Saturday, September 29, 2012

Creating the Chemistry Course of My Dreams

Popping popcorn for the first lab.
Everyone knows that a good experiment only has one variable that changes at a time.  How can you possibly know how a change has affected the system if you make more than one variation?  Well... this year, my Honors Chemistry curriculum is definitely not a controlled experiment because I have made three big changes to my teaching this year. 

Using Bunsen burners the first week of class!
The first big change was the decision not to use a text book.  Don, my co-teacher for the Honors course, and I came to the realization that our text book choices over the past several years were not meeting our needs.  And, more importantly, the book felt like a ball and chain dragging us down paths that we didn't want to go.  I felt a certain obligation to make the book part of the class because I asked my students to shell out their own money to buy it (and science text books are not cheap).  Even with our last choice of an on-line/electronic book, I felt frustrated by the resource rather than supported by it.  So we took the leap of faith and decided to scrap the book all together.  So far I haven't missed it at all.  I have plenty of on-line resources that I use along with my own stuff that I give the kids electronically.

Lab is the heart of my new course.
The absence of the book opened the door for us to create the "Chemistry Course of My Dreams".  Don and I spent time over the summer crafting a chemistry course that would fit the needs of our Honors students, draw on the things we liked from previous years, and incorporate some new ideas that we have wanted to try but couldn't figure out how to fit in with the book.  The back-bone of our course, and the starting point for our design, is the lab program.  We decided to create a progression of labs that would lead the students towards an understanding of the composition of matter.  The content needed to support the labs would fill in the "meat" on the bones of our course. 

They are so happy to have un-burnt popcorn!
The next big leap of faith was the decision to use the flipped classroom model to teach the class.  When I found the flipped classroom idea, it all fell into place for me.  It was a natural progression for me because we can use the video resources to teach the content that the students will apply in the lab work.  I feel that the flipped classroom is a perfect blend of lab experiences and content that is delivered when it is needed. 

So here I am, three weeks into the new school year.  I am very happy with the changes we have made to the Honors Chemistry Curriculum.  I'm so relieved not to have the pressure of covering chapters in the book.  That first decision we made to get rid of the book has opened up a whole new set of possibilities for my students.
Chemistry teacher selfy.  Way cool for me, not so much for Jack!

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