What am I doing to help kids achieve?
How do I know when they are there?
What is the evidence?
I love the periodic table. I love the order, the stories, the trends and patterns, the people who made it. I love how it can be used. I love that it is the ultimate cheat sheet for a scientists or a student taking chemistry. I love the different types of periodic tables that exist. My love for this table is pretty evident. I have four periodic table ties and a periodic table bow tie. My wife went to Florida for a week to take care of her sick mother and while she was gone, I bought a periodic table shower curtain. I learned two things pretty quickly. Eight year old boys can't keep secrets (my son specifically) and as much as my darling wife loves me, she drew the line on the shower curtain. It was her or the shower curtain. So, I took it to school and tried to put it in the one place that made sense...next to the safety shower.
You can imagine where my love affair is going take me. We just finished quantum numbers and are are going to start studying, you guessed it, the periodic table. Here is the problem....I could spend months on this one topic. Just for the heck of it I decided to do a quick and dirty assessement. I know...many of us think "assessment" is a nasty four letter word. I get it. It is used so much by so many people in ways that may not always benefit students that for most teachers it is like eating bad food, getting sick and then never wanting to go back to restaurant. But what if we could turn things around...just a little bit? I have been fortunate and blessed to have had some excellent professional development through my school district and Miami University Ohio. Years ago, I learned about "formative assessment". In a nutshell, it means that we probably do not want to assume too much about what our kids know coming to us. It is well documented that they have science misconceptions and that there are some small ways we can figure out what is going on inside their heads before we start teaching. It does not have to be a huge test or state mandated and we do not have to spend hours grading and pouring through data. It is possible to take quick "snapshots".
I was able to get a great deal of data at a quick glance. First, I realized that there were several questions over quantum numbers and the periodic table. This told me that despite my best efforts, I may need to go back and reteach a few things about quantum numbers. Second, there seemed to be more notes on the question side than the light bulb side. Another popular question was that kids wanted to know if we needed to "memorize" the periodic table. Apparantly, they have had to do this in the past. This also told me that in my future instruction, I probably want to focus more on the trends and patterns. This is one topic few students discussed.
It gave me a quick glance into the students minds and it helped me decide how I might want to change my game plan about what parts of the table I might want to stress concerning topics of the periodic table. This assessment did not take forever and was easy to do. I also know, that as much as I love the periodic table, I may want to think about the most important points and move on.
In closing...an update. In my last blog I mentioned that my students attempted a take on a hydrate lab by Bob Worley from CLEAPSS. I met Bob at Chem Ed 2015. He uses bottle caps as crucibles. Long story short, the lab was a huge success. Thanks Bob for the tip.
Most of us and our students are now into the "routine" of school. College apps, college recommendation letters, grading, tests, and on and on. It is easy to get into a rut. Take time to share with your students the reason you decided to become a teacher. Decide to share that passion of chemistry and teaching with another person...you won't regret it and neither will your students.