Like many others, my students and I are facing weeks of remote learning due to COVID-19. I am brainstorming ways to engage my on-level chemistry students online. Weeks of watching online lectures, taking notes, and completing practice problems will get old. I am nervous my students will quickly disengage. My students thrive through relationship-building and real-life applications. I want to share some thoughts bouncing around in my head as I try to think outside-the-box and embrace this historic time in education.
A global experiment may be a great way to engage my students online. They will make connections with others during this time of social separation. They will also find chemistry connections with items around their homes. How might this work?
Google Science Journal
Google Science Journal is a free app for IOS and Andriod smartphones (figure 1). Students can download the Science Journal App on their Chromebooks through Google Play if your technology department has it enabled. Science Journal turns a smartphone or Chromebook into an experimental sensor. It harnesses the device’s camera, microphone, and GPS to measure light, sound, magnetic fields, and motion. For chemistry experiments, the light sensor has the most potential. Students can shine a light through a solution and use their smartphone to measure the light intensity as a colorimeter or spectrophotometer would. Students could explore rates of reaction at home with household items like food coloring and bleach. When bleach is mixed with food coloring, the color fades over time. Students can shine a light through the reaction and measure the change in light intensity over time. Students can repeat the experiment using different temperatures and concentrations to answer questions like, “How does temperature affect reaction rates?” or “How does concentration affect reaction rates?” If students have access to Alka-Seltzer, they could explore how surface area affects the reaction rate by measuring the loudness of the fizzing reaction over time. Students can also explore Beer’s Law by shining a light through different colored liquids (like juices, Gatorade, soda, food coloring, etc.) and measuring the change in light intensity with different concentrations. There are many instructional videos and sample experiments posted on the Science Journal Website. Since students will have limited supplies at home, flexibility will be key for at-home experiments. It may be a good idea to open the experimental options for any type of science experiment. It is hard to find class time for inquiry experiments. This will be a great time to let students explore. Using the free online video platform Flipgrid, students can post short videos of their experimental design, analysis, and results. They can watch other student videos and leave video feedback and comments. I feel students will welcome video interaction with their peers during this period of social distancing. Teachers have the ability in Flipgrid to share the “grids” of videos with other classes, schools, and publically. Teachers could team up with other classes to compare data and results!
Figure 1: Look up the Science Journal App on the App Store
The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) hosts global experiments each year (figure 2). Chemistry students from all over the world complete simple experiments and contribute the data to a global database. My on-level Chemistry classes participated in the “Chemistry in Sport” Global Experiment a few years ago. My students helped local elementary students make predictions, run the experiment, and collect and submit data to the database. It was a great experience seeing my high school students mentor elementary “scientists.” The RSC's global experiments include chemistry of sport, vitamin C, crystallization, hydrogels, and starlight. The RSC website includes video instructions and handouts for these experiments. Currently, the RSC is done collecting data on their current global experiment. However, students can still complete these experiments at home using very common items. Students can contribute data to a class shared google spreadsheet. Teachers could collaborate with colleagues at other schools and pool their student data on the same shared google spreadsheet. It would be interesting to see the trends in data across different schools, states, or countries!
Figure 2: Prepping for RSC Global Experiment
Our students are masters with social media. Teachers could challenge students to make a chemistry experiment go viral. I can picture my students using a platform like TikTok, Instagram, or Twitter to show off a simple chemistry experiment video and share it with peers, family, and friends at other schools. The classic surface tension labs may be great options as they use simple household items. One surface tension lab uses soap to make pepper “dance” and the other uses soap to make food coloring and milk “fireworks.” These experiments also demonstrate the chemistry behind soap and why handwashing minimizes the spread of COVID-19. Students can challenge their friends to make a video of the experiment and then tag or challenge 5 more friends to do the same. This could spread the good news of chemistry worldwide! #globalexperimentchallenge #chemistryiseverywhere The more I think about this, the more I hope my students will take this idea and run with it!
There is no right or wrong way to handle remote instruction during COVID-19. I appreciate the generosity and support teachers are giving each other during this crazy time. I potentially have 2 more face-to-face classes to figure out what I am going to do when my school closes for COVID-19. Who knows - maybe it will be a global experiment?!
For Laboratory Work: Please refer to the ACS Guidelines for Chemical Laboratory Safety in Secondary Schools (2016).
For Demonstrations: Please refer to the ACS Division of Chemical Education Safety Guidelines for Chemical Demonstrations.
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RAMP: Recognize hazards; Assess the risks of hazards; Minimize the risks of hazards; Prepare for emergencies