Especially JCE: November 2016

Nov 2016 issue of JCE

What surprised you most about class last week? What do you think was the muddiest point in class last week? These two questions are part of an article that caught my eye in the November 2016 issue of the Journal of Chemical EducationSurprises in the Muddy Waters of High-Enrollment Courses.

The term “high-enrollment courses” in the title might cause you to pass on by, since it doesn’t suggest a potential use at the high school level. High enrollment in the article refers to a single class of roughly 200 students, while a single high school chemistry class would have just a fraction of that, although the numbers do seem to keep climbing! The lack of “high school chemistry” as an article keyword could also be a signal to skip the article. But, as I’ve experienced with other JCE articles in the past, it has something to offer high school educators.

The use of brief exit slips and also the term “muddiest point” are nothing new. Authors Keeler and Koretsky expand their previous research on the use and benefits of these questions. In this study, they presented both questions to students in a hybrid prompt, rather than giving only one question as in a prior study.

Why use the questions in class? They discuss the purposes of the prompts:

First, they communicate information to the instructor with regard to the attitudes, understanding, and learning approaches of the students. The specific difficulties and concerns that emerge can then be immediately addressed. …the instructor also gains insight into aligning upcoming content with prior knowledge for better levels of comprehension. Second, these activities foster metacognitive and reflective awareness in students. They must contemplate and gauge their own learning relative to the course objectives, processes, and structures.

Beyond these potential benefits, in coding student comments, they also found that the prompts gave students a chance to make suggestions related to how the course itself is carried out. These included items such as a positive reaction to how group participation is structured and a suggestion for making whiteboard notes more visible. Instructors felt encouraged by some of these positive comments and other more humorous personal notes, such as a student who was “most surprised by how much you like coffee.”

Such reflections don’t need to be limited to just students either. For example, teachers could exit slip themselves as they reflect on recent classes, as another use of the idea. What “surprises in the muddy waters” have you experienced this school year so far?

More from the November 2016 Issue

Mary Saecker’s JCE 93.11 November 2016 Issue Highlights shares more articles from the issue, plus “geology-inspired chemistry” from JCE’s archives. You’ll see geology crop up again in 2017 with the American Chemical Society’s theme “Chemistry Rocks!” for the next National Chemistry Week. As always, the XChange would love for you to offer your take on any article from this or a past issue of the Journal. All it takes is a short post! Start by submitting a contribution form, explaining you would like to contribute to the Especially JCE column. Questions? Contact us using the XChange’s contact form.