Tackling Big Ideas

It was the empty terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach at 9:30 at night that really bothered me as I am wading through the stack of papers that I was grading. I had the students do experiments, worksheets, I lectured and there was homework. Some of the students could “do” what I thought was science. They could calculate the answer. They could balance the equation.

Representing Molecules

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.

Balancing Equations with Molecular Models

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”.

What is it a student should be able to do and explain? How do we find that out???

A perfect storm starts to form. We are on the concept of moles and I have some students who are struggling mathematically. It is a rough time of year to get kids excited. Many students are struggling with ACT and SAT prep and as a teacher, I am tired of test...test...test. Also, I had about two dozen 2 liter bottle "pre forms" that I needed to find something to do with.

Inquiry, "Sticky Water" and some great models...

 I just completed covering "ionic and covalent" bonding with my studenets. I wanted to bridge the gap to intermolecular forces. I found a great lab called "Sticky Water" from Target Inquiry - Grand Valley State.(link is external)  Before I continue, I have to provide "full disclosure". I spent three years with the Target Inquiry Program at Miami University Ohio (Project TIMU(link is external)). There is a lab called "Sticky Water" that was written  by a teacher in the Grand Valley State program. First, the activity focuses on just water, then ethane, then ethanol. 

Target Inquiry Activities

Are kids learning? Given the time it takes to implement and grade the activity, do I get a lot of "educational moments" out of it? Does it fit into the culture of the classroom? Is there a great deal of "conceptually rich" material in the activity that students can build on? I believe that two activities I tried this week fit the bill.

ELLs and Science Practices

In a , I shared my thoughts about the importance of science teachers (and all teachers, really) supporting their claims about lesson efficacy with evidence.  While this doesn’t always need to be a formal research study, it can often be valuable to publish findings that will be helpful to other science teachers.


Building Molar Mass

An advantage to teaching on the trimester schedule allows me the opportunity to teach the same course again roughly twelve weeks later. So after grading my 2nd trimester students’ Chemistry B final exams, I was able to evaluate certain topics that caused my students problems, reflect on my teaching, and then determine how I was going to better prepare my students in the 3rd trimester chemistry B class.