Monthly Archives: September 2011

A few weeks in with the Flipped Chemistry Class

Time is really hard to find right now, so I haven’t been blogging as much as I had hoped. But I wanted to post a few thoughts, because I use the blog as a way to reflect on my teaching and think a bit more clearly (or not so clearly) about how things are working out.

Tomorrow my Standard Level students have a test. I’m really curious how their performance will be. The first unit is about atomic structure and I delivered most of the content using videos as homework. I also threw in an in-class demonstration about the difference between a continuous spectrum and a line spectrum and how the hydrogen spectrum provides evidence for energy levels for the electrons in an atom. The in-class discussion/demonstration was pretty good, although in previous years I would have done it as part of a lecture. I ended up with a day to review in class on Monday, which included some practice questions we discussed as a class and some typical homework-type questions they worked on individually/in groups. I walked around and helped students that needed/asked for the help. This is the area that I still struggle with…helping kids that don’t ask for my help. I have always believed that students should advocate for themselves if they don’t understand something. However, I am thinking even more that I need to check in with my students every day (one of the advantages of the flipped model, in my opinion) regardless of whether they are asking me for help or not.

For my Higher Level class, I really pushed my own boundaries and tried something new. I used the videos to deliver the Standard Level content, but to introduce them to the Higher Level content (ionization energies as evidence for electron energy levels and sub-levels, along with orbitals and electron configuration) I did something I’ve never done before. I gave my students the first ionization energies of the first 36 elements. (See the graph below if you’re interested in the science.) I graphed the data on laptop to show them, while they each graphed the data on their own computers. This gave them some experience with Excel and also allowed us to see the data on the projector while they got a close-up look on their own. I then asked them to look for patterns and how the graph below related to the organization of the periodic table. The studetns had already been introduced to simple electron arrangements (e.g. Na: 2, 8, 1) and I wanted them to take their understanding to a deeper level.

Graph of the Ionization Energies of the First 36 Elements


With a lot of discussion, I think a number of the students really started to see the patterns, although I don’t think it was until the next day when we started doing full electron configurations that they really saw the connection between the periodic table and the organization of electrons.

The next graph we looked at was the first 10 successive ionization energies for magnesium. (See below.) With this graph, I asked students to relate the position of magnesium on the periodic table to the position of the first large jump in ionization energies. Then we made the graph for aluminum and noticed the large jump happens after the third electron. With silicon, the large jump happens after the fourth electron, and so on. (See the data table below the graph. I highlighted where the first large jump happened.) I definitely feel that some of the students really started to make sense of the patterns. And that was my goal…to allow students to make their own connections – even if they struggled mightily at first – rather than me simply attempting to pour knowledge into their brains.

First 10 Successive Ionization Energies for Magnesium


Data Table of the Ionization Energies for the 3rd Period



I didn’t make any attempt to create ‘proper’ graphs with titles, accurately labeled axes, etc. I focused only on the patterns. I told one of my coworkers it was the most fun I’d ever had teaching this topic. And I’ve been teaching it (the same old way…) for many years. It felt really good to try something new. I don’t think the flipped class model is the only way to utilize discussion and force the kids to make their own connections, but I’ve tried to use the flipped model as a springboard to better teaching. I don’t want it to be the same, only different. I’m not there yet, but after this lesson I think I’m making progress.

Until next time.


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