Wednesday, April 15, 2015

NEACT March Meeting

Graph of pressure vs. volume data collected at the workshop.
The March meeting of the New England Association of Chemistry Teachers was a great introduction to the use of modeling in a chemistry classroom.  We had two knowledgable presenters, Sue Kelmmer from Camden Hills Regional High School and Tom Pfeiffer from Bellow Free Academy, who gave us two different sides of the modeling story.

I LOVE these giant white boards.  Each lab table had one in the middle.
Sue started off the morning with a presentation about using particle diagrams to tackle student misconceptions in science class.  She opened the discussion with a modeling probe she used in her classes:  cutting copper probe.  

Consider a length of pure copper wire.  Cut the wire in half and throw away one of the two shorter wires.  Now take the remaining piece of wire and cut that in half, and throw away one piece.  Continue in the same way , each time cutting half of the remaining wire.  Will this process come to an end?  Explain your answer with a diagram.

Each lab table was equipped with large white boards, so we jumped right into the solution for this prompt.  The discussion at my table centered around when (and if) the kids take the diagram from the macroscopic to the atomic/particle level.  Sue presented several diagrams her students had generated from this prompt, which clearly illustrated the range of thinking in her classes and the "ah ha" moments that happened when students took the solution to the atomic and subatomic level.

Sue gave us plenty of great examples demonstrating how and when she incorporates particle diagrams into the curriculum.  She shared some of her favorite resources with the group.  Her "go to" book for formative assessment probes is Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, Volume 1:  25 Formative Assessment Probes by Page Keeley.

Sue Klemmer and Tom Pfeiffer presented their modeling work at the March NEACT meeting.
The second half of the morning was dedicated to a modeling activity of the gas laws.  Tom gave us a brief overview of the modeling learning cycle, which is very different than the particle diagram models you imagine when the word is used.  The modeling technique is popular in both physics and chemistry; you can read more about the technique at the American Modeling Teachers Association website.  Tom is an instructor for the chemistry modeling workshops this summer in Mass. and CT.  The modeling approach involves student exploration of a system, and then the application of the system to solve a problem.  In our case, we conducted three quick experiments to explore the relationships between pressure, volume, temperature, and moles of gas.  We set up each experiment with a Vernier probe and hand held LabQuest device.  These handy devices make for very quick and accurate results.  Tom asked us to plot our group data on the giant white boards; I was happy to use mine again!  The final part of the workshop was reporting our results to the group and discussing the application of the relationships we learned.  Here's where the years of experience in the classroom really became evident as we listened to an interesting discussion about blending the modeling techniques with the particle diagrams.  This one-hour hands-on session made me very interested in signing up for one of the summer courses to learn more about using modeling in the chemistry classroom.  You can find the list of summer workshops here  AMTA Summer Workshops 2015.

Thanks to Tom, Sue, Sawn, Mel, and Mary for hosting this fun and inspiring morning.  I love getting together with fellow chemistry teachers to share ideas and get a boost of excitement about our craft.  At the tail end of a very long and snowy winter, I was very happy to make some new friends and talk science on a Saturday morning.

The next meeting is on May 2nd.  The description of the program from the website:

Join us on the beautiful Regis College campus in Weston, MA to share and comment on your experience with online sources for chemistry education and flipping the chemistry classroom.

I hope that I can clear my calendar to go to this one!  This might be a good distraction for me on the day before I run the Providence Marathon.
Big thanks to Shawn Kenner who coordinated the event.

Mel Govindan is the president-elect of NEACT

Mary Christian-Madden is the current president of NEACT.


  1. The New England Association of Chemistry Teachers gave the wonderful introduction about use of modeling in chemistry. It was just a fantastic and educative meeting. I was also present in this conference room. Loved the concept!