Back to School Preparations

Ahh. My second blog post. It's back to school week for us teachers. Students start next week (the Michigan way). As I plan for the beginning units (intro and lab safety for Honors Chem 1 and Stoichiometry for Chem 2) I am able to reflect some on BCCE and pull in some ideas that I jotted down old-school in my notebook. Someone told me at BCCE that you don't have to incorporate everything into the classroom. I already knew that but it was a great reminder. So here's some things I've worked into the classroom for opening week:


  1. A new seating plan - 8 groups of 4 desks together. Think 8 tables throughout the room. I really like the idea of working together and fostering collaboration. Except on tests!

  2. Another idea is #buildaboat with Doug Ragan, Erica Posthuma-Adams, Julia Winter, and others I still haven't met in person. You can check Erica's blog on that here.

One item I considered incorporating was revamping how I do lab reports. There was a talk at BCCE where the speaker discussed her work with journal article-style lab reports and working on each section per lab then writing a complete lab report at the end of the semester. I teach semester classes so I generally go with full lab report journals in my Honors classes assessed via a comprehensive lab quiz twice per semester. Since I have relatively small class sizes this semester, I plan to continue with this approach but will alter how much of a full lab report students write. Some will be complete reports, some data and conclusions, some data and required questions, etc. I want my students to become proficient at observing and recording data as well as explaining/analyzing their results. This, of course, in addition to creating a culture of critical thinking and problem solving that students will benefit from.


My Chem 2 students, however, will not have the same format as Honors. Last year I observed many of my non-Honors students treating lab reports as “optional” for lack of a better term. When lab quiz time came (along with collecting lab notebooks), many students were suddenly in a very unfortunate position. I’d like to discontinue the lab quizzes and full reports for this group. This may seem counterproductive with the likes of NGSS and Common Core, but I’d like to find some other ways to assess lab-based activities. And I am open to suggestions for this specific level. These are students who may struggle with math and sometimes writing. I want to have high expectations; I also want to have realistic expectations that these students can meet. A few things that I am considering on implementing include:


  1. Whiteboard analyses in lab. Took this from other teachers on Twitter (especially #buildaboat teachers) where students must create a hypothesis, show calculations/data, and jot down their main results and conclusions, then present that board to me/the class.

  2. Discussion of results. I like the thought of requiring data, data analysis, and discussion or required questions to be completed after the lab, submitted for review, and then further discussed in class the next day. So in essence, keeping with some of the lab report format, while maintaining a focus on the experimental technique and analysis. (I hope this point makes sense).

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I am open to ideas and suggestions for lab analysis for a class that may struggle with what’s required. At our district department meeting this morning, the topic of standards-based grading came up. That’s a whole other topic that I don’t want to get into. However, I wonder if my lab assessment goals for the non-Honors courses lean toward SBG.


And one last idea that I am pushing forward with is continuing to “flip” portions of my classes. The great thing about continuing at the same school as last year is getting to continue where I’ve left off. I will reuse some videos and activities while developing additional videos and incorporating new activities (such as #buildaboat for Chem 2 and Paper Towel absorbency inquiry for Honors Chem 1 on the second day of school). I recognize that flipping goes beyond the video, but the video is a component. I have access to a touch-screen computer monitor in my classroom and last night I purchased a WACOM Intuos tablet with gift cards I received from a BCCE symposia and a local county PD event this month. It’s nice having tools to get the work done.

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Comments 1

joanne gervais | Tue, 08/26/2014 - 21:23

I can sense the energy/enthusiasm in your writing! As a retiree, this is the time of year that I miss teaching the most. 

Response to increasing critical thinking skills:

Today I was preparing a presentation (Electrochemistry, Equilibrium) that will follow a hands-on workshop approach. As I prepared the activity sheets, I found myself preparing a PHAMOC format. My emphasis however is on the critical thinking skills. By providing the necessary prerequisite knowledge, the activity requires the participants to develop a reasoned hypothesis. Direction (hints) were given so as to ensure deeper thinking. Participants are also asked to review the procedure and then create a data table to record their results. This also involves critical thinking. The activity ends with 4 application questions, and one question for further thought. There should be opportunity for collaboration, but the final responses should be their own work. One of the questions asks participants to use a search engine to find the correct answer.The only parts that I would evaluate would be ...hypothesis, data table and the answers to the questions. Students should work in pairs and given time to collaborate with a max of two other groups.

Response to towel absorbancy:

Our stand alone chemistry courses begin at age 16. Prior to that students have one unit (out of 4 for the course) that deals with chemistry. If the group is young (14,15) I would consider towel absorbancy as an inquiry introduction to science. If the group was older I would find a more chemical activity (methylene blue and dextrose).

Response to non-honours preparation:

Increase the hands on component, decrease the full report for labs, increase literacy assignments (opinion papers, summary of a reading, interpretation of graphs etc). Look for alternatives to reports (like your white board presentations etc). Have a short session each day where students can share their science experiences with the class. One person speaks, everyone listens. Example: In electrochemistry...Tell me about experiences that you have had with electroplating (chrome motorcycle parts) or batteries (dead cell, car battery on a cement floor discharges) etc

Enjoy your semester. Keep working at the improvements as described in your blog. If you get to Ontario, we have a great STAO conference in Nov. If you have any safety questions send them to I am the safety chair.

Dave Gervais