Today is the first day of daylight savings time. Ouch. My students are sleep-walking, zombie-like creatures with a single obsession: the countdown to Spring Break. Their teacher is no different this morning. Tomorrow, I plan to change my attitude.
How can I engage my students (and myself) for the last half of the semester? I read recently that the human attention span in 2015 is 8.25 seconds, which is down from 2000’s 12-second span. Currently, we are just beneath goldfish, who can attend to one thought for 9 seconds. I’m not sure of the methods of the research study, and I maintain a level of healthy skepticism. However, I admit my thoughts often spring from topic to topic like a bubble gum machine bouncy ball.
I asked a sophomore, Jacob, to give me tips on keeping him focused in class. He replied, “When I’m sitting in class, I pick up my phone and start messing with it. I’m listening, but I need something to do. I really like the flipped classroom. The only time anyone really focuses on working problems is in class with you anyway. Oh, I like all the video clips you use in our lectures, too. The “Crash Course” guy is funny.”
From the mouths of babes, “I need something to do.” Here are my ideas:
1) Demonstrations: We began equilibrium today, and I used a “Blue Bottle” demonstration to introduce the idea of reversible reactions. My students opened their curious eyes for a few moments. Many made predictions on whiteboards. Some asked questions. A few gasped at the color changes.
Here are some links to simple demonstrations that do not require a ton of set up time:
- University of Washington Department of Chemistry: If you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist. You’ll find a very long list of lecture demonstrations divided by content. The blue bottle experiment instructions were simpler and smaller scale here than on other more well-known sites.
- University of Washington Department of Chemistry: This site gives short video clips explaining the chemistry behind the demonstration as well as the demo. The clips are engaging, and they allow me to show phenomena outside of my school budget.
- Flinn Scientific Demos: Old Faithful. Nearly everyone knows Flinn’s tried and true demonstrations.
2) Video Clips: As Jacob mentioned, I use lots of video clips during any teacher-centered time. The clips add dynamic visuals, new lab techniques, humor, and simply, a different voice to the lecture time.
Here are some links to clips my students seem to enjoy:
ChemEdX has many, many pages of video clips on a really wide range of topics. The clips are short. They offer the perfect punch to reinforce an idea, grab interest, or give a moment of processing time. These do require a paid subscription to ChemEd X.
- Crash Course Chemistry: Hank Green offers 46 videos on chemistry content. He speaks incredibly fast, but his humor really engages the students. I show the videos as a 10 to 15 minute preview/overview of a new unit. I create viewing guides to help my students keep up with Hank’s pace.
- Bozeman Science: Similar to Flinn Scientific, Bozeman Science is tried and true. The short clips are complete with graphic organizers and slideshows. I use these in class, and the students use them as review for tests and quizzes.
3) Music: The fastest way to change the atmosphere of the classroom is to play music. Purposeful choices are excellent, but anything will work. Students respond to the style and tempo of the music.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Theme days: Motown Monday, Twangy Tuesday, The Middle Wednesday, Throwback Thursday, Free Play Friday – I created short playlists for each day of the week, and I play the songs during class changes. The students come and go to music. It really helps set the tone for a positive class time.
- Mr. Rosengarten is funny, really funny. He has written and performed many, many chemistry songs and raps complete with music videos. No, he is not a professional rapper. Think of your chemistry teacher. Now imagine him rapping. Here are a few titles to get you interested: “Rock Me Avogadro” and “For Those about to Dissolve: We Solute You.”
- Partner Discussion and Problem-Solving Time: During my second year teaching, a staff development meeting hit home to me. I didn’t often speak up about chemistry content in small group discussions for fear of making a mistake and being overheard by other groups. The instructor told us to never ask students to speak about content for the first time without providing background noise. Wow. I follow the advice. My students always have the safety of “noise” during their first formative conversations about a topic. I use Pandora stations for simplicity. Here are my go-to stations: John Mayer radio, Ed Sheeran radio, Colbie Calliat radio, and Jack Johnson radio.
4) Plickers: Jacob mentioned needing something to do. Plickers offers him the opportunity to show me what he’s been processing while fumbling with his phone and listening to me. I simply pose a multiple choice question, and the students hold up a personalized card indicating their individual answers. I use my phone and Plickers app to scan the room, and the app collects the answers and graphs the data for me. The website simultaneously does the same, and I can show the students the class’s data. The set-up is minimal. Print the cards from the website. (10 seconds) Enter your students’ names. (5 minutes) Go to the “library” to create questions. (5 minutes)
Do you have games or other tools that get your kids excited about chemistry? Share!