Lauren Stewart's blog

Some Like it Hot

In my class, I use the illustration of a mountain to help students push through the challenges of chemistry. Stoichiometry is the top of chemistry mountain. As we progress through the year, I say things like “the mountain is getting steep here!” or “there is not a lot of oxygen up here!” or “I will carry you up chemistry mountain if I have to!” to keep students motivated. When students finally get to the top of chemistry mountain (mid quarter 3), the air is thin, they are tired and they are ready to base jump off the mountain (see illustration from a former student below).

What do you know about your students?

As teachers, we all know that our job extends far beyond the content we are required to deliver. We are educators, mentors, coaches, parents and more. It is important for us to find ways to wear all of these hats without burning out. I have learned many great strategies that certainly helped re-energize me as a teacher but there was one strategy in particular that I could not get out of my head.

Reflections from a Paperless Classroom

Like many schools, this year my school went 1:1. Each of our students was issued an 11 inch Chromebook with a webcam. Our upperclassmen have the the older Samsung models with a front-facing webcam and our underclassmen have the new Lenovo N22/23 models with a flippable webcam. I am a “jump in head first” type of person so I decided to go completely paperless this year. Now that I am halfway through the year (and still paperless!), I wanted to share what has been working well for me and where the snags have been.

Practicums in Chemistry

The purpose of a lab practicum is to assess a student’s understanding of the content by completing a hands-on challenge. These assessments focus more on problem-solving skills than technique. 

Geometric Approach to Lewis Structures

If you look at any chemistry textbook, you will see Lewis structures introduced long before electronic and molecular geometries. This makes sense since you need Lewis structures to determine molecular geometry. Unfortunately, research has shown that students often do not recognize that the purpose of drawing Lewis structures is not to create the structure itself but to use it as tool to understand the properties of the molecule (Cooper, Grove, Underwood & Klymkowsky, 2010).

Coding in Chemistry

Computer coding has been getting a lot of attention with the Hour of Code movement and President Obama’s recent “Computer Science for All” initiative. Just like it is no longer solely the job of the English teacher to teach language and communication skills, it is no longer solely the job of the computer science teacher to teach programming skills.

Rethinking Stoichiometry

Stoichiometry is arguably one of the most difficult concepts for students to grasp in a general chemistry class. Stoichiometry requires students to synthesize their knowledge of moles, balanced equations and proportional reasoning to describe a process that is too small to see. Many times teachers default to an algorithmic approach to solving stoichiometry problems, which may prevent students from gaining a full conceptual understanding of the reaction they are describing.