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Category Archives: Curriculua

Stoich Speed Dating

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Kinda based on the idea by Kate Nowak, I had my students Speed-Date (is that a verb?) stoichiometric practice problems. It’s a little different in format, and it’s in groups… on whiteboards… okay, maybe it’s a lot different.

My students normally sit in pods of three or four. They’re super familiar with the whiteboarding we do (which is at least weekly). After one practice/review stoich problem, I had them clear the boards. We picked some random numbers, and I added “grams” to each (something like, kids shouted out 5, 17, 207, and 73, so I would declare 20.75g and 17.73g). I posted a list of chemical equations on the document camera. Each group picked a random 2-reactant equation from the posted list of equations and started the stoich process (balancing the equation, filling out the BCA table, good sig figs, etc.). For example, if they chose the combustion of hydrogen, then using our random numbers, the stoich problem they worked on started with 20.75g H2 and 17.73g O2.

Now for the speed dating part: Every 2 minutes, I yelled “ding!” and each group moved to a new board to continue whatever the last group had left.

The first “ding!” usually happened just after getting molar masses calculated, so a lot of groans came out, but they knew approximately the step to work on for the next board. The second switch came part way through the BCA table, which really bothered some perfectionists. Some groups found mistakes and had to correct them. Four cycles usually got the boards completed and double-checked.

What I liked:

  • Even in a large class (10 groups), nearly every board had a different equation, so switching meant some big changes but the same process. It’s actually quite a bit of practice.
  • Limiting reactants were not always in the same place/order from one board to the next.
  • Students improved in figuring out the sequence of steps in stoich because they had to repeat/check and see the status of the new board.
  • Struggling kids were able to see how a particular step changed when equations changed (I may have “ding”ed intentionally when I saw a half-fast/slow group getting too comfy).
  • I was able to help one particular kid while everyone else worked through switching boards and checking each other.

What I need to improve/think about:

  • This worked for one round, but wasn’t interesting enough for two.
  • I did not check/grade the boards, but relied on students to check themselves.
  • For the groups that found mistakes, I’d like a way of discussing the mistake with the previous group. I don’t want them making the same mistake on the next board(s).

#MTBoSBlogsplosion: My Favorite

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I’ve been pretty quiet recently, partially due to being ridiculously busy learning how to teach AP Chemistry this year. But also because my district has very strict policies around social media.

Anyway, I saw the MTBoS post about returning to blogging, and figured it was a good time to procrastinate to start again.  And no, I don’t teach math; Honors Chemistry and AP Chem for me!

My favorite thing in class right now is whiteboards. I know… it seems to be everyone’s favorite thing, and for good reason! My students actually cheered today when I told them to fetch the dry erase markers. I am fortunate enough to have two sets of whiteboards! A large set (about 2.5×3′ or so) for groups, and small ones for individuals (one side is blank and one side has periodic tables.)

What do we do with them?

I’ve posted previously about Chemical War, The Mistake Game, particle drawings, and Battleship.

The little boards are great for “secret ballots”. Pose a question, everyone furtively writes down an answer, and either blindly (for my eyes only) or publicly shows it on the count of three. Funny for multiple choice / review days, when I need suggestions for stuff, etc.

Then just plain practice. Yesterday, my honors students took notes about stoichiometry and using BCA tables. Working in groups today made it so much clearer to them! Plus, the groups can do different things: one group made one set of charts/calculations; several groups worked individually and compared work; one group was pretty comfy already, so split into two teams that raced for the right answer.

AP Chem does similar work together. Especially with drawing, the group work is invaluable (these kids are generally fine with the math part). Somehow, whiteboarding lets these (very advanced) kids play with pictures that they would never do on paper, and thereby increases their understanding. I found that if I don’t have a whiteboard day, not only do they complain, but their conceptual understanding has been lower.

Soooo many marker fumes! So little time! (Maybe that’s why everyone loves whiteboards…)

Pictionary Definitions

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After grading the third unit test, I noticed that my chem classes were using some words that might be considered interchangeable in an English-context, but definitely are not in a science-context. I had them get into groups and come up with visual depictions of the following words: 

  • molecule, atom, ion 
  • energy, bond, charge 
  • chemical, dangerous

The first set of words was pretty useful for them to distinguish between species. The second set was tricky because we haven’t formally defined “energy” yet (but they should remember something from physics last year). And admittedly, the last set really gets my goat, but there were some interesting conversations as I walked around. And a lot of biohazard symbols and crossbones. But not many chemicals-that-look-hazardous, so I’ll count that as a win. 

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.

Day 114: Getting Comfy

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Day 114/180(?): starting over with SBG

No, I can’t fit all 180 days in before school starts again!

During an interview, I asked a principal what he/she thought about SBG. His/her response was unfavorable, including that kids would have to figure out the system for each class and teacher. I thought it strange, since kids already do that.

I was chugging along with SBG, following what a middle-school colleague had done, when I realized that I didn’t like that version. I needed something else.

So, thanks to some Tweeps I’ve been stalking for a while really neat and well-connected people (I’m looking at you, @jmbalaya!), I contacted Ramsey Musallam, and we chatted on the phone for a good half hour (in between his summer school robot building fun). I’m gonna give his SBG system a shot, and see what happens. It makes far more sense to me than the other version (at least, for my grade-level and subject). And I’d hate for the kids to be a part (again) of a class where the teacher isn’t comfy with the grading system.

Day 113 (and beyond): Doing It Again for the First Time

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Day 113+more / 180: signing a new contract and thinking of next year(s)

I signed the contract for my new school and got a non-sub-ID!

I’ve been working on and off on my new SBG curriculum. While I’m set on trying SBG, I’m now realizing how much I have to do and change from the stuff I already have. And what do I do with lab notebooks on the scale?

And this (start of an) exchange with @rawrdimus:

So how do I get students to use the notebooks after they’ve finished particular labs?

So what it comes down to is… I’m feeling like a first-year teacher. Super insecure. I’ve got the job, and now I have to deliver all that I promised. I haven’t been in a normal classroom — my classroom — for eight years. I have scrounged a basic schedule from the school I worked at last fall, and I have all of my old worksheets (which need to be updated for my new SBG thing). I have tons of resources from other people, but need to make everything my own.

Day 107: More SBG Work

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Day 107: More SBG work: making it digital

I work better on paper than on computer, possibly because I don’t get into as many online games. At any rate, I’ve translated my digital notes into Evernote, so I can work on it while I’m away from my home computer.

I’m having my annual self-argument about the order of subjects (start with measurement or atomic theory and nuclear stuff). The first way tends to weed-out kids who aren’t that serious about taking chemistry (strangely, because they don’t want so much math). This makes it better as a teacher, as most of the kids who hack it will probably manage to hack the rest of the course. There is a weird transition somewhere along the line, where numbers and sig figs aren’t used for a few weeks while atomic theory is introduced, and a lot of kids forget all rules for precision and numbers. The second way tends to keep a lot of kids in the beginning, but the course may be more than what they bargained for later. After getting the non-number-based stuff out of the way, the rest of the course needs digits and precision, so the math piece is introduced later and used consistently to the end. To me, it’s a much smoother way to do the whole course. And I hate weed-out things.

And at the same time, I don’t want kids who shouldn’t be in the course… be in the course. It’s hard on them and hard on me. And maybe they’d be ready for chemistry at a different time, so maybe a weed-out is kinda diagnostic. And either way, I feel like a big meany, either for having put kids through an ordeal, or not having given them a chance to show me wrong.

Because of my previous schools, I’ve done all kinds of ways to order chemistry, even starting in the middle. I’ve even done a bunch of versions concurrently. Ultimately, it needs to be what’s best for the kids, not me.

I’ll probably change my mind tomorrow.