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.
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.
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!