I need someone with a steady hand,” he said, a phrase he uses often in his makeshift lab, a simple desk in the front of a carpeted classroom.

“Say a prayer,” a student joked as his classmate sent a bolt of electricity through the paper.

Tiny holes, almost invisible to the eye, dotted the paper by the end of the experiment, confirming the class’ popular hypothesis — that the electric current would pass through the paper and latch onto the metal pole behind it.

Through such experiments, Anderson’s affinity for chemistry is passed to his students.

“It’s hands-on,” said Stephanie Vega, 16. “We don’t just sit there with a book.”

Anderson’s path into the classroom, however, was winding. A Lovington native,

Anderson put his dream of teaching on hold because his parents urged him to study something else. He earned a degree in pharmacy and toiled on the evening shift at a hospital before he decided to pursue teaching.

“Sometimes you have to find what you are called to do,” said Anderson, who also serves as Texico Elementary School principal.

Among his peers, he is highly regarded, said Texico Municipal Schools Superintendent R.L. Richards.

“He just knows how to teach concepts to kids. He is just amazing at it,” Richards said.

As much as Anderson is drawn to elements and reactions, he is also drawn to his students, who in class have a running dialogue with their teacher, speaking aloud and blurting out questions.
“I love running into kids that I taught years ago,” Anderson said. “They remember some reaction we did. Then you know, there was not only good textbook chemistry, but good person chemistry, too.”