Build a Boat Collaboration

boat white boarding

I want to learn more about the modeling approach to teaching chemistry, but have not yet found the time to attend training. It seems like modeling would be the next logical step after the flipped classroom method of instruction that I have used for the last four years. My goal in using modeling is to continue to move from a teacher centered classroom to an environment wherein students take on true ownership of their own learning. As luck would have it, I met some experienced modelers at a Biennial Conference on Chemical Education 2014 (BCCE 2014) Birds-of-a-Feather lunchtime chat and got to pick the brain of Erica Posthuma-Adams, and others, regarding this instructional approach. Their passion for modeling was clear and their willingness to share effective strategies for building a classroom around modeling was most appreciated.

Good ideas are one thing, but getting back to school and implementing them is often something entirely different. The nice thing about the chemistry teaching community is the sharing never stops. Erica suggested that I try the Build-a-Boat activity that she uses on the first day of class. The main goal of the activity is to build a classroom culture around collaboration, starting with a fun challenge for the students to undertake. I decided to try Build-a-Boat. I mean how could it be any easier? Erica posted an explanation, shared her Google presentation of directions and answered every question that a growing number of participants threw her way.

You see, the sharing never stops when you have hundreds of chemistry teachers and professors in one spot (BCCE 2014) discussing learning. Soon the idea of trying Build-a-Boat spread to other colleagues with whom I already collaborate, and a friendly inter-school competition was launched. Discussing plans on Twitter extended the idea to several other schools as well. It also started a tsunami of pirate puns.

So with a hearty Har Arrrr Arrrr! and the promise of a cheesy trophy, at least a dozen teachers from across the US undertook the endeavor of Build-a-Boat. There were probably more participants, but not all reported in. It didn’t matter that we all started school on a different day. Google Docs and Twitter allowed us to collaborate, troubleshoot, and yes, even do a little good-natured trash talking. I think we had as much fun as the students did on their first day of chemistry. But isn’t that the point? Build a community around a positive, shared experience that sets the tone for a year of learning. Model for students what effective collaboration among peers looks and feels like. Enjoy meeting and working with new people. Check, check, and check!

That is how collaboration goes with forward-thinking chemistry teachers who are game for making learning memorable for their students. Teachers who will reach out to like-minded peers and refuse to fall into the trap of “We’ve never done that.” or “It won’t work.” And you know who won? Our students! When asked if they built the best boat possible, only one group of students from the large group of participants reported being confident that they had. All realized that they could tweak their design to make it better. All left the activity thinking of ways to improve their product. All demonstrated an attitude of curiosity and began thinking like emerging scientists. What a way to start the year!

Next up on my collaboration agenda is year two of #molympics. This inter-school competition involves learning about the mole via challenging activities and student collaboration. We hope you join us!

Participants: @kristingregory7, @eposthuma, , @dragan39, @JeanJWeaver, @MeyersChemistry @Chemdude4, @liz5046, @OChemPrep, and others not on Twitter