This summer I had the opportunity to attend my first Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE) in Greeley, Colorado. When I first expressed interest in this conference more than one fellow high school educator told me some version of, “Don’t bother with that. It’s a bunch of stuff for college professors, it won’t be of use to you.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. Yes, much of the programming is directed at a higher-education audience, but many of the workshops and symposia have something to offer for precollege educators and there is a very vibrant and continually growing strand of high-school specific programing.
high school chemistry
The August 2016 issue of the Journal of Chemical Education is now available online to subscribers. Topics featured in this issue include: blue bottle reaction revisited; precollege professional development; chemical education research on intermolecular interactions and bonding; integrated courses; activities involving kinetics, enzymes, and gases; nanomaterial & polymer laboratories; organic synthesis; NMR teaching resources; book recommendations for summer reading.
Who inspires you? Do you have a “chem teaching rockstar” whose work fires you up as you enter another school year? Is there an author whose work you consistently turn to for his or her insights into the chemistry classroom? Or maybe memories of a past teacher of yours?
I display and live a class motto in order to give a framework to the scientific intent of my community of learners. My particular motto is a quote from Freeman Dyson: "Science is an objective struggle between the precision of tools and the ambiguities of nature."
BCCE 2016 was an amazing couple of days. It is kind of like drinking from a fire hose. Here were some high points that you might find helpful. As one participant was heard saying, "It is kind of like rocket fuel for the school year."
A quick search on Amazon for a package of 144 ping pong balls and a trip to the arts and crafts store for paint, magnets, and glue and I was ready to start making my own class set of model kits.
I am a very firm believer that the world of physical science can be visualized and is an excellent medium for teaching students to model and to picture what happens at the molecular level. The first topic we decided to explore was balancing chemical equations. This seems like such a simple topic to chemistry teachers but I have found that it can be quite challenging for many of my inner city students. The first thing they ask me for is a list of rules that they can follow. We can discuss the problems of algorithmic teaching in a later post! For the time being let’s talk about how to get students to understand why they need to balance equations and discuss what we can call “Conservation of Atoms”.
One of my biggest struggles with students is to try to explain what happens when items, specific inorganic salts, dissolve in water. It might sound simple to me and you. Research shows that students have many real misconceptions when it comes to explaining inorganic salts dissolving in water. My own experience along with other teachers I know is that we are amazed and sometimes frustrated with trying to help students understand the simple process of dissolving, especially with ions. A key piece of equipment is a good conductivity tester. Just got done making a stack of them and can't wait to have students try them. But back to "dissolving"....
Exploration of Instrument Design and Performance
The July 2016 issue of the Journal of Chemical Education is now available online to subscribers. Topics featured in this issue include: cost-effective instrumentation, including 3D printed instruments and low-cost spectroscopy; laboratory instrumentation and equipment; effective teaching assistants in chemistry; laboratory experiments; resources for teaching; puzzles and games to introduce the periodic table.
My students are bright and motivated. Most work hard and prepare for class and tests. They perform extremely well on district-wide tests and my own classroom tests. However, I see real weaknesses on cumulative assessments requiring high levels of application. My students simply do not retain the content knowledge. I want to restructure my course to exclude "unit tests" and include only cumulative assessments. I'll share my early ideas here, and I would love to hear your experiences.