Social Emotional Learning in the Chemistry Classroom

social, emotional learning in the chemistry classroom puzzle pieces

As a secondary science teacher, I have contact with my students everyday. Making relationships and learning about all of my students is key to letting them know that I am invested in their success.

It’s strange being on the opposite side of the fence as a parent and hearing my child describe her experience as a student in biology class. She is finding the course challenging but loves her teacher. When I ask her what is so great about the class, she says her teacher “likes me and never seems too preoccupied to talk to me about my life. ” I think as teachers sometimes we are so rushed and our energy is focused on preparing and grading and setting up a demonstration or lab activity that not enough time is spent slowing down to focus on the social and emotional aspects of the students we teach and being “present in the moment”.

A fews years back my school had a social emotional learning committee that generated activities and ideas for teachers to use in their classrooms. While some are obvious such as making time to ask the students what they plan to do over a vacation of how they are doing that day, one of my favorite activities for Fridays is called “highs and lows.” Students volunteer to share a high and low point of the week. It’s not necessary for all student to share. Often times I start and share my high or low for the week which sometimes involves school events. I have learned more about the happenings in my students lives and why they may be acting a certain way than with the traditional “how was your weekend?” or “did you do anything fun/interesting over the break?” conversations that I used to employ to learn about their lives. If the best part of their week was the weekend, most often they will share that. While the highs and lows take time to feel comfortable, once a routine is established, the kids will ask if we can end a class period by completing this exercise.

Certain classroom pedagogical practices lend themselves to social emotional learning in the chemistry classroom. One such practice is POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) where students are all given a role. By creating a group of three to four students to work as a team and creating responsibilities for each member that they are accountable for, individuals feel a part of the classroom culture and actively participate. The POGIL approach ensures students are not left out and all parties involved participate as they learn new information. Additionally students are evaluated on their process skills, including how they communicate and work as a group, developing social skills that will help them as they enter college and beyond that to the workforce.

The Mistake Game

Another strategy that allows for social and emotional development is whiteboarding. In this activity, the students use whiteboards to portray models to make their thinking visible. A colleague of mine introduced me to the “mistake game,” where students include intentional mistakes when drawing models their whiteboard. When sharing out their models other groups have to find the mistake. Sometimes mistakes that aren’t intentional arise and the groups learn to take constructive criticism. It creates a classroom culture where students learn it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. Another strategy used in whiteboarding could be to have the students provide positive feedback about classmates board during the presentation time. I have found the impact of a student praise on another students work seems to go further than me as the teacher emphasizing a job well done.

Finally, social and emotional development is important to make our students career ready. The skills in appropriate communication, being a good listener, having empathy and being supportive, providing insight into others point of view are “soft skills” that companies look for in hiring candidates. An article published in the Washington Post discussed these skills as being the qualities of its top employees at Google. While we can hope that our students will enjoy the chemistry content we teach, if they leave being more successful in the social and emotional aspects of their lives, we have done well for our students.


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Comments 2

Dan Meyers's picture
Dan Meyers | Mon, 03/19/2018 - 13:35

Thank you for sharing your experience. I appreciate your candidness. This is something that has been on my mind for awhile - figuring out better ways to connect with my students.

Michaela Bratsch | Fri, 05/18/2018 - 07:43

I already love the use of whiteboards in Chemistry (it does make making mistakes more acceptable), but I really love the idea of the student purposefully including mistakes. This is something I will definitely incoporate next year. Thanks for sharing!