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Getting It Together

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I’ve been driving myself nuts with my new AP Chem curriculum, so I finally wrote it out on whiteboards. The problem is that I have some loose chapters. 

Where would you put them? 

SBG, Version 1 (2015-16)

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I never wrote this up. I’m staring down the new school year, and realizing that I don’t have this on (digital) paper. It went sooo well last year, really with next to zero revisions planned for the coming year. I’m super happy (and according to exit surveys, students were pretty satisfied) with how it all worked out. So, here’s what I did:

After getting in contact with Ramsey Musallam last summer (a fantastically generous guy, who spent a chunk of time with me on the phone), I made up a system that works sorta similarly to his.

The unit tests comprised 75% of the term grade. Another 20% was for lab write ups, and the other 5% for miscellaneous classroom stuff.

I reorganized the chemistry content into eight Units for the year. Each Unit had three Standards. For example, Unit Five is States of Matter and Intermolecular Forces, and the Standards are Kinetic Molecular Theory, Gases, and Aqueous Solutions. Implied in those standards are things like states of matter, gas behavior and laws, physical properties based on IMFs, and so on.

Class time was, more or less, normally spent: labs, whiteboard work (also new to me this past year), some notes/slides, and so on. And throwing in a bunch of random stuff that I like, including Beautiful Reactions, xkcd, Compound Chemistry, internet memes and advertisements (sometimes hard to distinguish!), and news articles.

Each unit test was three pages long, one page per Standard. Within each page, five questions with various levels (loosely based on Bloom, my district’s “power standards”, and expectations for the school) covered some aspect of the Standard. Each (often multi-part) question was worth a total of one point. And here’s the weird thing that totally works: each page is worth 10 points, the first five are free as long as the student attempts the problems. So, even if all problems are wrong, they get 5/10 on each page, which is still a failing grade, but they’re not completely unmotivated to do a re-take.

And re-take they did! I had a form to fill out on the school’s LMS. Students had to tell me what they had done to study, with whom they had studied (this human-component was essential), and when they could perform the re-take. Students only revisited a single Standard at one sitting, to focus their studying. Retakes were harder, and not always similar questions, but the format was the same. Some students never performed a retake, and some returned after every exam. But at the end of the school year, nearly everyone who filled out a course evaluation was satisfied with their grades.

I’m absolutely using this system again for the coming school year, and am trying to figure it out for AP chem. I can’t find anyone who uses SBG and AP chem, but we’ll see how it works.

The Emotion of Science Class?

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The past week, I’ve overheard my students reciting passages from various Shakespeare plays, which they have to recite during their English classes next week. And I’ve also heard them grumbling about how easy it is to memorize something, so why bother learning a particular passage.

Although the English class poems are long-gone from my memory, I can still recite a Goethe poem from my high school German class (“Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? / Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind….”). I also remember that although every person in class memorized the whole eight verses, part of our grades was on how the person emoted through the passages. It’s a depth-of-meaning kind of thing, which some people are good at expressing and some are not. And there’s a whole other depth when it comes to poetry contests and spoken word presentations (like this breathtaking example from Harvard’s School of Ed 2016 graduation by Donovan Livingston). Recitations are, for some, a whole art and passion.

So, in science classes, what is worthy of this kind of passage-memorization? And what would be the equivalent of emotion? Mere application of equations seems to be less significant than emotional response, and more of a logic puzzle than art. Application of concepts, however, somehow seems closer. To see something more like Beautiful Reactions or categorization of birds or even videos of marbles and magnets takes the rote skills and makes it into something more sublime.

So what is the emotion of science class?

Giving Them Nothing

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Monday, my chemistry students started their semester final: a three-week, single-partner, no-outside-communication, all-hands-on-deck lab practical. I handed them a stack of papers and told them that I expected to see polished write-ups in three weeks.

Okay, so I don’t give them nothing. They can use virtually anything printed, including their lab notebooks, the textbook, the Internet… Other than people.

But I didn’t tell them exactly how to accomplish the experiments or how to write them up. This is throwing a lot of them for a loop. It’s making them think a little too hard. I had two pairs, who, after pouring a chemical in a beaker and watching it sink to the bottom of a beaker, discuss how to get a chemical to dissolve. After about 5-6 minutes of contemplating various heating implements, acids, and catalysts, I was afraid they were going to actually hurt themselves: I handed them a glass stir rod.

But the thing is, as I struggle to not talk or nudge kids in particular directions (which makes me think about how much/little I do during the rest of the year), they’re realizing how much they rely on being told what to do. They’re finally thinking about what to do rather than what I say. And to do this, they have to ask questions of themselves (and their partners).

I’m starting to think about how to give more goals, give fewer questions. It’s kind of a riff off of Dan Meyer talking about removing questions from textbook problems to make things more interesting/compelling/think-y. [Hmmm… curriculua as a state function? Many paths to get to the end?]

Cross-posted to Better Qs…

Implicit Procedures

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My students are amazing, especially at solving big-idea-type problems, but they’ve been getting a little sloppy with some basics. Today is the first day of second semester, so (instead of worksheets) I figured they needed an activity to review significant figures and other simple skills. 
I came up with The Popcorn Lab. In small groups and the span of 55 minutes, they had to create some sort of procedure, data table, and results to answer the following questions: 

  1. What is the mass, volume, and density of a popcorn kernel before and after popping?
  2. What accounts for the differences between those values?

It was possibly one of the most beneficial things I’ve done recently in terms of getting them to ask their own questions and critique ideas (and as a side benefit, they’re using lab notebooks for, ya know, notes instead of filling in blanks). There was a lot of scratching out and revising, especially for the “after” kernels. A few kids looked up ways to measure volume of popped popcorn on their phones rather than using water displacement. 

Tomorrow, I plan to ask them about:

  1. Easy/straightforward parts
  2. Problematic parts
  3. Differences between groups’ procedures and would they get different answers/results
  4. Sources of error, and how they would be different for different groups

(Cross posting to the Better Qs blog.)

Cooperative, Competitive

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I started a bunch of posts, but haven’t finished them. Here they are, all combined: I like playing games with my students, and my students are competitive enough (in a friendly way) that they work well in my classroom.

Based on things I’ve seen in the #MTBoS (oh hey, it’s MTBoS season!), I’ve had my students play a bunch of games to practice new and in-progress skills. Also, I’ve never had whiteboards in class before, and I have a set of small, individual boards with periodic tables on one side, and a large set for group work. I’m all over these boards.

Battleship, which I haven’t found time for previously, was a nice way to practice groups and periods on the periodic table. And we needed a low-key class period.

Electron Memory to review electron configurations, symbols, and a sketch of electrons in their shells/clouds. Yes, it’s a match-three kind of situation! Much harder than normal. Not sure it was super effective in review, however.

Chemical War reviewed compound formation. Each kid had a slip of paper with an ion and a small whiteboard. When they met someone with an oppositely-charged ion, they raced to come up with the correct compound first. Some good questions came out of it, and these particular kids are pretty conscious about asking for clarifications.

The Mistake Game is my new faaaaavorite thing! So far, we’ve used them for practicing balancing equations, and now some stoichiometry. Stoich is funny: it’s almost too complicated to make a mistake, and they don’t want to mess up the beauty in the perfected equations. But I love that they’re seeing where mistakes can be made, and how to fix them. (And BCA tables are amazing!)

Particle drawings is kinda borrowed from the Modeling series of stuff. I haven’t gone to the seminars, but I did attend a few sessions while at ChemEd last summer, and I’ve made my own version of them, which goes along with our new textbooks’ examples. While the kids groan about doing it, they definitely have a better grasp about what’s really happening during reactions.

And now that all of this is on the table, I’m left with the educator-part of my brain saying, what questions am I asking? And therefore, what am I valuing?

I mean, I’m supposed to be posting to Sam Shah’s collaborative Better Qs blog, and I haven’t posted anything anywhere recently. Not for lack of interest, but for lack of questions. I’ve asked students to do things this year that I haven’t before (no required homework, SBG, draw reactions rather than entirely equations, etc.), but what’s my implicit question? I guess I’m looking for more explanations rather than merely regurgitating processes, but I need to shift my (non-required) homework to meet that.

Week 4 begins

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Whew. Today was the unit test on measurement and matter. I’ll start grading shortly. 

It’s been a whirlwind already, with some pretty intense students. I’ve never had students who could review significant figures, dimensional analysis, measurement rules, and other number handling… in 30 minutes. I’m starting to wonder how much I can throw at them, and how much I should throw at them. I hafta figure out pacing on a whole new level. I have a feeling that they might take what I toss their way. I’ll have to be careful about what is actually reasonable.