This year was so atypical for most educators; teaching in different formats, some face to face, some hybrid, some completely virtual. My school typically offers honors, a regular level, and a more supported level chemistry track for students. Due to the constraints of scheduling in a Covid climate, this past year students were all grouped in one class. Differentiation was a must in order to meet the needs of all learners more so than it ever has been to ensure students would continue to feel engaged and appropriately challenged.
For the bonding unit, I created a choice board where students could move at their own pace once they completed a particular number of activities to demonstrate mastery of concepts. There were, however, due dates to serve as benchmarks for when specific topics should be completed. These were helpful for both the students and me to stay on task and focused. See the choice board I used. For each subtopic, students watched a video and then completed two tasks of their choice. Figure 1 shows the set up of the first few topics on the choice board.
Figure 1: The first few bonding subtopics on the Bonding Choice Board
One thing I found was even though the activities were self-paced, time was required at the beginning of class each day to have some small discussion on the topic. This provided students with the opportunity to ask questions and/or have a short re-teaching of some content to bring clarity to some of the activities. Students liked the flexibility of the choice board and found the ability to individually choose their learning task particularly helpful in classes with greater variation of academic abilities. Some students were able to choose higher-level topics such as advanced molecular modeling to challenge themselves and others were able to use the time for more one-on-one support with me in a less intimidating environment than whole-class instruction.
Students gravitated toward choice board assignments that were multiple-choice style practice over more authentic types of activities. A maximum limit needed to be placed on how many multiple-choice style assignments students could complete and a minimum on the authentic types of assignments to help with this issue. I found the grading aspect of this a bit challenging. To grade the assignments within the choice board, for each topic students leave private messages in Google Classroom indicating which assignment they chose to complete. I think a better system would entail creating the assignment and then marking students exempt in the grade book for assignments they chose not to complete. It’s hard to manage the variety of assignments happening at one time. The review function of Google Classroom was particularly helpful to keep me aware of what students worked on each day. In addition, GoGuardian enabled me to monitor student work and progress throughout the class.
Figure 2: Examples of manufactured products that could be chosen as part of the culminating project
For the culmination project, students selected a product like one shown in figure 2 above and created a poster to be presented to the class. Students included scientific and technical details discovered while answering a series of prompts listed below.
- Identify the problem the product solves. How is this important to solve societal or personal problems?
Identify the molecular structure of the substance that is important to the functionality of the chosen material.
Create a molecular model of your substance (use a Lewis Dot Diagram).
On your model, show the electrostatic and intermolecular forces between surfaces that demonstrates how the substance interacts with the environment to solve the problem.
Use the provided graphic organizer to connect observable features of the structure and function of the designed material.
After the presentations, explain why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of a designed material.
During the culmination project presentations it was fun to watch the students find the value of chemistry in their everyday lives. This was adapted from Paul Anderson’s Wonder of Science website. It was initially challenging to review all of the chemistry involved in their presentation prior to them presenting. One finding was that even if students achieved mastery on multiple-choice style practice questions on a particular topic they still struggled to explain the concepts at times during project presentations. At the end of the project, students provided a reflection on their own strengths and weaknesses through the process as well as provided constructive feedback on their peers' presentations. Special thanks to my director Jill Johanson (Twitter: @MsJJohanson) and Heidi Hayes Jacobs (Twitter @HeidiHayesJacob) for their professional development and encouragement in supporting self-paced student choice in the classroom.