Building Summer Assignments for Next Year’s First-Year Chemistry Students

summer assignments

The countdown has begun…6 full days and two exam days left. Summer is in sight! Exhale. Almost.

My school’s upper middle class student body is capable of more. Our new administrative team now strongly encourages all core content teachers to provide a summer assignment to prepare students for the first day of school. Outside of the summer reading for literature classes, we’ve never done this. I see the potential for class time-savings and improvement of student understanding. Will the students see the possibilities? What should I assign? Is it realistic to expect next year to begin differently?

The team of chemistry teachers met a few times, and we established a plan. It’s not too late to adjust! Do you have experience or advice?

Here is our current plan:

  • All upcoming chemistry students will join a Schoology course, “Preparing for Chemistry: 2016-17.” The site will help us to track student access to the material. Do they wait until the night before school? Do only 15 of 400 students ever even join the course?
  • Within the Schoology course, students will select their particular level of chemistry from a list of folders: on-level, honors, honors/AP combo, and AP chemistry. All students will have access to all preparation materials, however. Who knows? Someone may be planning to request a schedule change to move up a level, right?
  • All of our first year students, on-level, honors, and honor/AP combo, will have similar summer assignments.
    • Units of Measurement: Students will watch my flipped classroom video tutorial addressing simple metric conversions and scientific notation and answer a five question online quiz. The required time commitment is 25:00 minutes.
      • We know this content has been taught in many previous science and math classes.
      • If students recognize a weakness requiring extra practice in this area, we have optional Khan Academy video links and our own worksheets with answer keys.
      • The online quiz will provide diagnostic data for teachers to use on day one of the new school year.
    • Density: Again, students will watch my video tutorial and answer a five question online quiz. The overall time commitment is just over 15 minutes.
      • Again, we know students have learned to calculate density. We are using this topic to force unit conversions, simple algebra, and critical reading of scientific word problems or data tables.
      • We will teach significant figures in class rather than as a part of the summer assignment. It seems too overwhelming. Thoughts?
      • Similar to the units of measurement lesson, students have access to tutorials and practice problems if they feel weak in the area.
      • Also, the online quiz may help teachers to diagnose possible algebra or problem-solving weaknesses early in the semester.
    • Dimensional Analysis: Rinse and repeat. Students will watch my video tutorial and answer a short online quiz. The overall time commitment is just over 15 minutes.
      • Our students learn to use dimensional analysis to convert units in ninth grade. This is another review for them.
      • Again, students will have access to additional tutorials and practice problems if they experience difficulty with dimensional analysis.
      • The online quiz asks learners to choose the appropriate conversion factor and determine the appropriate orientation of conversion factors. We hope to recognize common mistakes and correct them during the first week of the new semester.
    • Elements of the Periodic Table: Students will be asked to become familiar with common element names and symbols. We plan to use Quizlet to provide learning tools. No online quiz is required.
    • Honors/AP Combo Chemistry ONLY: Students will review simple graphing skills to prepare for graphing lab data.
      • Students will review graph titles, labeling each axis, and finding the line of best fit.
      • Students will use the R2 value to choose the “best” straight line and review the slope intercept equation for the line.
      • Students will be encourage to learn to create and interpret simple graphs on their own calculators and in Excel.

What are we missing? Please share your wisdom. Do you “count” summer assignment grades? 

Join the conversation.

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Comments 7

Sean Fisk's picture
Sean Fisk | Tue, 05/17/2016 - 19:25

I think you are doing it right.  My school requires summer assignments, its an International Boarding school and the standards are pretty high.  Over half of my Chem 1 Sophomores will enroll in AP Chem as juniors.  The flipped model works well for Summer assignments, as it lets students get used to "YOU" over the summer.  I use summer assignments to remind them of what they already have learned in MS and to help them identify areas they may need to put in a little extra work to be successful.  

For Chem 1 I have them do a little reading from either "The Disappearing Spoon" or "Uncle Tungsten" and then review some classical Atomic Theory, Nomenclature, and Periodic Table info.  I plan on doing a little lab safety recap with them and then hitting units and measurement hard.

For AP, they have a no nonsense Unit 0 review of nomenclature, reactions, stoichiometry, and data analysis/ sig figs.  We hit the ground running with Big Idea 1 on the third class.

For me, some of the assignments are graded, other parts are just completion, but I do test them on the info on the second day of class. 

Doug Ragan's picture
Doug Ragan | Tue, 05/17/2016 - 21:32


     I love this idea/ice breaker/starting point, etc...  I think the outline you provided is good.  I agree with the sig figs and leaving it till class.  I would defintely review the math, love the idea of including the elements and I wouldn't take it for a grade but have a test that first week on the material.  This gives you a chance to answer any questions from the summer assignment and to recognize areas of concern that first week.  I would include a possible (office hour) time so the students could get help with the assignment from you.  Will you encourage collaboration amongst their soon to be classmates?  Will you issue textbooks or have them in the library for checkout for availbility?  What if students don't do it and then do poorly, what options is there then for students, etc...  Good luck and look forward to hearing results.  Also, good luck on the sell.  If required for core classes then I think students will buy in.  Do you think you will have trouble getting parents on board?  I like the idea of it serving as a placement test as well.

Again good luck, great idea!

Allison Tarvin's picture
Allison Tarvin | Wed, 05/18/2016 - 10:09


Thanks for your feedback!  I'll blog about the results of this assignment in August.  I'm planning to give them a test at the very beginning of week two that will incorporate all of the summer learning PLUS significant figures.  I'm hoping this will give them a little time to ask questions, apply the learning in lab, and learn about sig figs.  We don't really know how to address students that don't do the assignment.  I think that I'll nicely confront the "missing" students on the first day of school and invite them to catch up QUICKLY.  I don't want to be disrespectful of the other students' time by re-teaching the content in class.  I like the idea of office hours...I'll have to work on that!

Irmi Schewe-Miller | Wed, 05/18/2016 - 11:25

You could ask your students to do a long-term experiment. I remember there was a post about nails and rust, where students placed a nail into different environments: water, salt, water, damp, dry, warm, cold, etc.

They recorded their observations. These became stuff for discussions on a variety of topics later in the semester: kinetics, oxidation/reduction, etc.

Deanna Cullen's picture
Deanna Cullen | Wed, 05/18/2016 - 13:26

Hi Allison, Some years I use a summer assignment for my AP chemistry students. Most of it includes review of previous topics, but I also ask them to memorize a number of ions and complete an assignment about significant digits. If I assign one in the future, I will use an online classroom like Schoology or Google Classroom to monitor. As you mentioned, some students completed the work over a period of time, many waited until the last minute and others did not complete the assignment at all. There are also the students who signed up late or even added the course the first day of school. For this reason, I have always scheduled a quiz over that assignment about seven school days into the year.  This timing allows "late adds" time to complete, but the students that already completed their work do not seem cheated (they have minimal homework to worry about). Good luck! I am interested in reading about how things went over the summer for you.

Shannon Bowen's picture
Shannon Bowen | Mon, 06/20/2016 - 20:11

I used Schoology this year (after seeing you speak about it) and it was a great tool.  Do your kids use it in other classes - or just yours?  (I'm the only one using it at my school)  If they are not familair with it - what about including a "learning to learn" unit.  I had kids learn to use Schoology - watch an embedded video, respond with a comment and respond to a classmates comment.  Take a little quiz.  Do an at home activity and report...and so on.   I found a day or two of these activties to be very beneficial in getting everyone on the same page.

Deanna Cullen's picture
Deanna Cullen | Wed, 06/22/2016 - 13:44

Hi Shannon! Information on your lessons to introduce would be a valubable contribution. Thanks for your comments.