Category Archives: Chemistry

New Blog Post at ChemEd X-Change: Review of Free iPad App “Chemical Detectives”

It’s been a slow few months for me, as I’ve been bogged down with school work. But I’m back on a bit of a writing schedule, so I hope to be more active this year.

ChemEd X-Change just published a blog post of mine about an iPad App (Chemical Detectives) that gives students an opportunity to practice identifying compounds using spectra (C-13 NMR, proton NMR, Mass Spec and IR, along with percent composition data). It’s one of the best free iPad Apps I’ve ever seen, actually.

Check it out here.

Until next time, keep it #MintyFresh



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Filed under #EdTech, ChemEd X-Change, Chemistry, iPad Apps

New Post at ChemEd X-Change

I just published a new post at the ChemEd X-Change reflecting on a guest speaker I had visit my chemistry class recently. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience – and one I hope to replicate in future years.


Check it out:

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Filed under Blogging, ChemEd X-Change, Chemistry

An experiment with blogging in a grade 10 chemistry class (Part 1)

I just realized that I should discuss (although only briefly today, as I’ve got tests to mark and videos to make!) something new I’m trying this year with one of my chemistry classes: The class blog.

Find our chemistry class blog here:

I am the author of the posts, but I have a link to “Student Blogs” that will take you to the list of student blogs from the class. For now, I’ve only had them complete one formal blog post (but a few students have posted on their own). This first post relates to our reading of The Case of the Frozen Addicts (discussed here on ChemEdX) and is simply a summary of the first few chapters, questions inspired by the text and a response to the reading. I didn’t do any proof-reading, but overall I was very pleased with the outcome.

The second blog post is in the draft stages. For this one, I gave the students a bit more leeway to decide on their own topic. It’s expected to be about Frozen Addicts, but the format is more open. On my class blog I gave them an exemplar blog post just to give them some idea of what it could look like. In retrospect, before I started blogging with the students, I think I could have taken some time to have students look at other blogs out there to get some ideas on formatting and content. (To that end, two teachers that have inspired me to delve into blogging are part of my Twitter PLN. I’d like to give them a hat-tip here: @OChemPrep and @VirtualGardner. They’re good for a #FF recommendation and some great ideas.)

I will keep you posted as blog posts develop from the students. Thus far, it’s been a great experience that I only expect to get better.

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Filed under Blogging, Chemistry, Social Media

New Chem-Ed X Blog Post: Reading Non-Fiction in a Chemistry Class

I’ve got a new blog post up with Chem-Ed X about the book we’re reading in my grade 10 chemistry class, The Case of the Frozen Addicts. We’re reading about three chapters per week, and using our one-hour class on Wednesdays exclusively for work with the book. I have used this book a few times before but this is the first time I’ve focused on social media – specifically blogging and Twitter – to help students respond to the text.

If you’re interested in joining the discussion, we use #MT4P for the class hashtag and #FrozenAddicts for any tweet related to the book. The students have also started blogging – although we’re only one blog post into the project, with blog post number 2 currently in the works. If you’re interested in reading the blogs (and commenting too!) check out the “Student Blogs” page from our class blog.

I’ll be writing at least one – but likely two – more post for Chem-Ed X about the book, so check back for more. And let me know if you use any non-fiction books with your science classes. I’d love to know what learning activities you use.


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Filed under Chemistry, Literacy in Science

New blog post on ChemEd X

I just posted some thoughts on improving my teaching through showing my students the chemistr. My seniors are working on organic chemistry and we were learning the difference between reflux and distillation for oxidation of alcohols. My post discusses the use of a demo to help them understand the difference.

Check it out:

I’d love to get more ideas for ways to create more engaging lessons. What changes have you made to your teaching to become more engaging?

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Filed under Chemistry

A new place for my ideas

I might be slowing down a bit on my blogging here because of a new opportunity. I recently joined as a contributor to the ChemEd X-Change. ChemEd X serves as a bit of a clearinghouse for ideas related to the study and teaching of chemistry. It is focused mostly on the pre-college and 2-year college levels. As a high school – and IB – chemistry teacher, I’ve used this resource for a while to find ideas. I signed up for the email notifications of any new posts. These have included lab ideas, safety discussions and other issues related to the teaching of chemistry. It’s one of my go-to places for resources specific to chemistry.

The front page - and description - for the ChemEd X-Change.

The front page – and description – for the ChemEd X-Change.


In late December, I got contacted by Deanna Cullen about joining the team at ChemEdX as a contributor. Of course I was thrilled for this opportunity. My first post was published about a week ago and explains my route to the team and the role social media plays in my life as a teacher. You can find the post here: Social media brought me here.

I’ll be posting at ChemEd X on topics that are specific to chemistry – and my use of technology in my teaching. I’ll still likely post here occasionally about general topics, as I like to use this blog in a reflective capacity  – a task my ChemEd X contributions aren’t really suited for currently.


Until next time.


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Filed under Chemistry

My first attempt at whiteboarding…without the whiteboards

I’ve got a flurry of firsts going on here! I love it.

I’ve been inspired to go beyond my normal routine lately by quite a few of the members of my PLN on Twitter. Last week I tried a ‘modeling’ discussion with my MYP Chemistry class. This week I tried whiteboarding. This was, again, inspired by the folks doing modeling and sharing ideas on #modchem. There was only one catch: I don’t have whiteboards. Yet. So what’s a guy to do?

Ask his PLN for ideas!

I did that quite a while ago and @dragan39 suggested I use neon whiteboard markers on a lab table. The funny thing is they don’t erase very well from the white board. But with a damp paper towel, they erase just fine from the lab table.

For my DP chemistry class, we’re working on Topic 1, Quantitative Chemistry. Some of my students had me for pre-DP chem last year and have quite a bit of background. But others didn’t have that luxury, so I’ve gone full in for teaching everything just to make sure everybody has the same base of knowledge.

Last year for this I had the students watch a video for homework, then they worked – mostly independently – in class on the problems. That’s a good step in the right direction, as I got to spend quite a bit of time working my way around the room to help students. I still like the flipped model for DP classes where a lot of content coverage is necessary.

But I don’t just want to cover content. I want my students to really understand what they are working on in class. So after having students watch my video last night, today I had them get into groups and solve a quick mole mini-lab. They had a sample of aluminum (approximate mass = 14 grams) and a sample of zinc (approximate mass = 11 grams). They had to determine which sample had more atoms. I love this one (yes, for DP it’s quite simple, but it’s the beginning of the unit) because I can probe the students’ understanding of atomic structure as well. A group will show me their answer. My response, “So, you’re telling me that the sample of aluminum has LESS MASS than the sample of zinc, but it has MORE ATOMS? How?” That gets them to pause and consider the atomic structure again. And it gets them to really consider what the conversions mean as a method of problem solving.

After that problem, I had them clean up the lab benches and give them a good cleaning with a wet paper towel, then a quick dry. They grabbed some markers and I posted the first problem on the board. The students started writing. I wandered around the room, engaging each group in dialogue about their problem solving method. Once the students were done (if correct), I take a picture of their work. Later, I posted the pictures in a folder to the class SkyDrive folder. If the group wasn’t correct, I asked them questions about their work in hopes of driving them towards the right method and answer.

Students use neon markers and work in groups to solve problems.

Students use neon markers and work in groups to solve problems.

Once all of the groups were finished, I posted the next problem. At that point I asked the groups to switch who held the pen first. I encouraged them to work together, and to help the person with the pen if needed.

Rinse. Repeat.

Now for some reflection.

The good, in no particular order:

  • The students were TALKING chemistry and problem-solving during their work today.
  • Every student got to be in charge of the pen.
  • The students got to see a variety of problem-solving strategies.
  • In response to the question, “On a scale from 1-4 (4 is the highest), how useful was today’s activity to learn about mole calculations?” the average score from my two DP classes was 3.79. The mode was 4. The only other score was 3. So the students perceived that it was useful for their learning.
  • There was definitely some peer teaching going on.
  • For my closure activity, I asked students for feedback (and it was positive, as noted above). I also asked them a conceptual question, “Explain – at the particle level – why 1.0 mole of gold has more mass than 1.0 mole of silver, even though they both have the same number of atoms.” There were no incorrect answers given. No misconceptions written down. Granted, some students did more at the particle level, discussing the nucleus of gold atoms having more protons and neutrons – with more mass – than the nucleus of silver. But overall, the answers were quite strong. 

Things to improve/change, again in no particular order:

  • Occasionally – but not as drastically as I expected – there were delays for some groups while waiting for other groups to finish. I’m not sure how to deal with that yet. Thoughts?
  • I didn’t do any inter-group sharing. It just didn’t make sense to do that for today’s questions, and I wouldn’t do it differently for this activity. However, for other content I’d probably do more sharing between groups.
  • Next time – when doing a problem-solving and/or calculation-heavy activity, I’d like to include an actual calculation in my closure activity/exit pass so I can see how the individuals are doing. As mentioned above, I got some formative assessment data on the conceptual understanding, but I’d like to see each individual complete a calculation also. More data to use.
  • Some students wanted a chance to work the problems individually before the group work. This may come from my use of Learning Catalytics (see my blog post here about that) where students answer individually, followed by group discussion. I think the whiteboarding will be more useful for some things, but for reveiw Learnign Catalytics (a.k.a. peer instruction) will still hold some weight with me.

So where do I go from here? First, I need to order more neon white board pens! And I need to keep trying new ways to get my students talking chemistry within my class, and focusing on their understanding at the particle level. I’m having a lot of fun.

And I thank those that have inspired me! (There are too many to list, but teachers at my school that are willing to talk pedagogy, my PLN on twitter, #chemchat and #modchem, and so on.)

Until next time, keep it minty fresh!



Filed under #ModChem, Chemistry, Pedagogy