Monthly Archives: October 2013

Simple changes, big impacts

My school had some in-house PD a few weeks ago and it focused on how to make our lessons more deliberately engaging. The scheme we discussed is GANAG, from the work of Jane E. Pollack (See link here for some ideas.) I’m not here to advocate for one version of lesson planning over another. I’ll even say that as a 20-year veteran, my lesson planning is often not as detailed as it was long ago when I was younger. But this was a nice refresher to make sure I am planning deliberate strategies to engage my students in the work of the day. One item that struck me is the “Goal Review” at the end. Lately I’ve done a poor job of wrapping up my classes with any sort of structured closure activity. So this week – now that we’re back to school after a holiday – I’ve focused on using a simple exit pass to gather some quick formative assessment data from my students.

For my grade 10 MYP chemistry class, we did a lab today about phase changes using lauric acid. The students – hopefully – will gain some understanding of the energy transfers involved in phase changes, along with a greater understanding of what is happening at the particle level. (On a quick aside, I’ve been inspired to work more on this particle-level model by the blogging of C. Kilbane – @CentralScience on Twitter, blog here. He shares a brief post each day, often with the work of his students and the diagrams he has them draw to show their understanding on the particle level.) Today I had my students answer the following on a piece of scratch paper as their exit pass, “On the piece of scratch paper provided, complete the following drawings, using water as the substance:   1.Particles in the solid phase.  2.Particles in the liquid phase.  3.Particles in the gas phase.” For most substances, their drawings would have been pretty good. However, for water there was a misconception present in quite a few responses. The response I’ve included below (graciously provided with permission from one of my students) is quite representative of most of the responses. The particles in the solid are quite orderly. In the liquid, the particles are less orderly – and spaced farther apart. Hmmm. In water, is that really true? Given that water is less dense as a solid, this is a misconception. And of course the particles are much farther apart for the gas phase. Given that many students had this misconception, I’m going to address it on Thursday when I see them again with the following opening prompt, “To access your prior knowledge about particles, answer each of the following:  1.create a working definition for density   2.Draw the particles for two substances A and B. Substance A has a higher density than substance B.”

I’m willing to predict that most students will know the relationship between particle arrangement and density – yet they didn’t apply that knowledge to water. So because of my quick adjustment to my lesson planning – being more deliberate with how I close the period – I caught a misconception and I get to address it right away next block. Sometimes it’s the little things.



One student's drawing. I chose this drawing (with the student's permission) as it was fairly representative of the students' responses.

One student’s drawing. I chose this drawing (with the student’s permission) as it was fairly representative of the students’ responses.



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Creating an MYP Science and DP Chemistry Comment Bank

My school has a focused professional growth and evaluation plan that involves a Personal Teaching Initiative (PTI). The PTI asks us to find some part of our practice that we’d like to improve. This year I chose feedback, as I’d like to improve not only how quickly I provide feedback but the quality of my feedback. And to add to the ‘high quality’ feedback discussion, I’m working on finding methods to actually engage students in my feedback so that it is used more effectively.

To that end I’m creating a comment bank for my MYP chemistry labs and for my DP chemistry labs. They will not be the same, as they are based on different criteria. There are two main reasons I’m creating the comment banks. First, I am trying to make marking more efficient so I can complete it quickly – yet still effectively. Second, I am hopeful that my comments in the comment bank will actually be more descriptive/explanatory, and thus of more value to the students.

Last weekend I marked a set of labs for my MYP chemistry class and created the comment bank as I went along. The comment bank can be found here. I simply added comments to the comment bank that were used multiple times within my class of 20. On the lab report of a particular student, the raw data table might say “E.1” for the comment. The student then goes to the comment bank (linked on my class website) and sees that E.1 means, “Uncertainty (or uncertainties) missing from raw data table.”  When I have time, I’d ideally like to add more detail (see the “second reason” above for my justification). For E.1 the extra detail might be a sample data table that actually has proper uncertainties. If you have feedback on the MYP comment bank, I’d love to hear it! And feel free to borrow the comment bank and make it your own.

Now for my DP comment bank, I’m interested in getting some feedback on actual comments to include. Therefore I’ve created a survey (linked here) for people to add to my comment bank. If you have a comment that you use repeatedly in marking your DP students’ work, please share it here. If you complete my survey, I ask at the end if you’d like me to email you a copy of the results. Once I am done (give it a few weeks or more), I’ll compile the comments – trying to condense the comments that are similar – into a new comment bank and share that with interested teachers. I am asking you to share your email in the survey. I will not use your email for any purpose other than to send you the results when I am finished. And I will not share your email with anybody else.

I plan on sharing my impressions of using the comment bank with my classes, along with a few of the strategies I’ve developed (or borrowed from others!) to engage students with my feedback.

Thanks for your help.

Until then, happy marking!


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