Archive for December 2008

Chemistry for all

12/22/2008

A guiding principle that I have is that chemistry is for all students.  So, I want to make my classroom as hospitable of an environment as possible.  In college, I developed an interest in women’s studies.   It happened in my freshman English course and resulted in taking some courses later on.  Last week when I came across an article from a 1999 issue of the Journal of Chemistry Education titled, “What is Feminist Pedagogy? Useful ideas for Teaching Chemistry,” (JCE, vol. 76, No. 4) I was more than intrigued.  As it turned out, this article was focused on developing a chemistry classroom in which everyone benefits.  Isn’t that what we are all trying to do?  Someof the useful ideas were:

  • bringing in student ideas
  • cooperative learning
  • de-emphasizing the role of the teacher as mentor
  • providing an environment where students can find a voice

These are also some of the guiding priciples behind POGIL.  The authors also suggested the developement of Problem Based Learning (PBL) as a successful approach.  By applying the ideas of inquiry into natural sceince, we not teach the national standards, but also benefit all students and especially those marginalized students.

From that same issue of JCE, I found another article relevent to this discussion.  “Improving Teaching and Learning Though Chemistry Education Research: A Look to the Future.”  This article suggests that “one reason why student’s find chemistry difficult is that in the laboratory, they make observations at the macroscopy level, but instructors expect them to interpret their findings at the mircoscopic level.  The author suggests a possible pattern for overcoming this problem.

For example, a common laboratory activity at the secondary level that students do not understand well is the electrolysis of water.  […]  Students could be asked to draw partile pictures of equal samples of the hydrogen and oxygen in the two test tubes and relate this to the volume of the two gases.  they could be asked to calculate the volume of water that would be decomposed to produce the volume of gases that they had collected, and then to compare their calculated volume of water to the difference in water volume of the system before and after electrolysis. (pg 549)

This step-by-step processing and going back and reviewing the data is the basis of POGIL.  In fact, both of these articles drive to the theory behind POGIL.  POGIL is a form of inquiry that allows students to communicate and become authorities within small groups while building up to the major conceptual ideas.  If you are unfamilar with POGIL, check out Pogil.org I will post more info about it as well as the material I will use in class next semester, after winter break.

Notes and Tests

12/21/2008

I found this post (My first rant – Copying notes from the board) from a history teacher who is having problems getting away from lecturing.  Not because of his own willingness, but his students.  I have found this to be true in my own class room. 

I have found if they know they are getting a practical assessment instead of a traditional assessment, they have less desire to take notes.  I still have some students who want to be spoon fed, but the majority begin to process the content.

Do you have this issue in your classroom and if so, how do you combat it?  Leave your comments!

Purpose

12/20/2008

The first part of a lab report is usually called the purpose.  So I thought I would start this site off by first citing my purpose.  I have loved chemistry since I first learned the elements in junior high.  I fell in love with the idea of discovering the unknown.  From that moment on, I have wanted to share my passion for this creative science with the world.  That is why I love teaching.  Everyday I get to spread my love for chemistry.

Lately, I have felt drained.  I feel that I HAVE to teach, as oppose to get to teach.  I felt the burden of preparing students for AP Chemistry as well as college.  But the beginning of this month, I attended the NSTA regional conference in Cincinnati.  My mind has been reawaken to my former passion.  More importantly, I learned that the educational theory I learned in college could be used in a chemistry classroom.  Now many of you may think me naive for not seeing that before.  You may even be wondering what I have been doing as a teacher before now.  Let me tell you, I have lectured, planned traditional labs, and handed out plenty of practice problems.  But I want to go beyond how I was taught chemistry.  My goal is to learn, utilize, and demonstrate for my fellow chemistry teachers, that good educational theory can be applied to the chemistry classroom. 

Now that I have delivered my testimonial about being “born again” as a teacher.  Let me give you some theory.  I do not want to just give opinion.  I am a researcher.  I do not form ideas without a sufficient input of data.  So, during this renesaunce period, I have been reading and writing, and reading some more.  The first article I came across is the first I want to share with you.  It is The Education and Training of Chemists Report of the Chemistry Education Advisory Board Published by the Royal Institute of Chemistry in January 1944.  Sixty-five years ago this report was written to explain how to deliver chemistry content to middle school, high school, and college students.  I want to share some excepts.

Up to the age of 15 (or 16) […] For such as pupil, an increase of “factual” scientific knowledge is less important than the development of intelligence, integrity of character, adaptability and the desire for more knowledge. (Pg 1)

I find it interesting that in 1944, it was recognized that desire for more knowledge is more important that scientific knowledge in middle school.  The biggest complaint I hear from teachers in the high school is that the students are unmotivated.  If I spend most of my time motivating students, then I am spending less time teaching content.  I will not go into a great depth about middle school education, but I greatly encourage you to read the entire article.  

Getting into the high school years, the article continues:

The kind of instruction in Natural Science, including chemistry, to be given to those who main interests are not scientific, will depend to some extent of the kind of instruction given in the pre-school certificate years […]  The course should have as one of its main purposes the appreciation of the values and uses of science, and should not be over burdened with detail.  To make such courses of instruction successful will certainly not be easy… (pg 5)

In the case of pupils who desire to specialise in Natural Science, the greater part of the school time must necessarily be devoted to instruction in science […]  In all such courses it is our view that less importance should be attached to the learning of facts and more to the development of the powers of observation and of inductive and deductive reasoning.  By such courses a pupil will be better prepared either for continuing his studies at the university, or for entering industry. (page 6)

I hope you are as shocked as I was to read this coming from 65 years ago.  I was taught that inquiry was the new approach to learning.  It was recommended that we lecture less and have more hands-on time in 1944.  But many of us, including myself, have not been doing this.  The article goes on, but my point has been made.

In the posts that follow I hope to show how inquiry can be effectively used in the secondary and post-secondary classrooms.  I will be experimenting with my own students throughout the spring semester and posting my results.  I hope that you will follow along and learn with me about this exciting “new” way to teach chemistry!