Over the past few years puzzle apps have been a favorite amongst high school students. Although each vary in degree of difficulty, most involve recognizing patterns in order to advance to the next phase of the game.
We had just had some snow days and I had the feeling that I was getting behind. In one class we were approaching the topic of orbital diagrams and electron configurations. I was tempted to just say, "Here are the notes." Sometimes there is nothing wrong with that. This time, something was eating at me. Instead I picked a POGIL (link is external) from the "High School Chemistry" (link is external) book that presented the ideas through guided inquiry.
The new IB curriculum includes compound identification using NMR, IR and Mass spectroscopy. My current high school lab does not have any of these available. And that's no surprise, given the cost of these machines is far out of our budget. And while some of you may be lucky enough to have a connection to a local university or college, for the rest of us what are the options when it comes to teaching spectroscopy?
This year my students experienced something a little new to them on the Chemistry Olympiad. It was a question about the crystal structure of a mineral. I have not been teaching the “unit cell” concept in great detail and started to reevaluate my unit on liquids and solids. This question has been appearing on the semifinal exam of the Chemistry Olympiad for a few years but not the local exam until this year. I actually like it when something like this happens. It allows me to reevaluate what I am teaching in class, provides me an opportunity to learn new things, and brings new material into my curriculum.
As a new semester begins, I am excited again. Starting fresh, introducing new people to the amazing world of chemistry, and putting my newly edited labs to the test! In addition, another instructor is trying my labs.
I have always struggled teaching the concept of bonding. What is a chemical bond? Is it just covalent or ionic? What about hydrogen bonds? Are those real bonds or just attractive forces pretending to be bonds? If they are not official bonds, what do we call them? How about intermolecular forces? How are those different from salt crystals that attract to other salt crystals but are called ionic bonds? How about "electronegativity"? If there is a metal nonmetal compound but it is just shy of the "cut off" for the difference between polar covalent and ionic, what type of bond is it? Essentially, as I got confused over the years, this translated into confused students and rushing on to get to the next unit in an attempt to cut my losses.
My first big project my students engaged in during the 2013-14 school year was, at best, a mediocre experience and, at worst, a giant waste of valuable instructional time we'd never get back. I was at a new school and had a lot of goals I wanted to explore - further investing time into developing classroom culture, engaging students into taking more ownership in their learning instead of being passive recipients, pushing students deeper while meeting them where they were at - in short, developing my teaching identity in a context with a lot of autonomy. I had total teaching freedom.
An educational reform that has been gaining a large amount of popularity in the last decade is standards-based grading (SBG). The heart of the SBG movement is truly rooted in one very important question, “what do you want your grades mean?” In a traditional points-based system, a student’s grade typically reflects performance on tests and quizzes, ability to turn in homework, participation, and maybe some extra points for bringing in tissues. This system leaves little room for reflection, remediation and growth. It also puts an undue weight on behavior as opposed to learning. In an SBG system, a student’s grade reflects how well he/she has mastered a set of learning targets. This system gives students timely feedback and opportunities to remediate and reassess their knowledge and skills. Behavior is modified outside of the gradebook so grades simply reflect learning.