Monday, September 19, 2016

I'm in Love with the Excel iPad App

A student works on the Excel iPad app to plot lab data.
That seems like an extreme position to take about a mobile app, but the Excel iPad app stole my heart this week. It was the third and final stop in my journey to plot lab data and generate a linear trendline. I'm probably not going to touch Google sheets or Numbers with my students for a while.

Last Tuesday I had my students do a two part density lab. I had three goals in mind when I planned this lab: learn how to take good measurements, use significant figures from lab data in a calculation, and make a calibration curve using a spreadsheet. The third part of this goal statement occupied most of my attention this week.

Google Sheets makes nice data charts, can do calculations, but no graphs. So annoying.

I started the first block of lab day the way I usually do: make a google sheet, rename it, share it with your lab partner and me. I love the share feature in the Google products. The kids all loaded the Google Sheets app on their iPads before the lab, so what could go wrong? Everything was going along just fine until we realized that the moblie app for Sheets does not make graphs. What?! How could Google do this to me? Why make a spreadsheet if you can't generate a graph?!

Numbers allows for sharing in the new iOS-10, but no trendline for the graph. Grrrr.

My backup plan was to transfer the data to Numbers. This is an Apple product that is designed to work well with iPads and other Apple devices. And to my delight, the new iOS-10 update enabled a share feature in Numbers just like Google Sheets. Hurray, my problems were solved. The iOS-10 update started on Tuesday and took another day for everyone to complete, so we lost another day in the journey to good graphs. By Wednesday we were ready to transferthe data over to Numbers where the kids were able to share the spreadsheet with each other and with me. This was looking very promising. We plotted the data to generate an x-y scatter plot, hurray, but Numbers does not plot a trendline. Ugh. Why? The class ended without a full analysis of the data.

The Excel App allows for all the functions of a full spreadsheet program, but no sharing.

On day three of this lab analysis journey I asked my students to download the Excel app to their iPads and transfer their data into a third spreadsheet program. I begged for their patience with me as I learned what tools to use for the tasks have to accomplish. They were good sports about the transition to Excel, especially when they got very nice graphs with a trendline and an equation without much fuss. I am so grateful Hans Mundahl for making the YouTube video that saved the day. Graphing in Free Excel App for iPad with Trend Line & R Value (No Office 365 Subscription Needed!) His short video was the key to success with this excel app because he showed me the hidden trendline with equation graph format in the charts menu. With the fx format our graphs came out very nice. The Excel app is very much like the full program I use on my computer. Working on the app felt very comfortable and we were able to get the answers we wanted from our data analysis. My only complaint is that I can't use the share feature with Excel like I can with Sheets or Numbers. In the end I prefer the robust features available in Excel over Sheets and Numbers, and I'll just have to live without real-time sharing. Unfortunately, this story doesn't have a completely happy ending. I showed my students how to submit their Excel workbooks to iTunesU which seemed very easy and convenient. However, the graphs did not make journey unharmed. When I opened them up to grade their work using our iTunesU class, the graphs had turned into a sad mess. Every small step forward requires a lot of tinkering and sometimes includes steps backwards. The iPad transition continues...

Saturday, September 10, 2016

My First Week at Woodstock Academy

I love my new school! And take a look at my chemistry team! The picture says it all. Caroline and Mel are enthusiastic about everything and so much fun to be around. These two women have helped me with everything from finding the coffee to taking attendance. They have helped me figure out all those little things that you just know how to do at work, with a huge amount of patience and kindness.
The chemistry team at Woodstock Academy! 
I suggested that we do the classic copper and nitric acid demo on the first day as an exciting introduction to chemistry. Caroline jumped on the idea and decided to do it with her classes too. I've done this demo many times without a hitch, so we decided not to try it out before class. Doesn't this sound like the start of every failed demo story? 

We started the demo on the bench, just like I've always done before...
Caroline and I set the demo up on the lab bench for her A-block class first thing on the first day of school. We decided to do it together the first time through so she could learn how to do the demo. We got the apparatus set up and made the basic solution for bubbling of the brown gas. The first problem we noticed was that the reaction was going too slow. We had the wrong concentration of nitric acid. This demo requires concentrated nitric acid to work. I ran back to the acid cabinet and found the big bottle with the partially corroded label. "Let's try this one, it smoked when I took off the lid. It must be the right stuff."  Caroline added the concentrated to the reaction flask causing a vigorous reaction to start right away. Check, this is the strong stuff.

Right away I noticed a big problem: the brown gas started leaking out of the flask rather than bubbling through the solution in the graduated cylinder. We made the decision to relocate the whole thing to the fume hood. Working together, Caroline and I picked up the whole set-up and moved it to one of the hoods, where we conducted the reaction for the rest of the day.

We decided to move to the fume hood when the brown gas started leaking out of the flask.
We quickly realized that the tube was clogged. Caroline decided to prep another round bottom flask to run the demo again, meanwhile I cleaned out the tube. Note to self, check the tube next time! (This never happened before, so I didn't think to check the tube.) Our second run worked great and the kids were excited to see the penny react to form many beautiful colors. At the end of the day the three of us had a good long laugh about the crazy start to the day, and our total commitment to making the reaction work.

The view from inside the fume hood.
Taking a photo of the demo with iPad for the write-up.
Woodstock Academy is a one-to-one iPad school. Much of my week was spent figuring out how to do all the things I used to do during class with my computer from my new iPad. I made frequent visits to the tech office to tackle technology questions every day this first week. The guys in the office showed great patience with me as I worked through all the stages of the iPad transition. They were also extremely helpful with the adoption of my iBook this year. Getting the iBook ordered and on everyone's iPads turned out to be quite a journey. I learned all about the business office, the tech office, iBooks, Apple's ordering system, and more.

First Day selfie of my A block class.
The best part about my week was getting to know my students. These delightful young people are curious and eager to learn.
My D-block class, minus many of the international kids who arrived late.
My enthusiastic C-Block class, not shy even on day one.

I started the kids on a lab design activity on the first day. They jumped right into the first experiment in which they designed their own procedure to isolate and measure the mass percent of mixture of sand, salt, and water.

We jumped right into a group activity to design an original experiment.
Before we started doing lab work the kids went on a lab equipment scavenger hunt. They had to go through the lab looking in drawers and cabinets to find lab items they will use this year. It was a hunt for me too because this was the first time I had a minute to look around the lab myself. I couldn't give them much help finding things because I was still learning the locations myself. In the first block no one could find the first aid kit. By the third block of the day of the scavenger hunt we located it in the cabinet by the door. B-block had a good laugh when we found the faux cabinets at the top of the lab that don't open. No chance I could use them anyway because they are way too high to be useful to a short person like me. Several times I exclaimed things like, "Hey, we have a whole set of condensers." I was very excited to find a cabinet full of 1000 mL graduated cylinders, my favorite lab glassware.

Fake cabinets? We found these during the scavenger hunt.

It was a scavenger hunt for me too! This was my first look into most of the cabinets.
Separating and massing a mixture of sand, salt, and iron.
It felt good to get into the lab with my students on Wednesday this week. Being in the lab is where I do my best work with students. I enjoyed watching them work through the separation steps and consider the purity of their samples as they worked. We ran out of time for the last step so we put the salt water in the drying oven overnight. In the morning we were greeted by beautiful salt crystals. They were so gorgeous that some of my kids were inspired to enter the Nation Crystal Growing Competition that starts in October. (more to come about that later)

I couldn't resist a first lab day selfie.
Serious about evaporating off the water to recover his salt.

These beautiful salt crystals formed overnight in the drying oven.

I ended the week with a fun demonstration of the distillation of cherry coke. The result of the simple distillation also surprises the students. The strong smell of the cherry flavoring in the first fraction is impressive. This demo finished off our discussion of separation techniques and gave us a good platform for discussing physical properties.
Demonstrating distillation with cherry coke.
It took my several days to figure out how to get coffee.
Starting a new job is exhausting! I sighed with relief at the end of each day this week. I'm still figuring out the daily schedule, the layout of the building, and many other day-to-day things that everyone else knows. It took me until Wednesday to find the Keurig machine in the faculty room. But just as I was celebrating this small victory, I discovered that the machine doesn't work. I was on the verge of giving up on coffee altogether for that day, but Mel and Caroline encouraged me to go down to the cafeteria to use the good Keurig. Getting that cup of coffee felt like a huge accomplishment on Wednesday morning. Friday afternoon came and I was completely spent from the four-day work week. When I got home my dear husband asked me out for dinner to try a new place in town. Much to my delight, three of my adorable new chemistry students were working at the restaurant. It feels good to be more integrated into the community with this new teaching position. After a good nights sleep and a morning with my spinning guild, I feel refreshed and ready to jump into week two.

This interesting mushroom family was growing right by the parking lot exit.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

NEACT Summer Conference August 8-11

New England Association of Chemistry Teachers
77th Summer Conference

Chemistry, Naturally!

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts North Adams, MA
August 8-11, 2016 

*Go to to register for the conference.

General Information:
  •   For driving directions to MCLA, 375 Church Street, North Adams, MA 01247, please go to:
  •   All general sessions will be held in the Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation Auditorium (FCSI; #26 on map). Laboratory workshops will be in FCSI Chemistry Lab 301/309 and other workshops will be in Bowman Hall classrooms 204, 206, and 208 (#1 on the map).
  •   Those who are seeking Professional Development Points (PDP) or Contact Hours should complete the required form at the time of Registration or during the conference. Dr. Donna Trainor is our new Contact Hours/PDP Chair and she can be contacted via e-mail:
  •   Accommodations will be in Hoosac Hall (#10 on map) and most places on campus are a short walk away.
  •   Parking is permitted only in those lots designated as “Resident Student” parking.
  •   On Tuesday evening, August 9, you have an opportunity to attend the Williamstown Theater Festival. This
    theater often features well-known actors and is affiliated with the Drama Department of Williams College. The featured play on August 9 is AN AMERICAN DAUGHTER by Wendy Wasserstein Directed by Evan Cabnet, featuring Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Grace Gummer, Roe Hartrampf, Stephen Sunken, Carson Meyer, Darren Pettie, Richard Poe, Will Pullen, Deborah Rush, Kate Walsh. Grace Gummer is the daughter of Meryl Streep. Attendance is optional. If would like to reserve tickets, we ask you to call the box office (Tel: 413-597-3383) or reserve on-line as soon as possible since there are limited seats remaining. The cost is $40-68 per person depending on seating. Tickets will not be available from NEACT.
  •   A trip to Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MOCA), one of the largest such museums in the country, is planned for Wednesday.
  •   Also planned is a trip to Clark Museum on Thursday, August 11th. There will be a guided tour with the education specialist. Visit the footpath to view the installation of the huge outdoor sculpture “Crystal!!”
  •   Participants can purchase a combo package for several museums ($35) usable any day the museums are
    open (Clark, Williams, Rockwell, and Mass MOCA).
  •   All museums are closed on Mondays.

    1. 77th Summer Conference Committee
      Meledath Govindan, Chair
      Jerusha Vogel
      Mary C. Madden

      Kathy Siok, Registrar-Treasurer, Scholarships Donna Trainor, Contact Hours/PDP 
77th NEACT Summer Conference Schedule
Monday, Aug 8, 2016
Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation (FCSI) Auditorium is the site for all lecture presentations (# 26 on map)
10:00 am 12:00 pm
AM Registration
Lobby, Hoosac Hall (#10 on Map)
PM Registration in FCSI Lobby
9:00 am 12:00 pm
NEACT Executive Committee Meeting
Hoosac Hall, First Floor
12:00 - 1:00 pm
1:00 - 1:30 pm
Opening Remarks (FCSI Auditorium)
Dr. Meledath Govindan,
President of NEACT
Dr. Robert Harris, Chair, Department of Chemistry, Mass College of Liberal Arts Dr. Monica Joslin, Dean of Academic Affairs, Mass College of Liberal Arts
1:30 2:20 pm
Lecture Presentation: "Reflections on the Chemistry of Soap and Sauerkraut"
Sue Klemmer, Camden Hills Regional High School; NEACT, Northern Division Chair
2:20 3:10 pm
Lecture Presentation: “How WebAssign’s Analytics Can Help You Tailor Your Classroom Experience for Improved Success,”
Mark Santee, Vice President for Development and Marketing, WebAssign, Raleigh, NC
3:10 3:30 pm
3:30 5:00 pm
Workshop 1: FCSI 301
"Soap Making"
Sue Klemmer
Camden Hills Regional High School, Maine.
Workshop 2: B 204
“Design of interactive and dynamic videos for online courses and flipped classrooms”
Dr. Jayashree Ranga
Salem State University, Mass
Presentation: B 206
"Organic Chemistry Course at Billerica Memorial High School"
Esther Hines
Billerica HS, Mass.
Presentation: B208
“Chemistry of Champagne
Jason Bachand
University of Connecticut
5:30 7:00 pm
Dinner (Centennial Room Dining Hall in Amsler Campus Center #12)
7:00 8:30 pm
Lecture Presentation: "The Amazing Array of Secondary Metabolites in Plants An Introduction with Focus on Materials used for Medicinal Purposes "
Dr. Stefan Gafner, American Botanical Council, Austin, TX (FCSI Auditorium)
8:30 pm -
Welcome Social - Amsler Campus Center Patio (Murdock Hall Garden Level hallway in case of rain)
Tuesday, Aug 9
Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation (FCSI) Auditorium is the site for all lecture presentations
7:00 - 8:30 am
Breakfast (Centennial Room Dining Hall in Amsler Campus Center #12)
8:30 - 9:30 am
Lecture Presentation: "Cranberry Power: Compounds that Can Keep You Healthy"
Dr. Catherine A. Neto, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, MA
9:30 10:30 am
Lecture Presentation: "Medicinal Properties of Honey: How Sweet It Is!" Dr. Susan Meschwitz, Department of Chemistry, Salve Regina University, RI
10:30 11:00 am
11:00 - 12:00
Discussion Break
Lecture Presentation: "Microbial Natural Product Drug Leads from Host-microbe Symbioses"
Dr. Marcy J. Balunas, University of Connecticut, Storrs.
12:00 1:00 pm
1:00 - 2:45 pm
Workshop 3: FCSI 301 "Dye-sensitized Solar Cells"
Dr. Gonghu Li
University of New Hampshire
Workshop 4: B206 "Introducing Equilibrium with Ease, Simplicity, and Fun"
Mary C. Madden
Quinebaug Valley Comm. College, CT
Workshop 5: B208 "Redox Application: Metabolic Biochemistry Guided Inquiry Lessons"
Cheryl Lavoie Simmons College, MA
Field Trip:
Natural Bridge State Park
2:45 3:00 pm
3:00 5:00 pm
Workshop 6: B204 "Analyzing the Flavor Profile of White Wines"
Kathy Siok
Rhode Island College Steve Siok
Workshop 7: B206 "Green Chemistry: Innovative & Sustainable Materials Derived from Nature"
Kate Anderson
Beyond Benign, MA
Presentation: B208 "Using the Mystery of Matter Video Library in the Classroom"
Susan Klemmer
Camden Hills Regional High School , Maine. Steve Lyons
PBS Project Director
5:30 - 6:30 pm
Dinner (Centennial Room Dining Hall in Amsler Campus Center #12)
7:00 10:00 pm
Williamstown Theater (Ticket charge is extra)
Wednesday, Aug 10
Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation (FCSI) Auditorium is the site for all lecture presentations
Breakfast (Centennial Room Dining Hall in Amsler Campus Center #12)
8:30 9:30
Lecture Presentation: "Eureka! Key Moments in the History of Science" Dr. Rebecca Kinraide, Boston University
9:30 10:00
Lecture Presentation: "A History of NEACT 118 Years of Involvement in Chemical Education"
Dr. Meledath Govindan, Fitchburg State University, MA; President, NEACT
10:00 10:30
10:30 11:30
Lecture Presentation: "Ash trees (Fraxinus spp.) and invasive insect pest emerald ash borer (EAB): What did we learn in past fifteen years?"
Dr. Sourav Chakraborty, Central Connecticut State University, CT
Annual Meeting
1:00 2:00
Lecture Presentation: "Wasabi?... The role of glucosinolates in plant-insect resistance"
Dr. Erin Rehrig, Fitchburg State University, MA
Samantha Glaze-Corcoran, University of Massachusetts - Amherst
2 3:30
Workshop 8: B204
" Wasabi?...The Role of Glucosinolates in Plant Resistance against Insect Herbivory"
Dr. Erin Rehrig and Samantha Glaze-Corcoran
Workshop 9: FCSI 309 "Vial/Vile Organic: Synthesis of Banana Oil"
Dr. Steve Miller
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, MA
Field Trip:
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
Museum visits require payment for admission. Private cars will be used for transportation.
Sign up at registration
3:30 3:45
3:45 5:15
Workshop 10: FCSI 301 "Towards Understanding ‘Hot’ Food: A Thin-Layer Chromatographic Separation of Capsaicinoids from Food"
Dr. Sourav Chakraborty
Workshop 11: B206
"The Pizza Box Spectroscope Lab Project"
Sharon Geyer
Pomfret School, CT
5:45 6:00
Conference Photo
6:10 - 7:00
Pre-Banquet Reception: Cash Bar. Church Street Center Social Hall (#19 on Map)
7:00 - 8:00
Banquet (Pre-registration is required)
8:00 - 9:00
2016 Timm Award Presentation and Lecture: Dr. Mark M. Turnbull, Professor of Chemistry, Carlson School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Clark University, Worcester, MA
9:00 -
Informal gathering in Hoosac Hall after session
Thursday, Aug 11
Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation (FCSI) Auditorium is the site for all lecture presentations
(Centennial Room Dining Hall in Amsler Campus Center #12)
Checkout of Residence Halls
The Best of Biomolecule of the Week”
Dr. Robert Harris
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, MA
Discussion Break
“Chemistry of Curcumin and Its Biological Stability”
Dr. Goudong Zhang
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA
“Marijuana – The Wonder drug”
Dr. Mathangi Krishnamurthy
Fitchburg State University, MA
1:00 2:30
Workshop 12: FCSI 301 "Using Demonstrations as Review"
Jerusha Vogel
Greenwich High School, CT
Workshop 13: B204 "Do The Students Really Understand Chemistry Concepts? Some New Approaches to NGSS Implementation. "
Christopher Koutros, Nancy Curtin, Linda Schleicher Oliver Ames High School, MA
Field Trip:
Clark Art Institute
Museum visit includes a special guided tour
Museum visit requires payment for admission. Private cars will be used for transportation.
Sign up at registration 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

We’re Only Human…

Using a buret helped to minimize error in these standard solutions.
Experimental error is always a challenging concept to teach high school chemistry students. I can imagine what goes on in a student’s mind when they get to the section of the conclusion where they must discuss experimental errors. One student thinks, “Hmmmm, I might have done my calculations wrong, that must count as experimental error. After all, it’s an error and it relates to my experiment. Yes, I’ll write about that!” And another student ponders the meaning of life with this thought, “We all make mistakes, it’s just human nature. No one is perfect, so why should I expect my lab to come out right. Human error must be my most significant source of error in this lab. If I write that, then I’ve covered all the bases. Enough said.” And then there’s the classic, “I must have read the graduated cylinder wrong, which led to my final answer for number of moles to be off. That sounds scientific and we must have used a graduated cylinder at least once today.” These thoughts get translated into an error analysis that doesn’t actually say anything meaningful and sheds very little light on the quality of the experimental results.

The “human error” statement is one that has deep roots in our science students. I encounter it nearly every time I collect a set of lab reports, even after I tell them to NEVER write that meaningless phrase in their labs. Chemistry students just can’t seem to help themselves. It must feel so satisfying to write and somehow make them feel like they are being very thorough. When I bring this up at department meetings, my colleagues are as perplexed and annoyed by the “human error” phrase in lab reports as I am. The freshman teachers promise that they aren’t instructing their students to write it, and activity discourage it. I know that the effort I make to eradicated “human error” from lab reports does not completely worked. This week I was shocked to learn that even chemistry majors at Boston University write “human error” in their lab reports. Really?! Maybe they think that college professors are finally able to fully appreciate their philosophical approach to error analysis that is lost on their high school instructors. I’m sure that college professors must think that we are telling student to always include that phrase as a “catch all” for anything that they couldn’t think of at the time of their lab report writing. Let me make this clear to everyone: students just can’t give up on human error, no matter how many ways we tell them that it doesn’t work.

So what do I tell my students when they ask me, “If I can’t blame all my bad results on human error, then what should I write about in my error analysis?” The first place to look is the chemistry. I try to get my students to think through the chemical reaction/system for factors that might take away from the desired outcome. The tricky part about the error discussion is that high school labs usually work pretty well, we don’t have time for experiments that are duds. The next thing I tell them is to look at their data chart. I challenge them to think about things they did (or didn’t do) that would change the data they recorded in during the lab, beyond misreading the graduated cylinder. Ultimately, my goal is to get me students to think critically about their observations and make some decisions about the quality of their work without falling back on broad “hand waving” statements like human error.