Thursday, October 27, 2016

Mole Day at Woodstock Academy

We had a grand time celebrating mole day in Chemistry Honors this fall. I am absolutely sure no one enjoyed the day more than I did. This was the first time I've actually taught the mole concept in time for mole day in many years. With the mole concept under our belts, there was no way I was going to miss another mole day celebration this year.

Mole day part one: the target mole day lab (thank you Flinn for the great idea, Chem Fax Publication 91660)

Mole Day Craft showing mole equivalencies
My students were challenged to use the mole concept to predict the final mass of a product from a chemical reaction. They started with a piece of zinc. With the help of 6M hydrochloric acid, they transformed their zinc into zinc chloride. This was the first time they have seen this reaction, but certainly not the last! They will use it again for a target gas law lab later in the term. This exothermic reaction produces a vigorous stream of hydrogen bubbles (we did not ignite the hydrogen this time...) that lets you know when the reaction is done. My students enjoyed watching the reaction and observing the heat produced. After the bubbling stopped, they placed their reaction mixtures on a hot plate to boil off the water, any excess acid, and leave behind only the zinc chloride. While this is all happening, they were busy determining the final mass of the beaker and the zinc chloride. The big moment came when they presented their beaker to me for the official weigh-in. If their prediction was within 0.20g of their final mass they got a prize from the coveted prize beaker. Many prizes were won that day.

Mole day part two: mole day craft

Student wearing her sunglasses prize while making a mole day craft.
After that, my students made a mole day craft to visually display all the mole equivalencies. I was inspired by a video a friend posted on Facebook of a similar craft project that featured a mouse as the cut away and random colors in the background. My mind went immediately to the mole concept and we now have a fun way to remember the mole road map.

Mole day finale: Flying moles (another great idea from Flinn, Chem Fax Publication 91749)

The finale for mole day was the Flying Moles demonstration. Once again, thanks to Flinn for sending out great ideas for mole day. This demonstration helped us end mole day with a bang!  In the jar I poured a small amount of water and then added few pellets of calcium carbide. The cute stuffed moles were attached to rubber stoppers that fit snuggly in the plastic jars. The chemical reaction produces acetylene gas, which we can ignited through the hole in the side of the jar. The moles took to the air with a dramatic bang and flash.
This little pink pig took flight today in honor of breast cancer awareness day.
The moles weren't the only critters who took a turn flying on mole day. In honor of Woodstock Academy's all school pink-out for breast cancer awareness day, we also showed the kids that pigs really do fly in chemistry class.

It was a really fun day of moles and chemical reactions, all in honor of our special chemistry unit. The Mole!
My partner in pink and mole day enthusiast.

Mole Day part three: extra credit mole creations

In the spirit of mole day, I decided to give my students the opportunity to earn a small bonus on their test by making a mole. I provided the mole pattern that I used, but I encouraged them to use their own ideas and designs. Several students produced fun and creative moles to add to my collection.

A fun concert poster loaded with mole puns.

Student mole day poster

Look closely at this poster for 6.02
Mole day creations
Three looks at the mole day craft project showing all the mole equivalencies.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Fresh Look at the Nuclear Model; NEACT Meeting Dec. 3rd

A Fresh Look at the Atomic Model
Saturday December 3r d , 2016 
9:00 am to 12:00pm
Woodstock Academy, Room 215 Woodstock, CT
Schedule for the Morning
8:30 Registration and Continental Breakfast
9:00 Welcoming Remarks and Introductions
9:15 Misconceptions about Quantum Concepts with Emily Allen Hoffman
10:45 Interactive Activities to Develop the Atomic Model with Caroline Chute and Mel Gronski 11:45 Wrap up and Closing remarks

Misconceptions about Quantum Concepts
Emily Allen Hoffman is a science educator primarily interested in student learning of abstract topics in the physical sciences. In the past she has done research examining the source of misconceptions about quantum concepts, as well as the development of self-paced curriculum for introductory science courses. Aside from researching, Dr. Allen Hoffman is an advocate for K-12 STEM education with experience teaching secondary science and working with Boston University’s Upward Bound program. In her free time, she enjoys being active (skiing, cycling, hiking, and soccer), painting, drawing, jewelry design, and travel.
2008 B.S. Trinity College (Physics)
2009 M.S. Yale University (Applied Physics) 2015 Eh.D Boston University (Science Education)

Interactive Activities to Develop the Atomic Model
Caroline Chute and Mel Gronski are master chemistry teachers at Woodstock Academy. They work collaboratively to design a student-centered chemistry curriculum for standard and advanced chemistry students. Caroline and Mel will share their three step approach to teaching the atomic model using a physical model, augmentation with technology, and analysis of evidence. Participants will get to try their hand at “Atomic Bowling”, explore a PhET simulation, and interpret evidence to support the nuclear model of the atom. Through this multifaceted approach, Caroline and Mel’s students have access to the atomic model concept through several learning modes, leading to a more complete understanding of the current model of the atom. Participants will leave the workshop with several ideas that they can implement in their classroom immediately.
The meeting will be held in the newly renovated chemistry lab at Woodstock Academy. Parking is located in the faculty lot behind the school.
Woodstock Academy, Room 215 57 Academy Road
Woodstock, CT 06281

Click Here for Google Map 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Student-Centered Learning in Chemistry Class at Woodstock Academy

Students working on their personalized periodic tables.

What does "student-centered" look like in chemistry class? In my class, students are facing each other and talking about chemistry. Not everyone faces the "front" of the classroom because the action happens all over the room, not just at the front board. Kids use the whole room to form different study groups or lab teams. I move around and sit amongst the small groups, or step aside altogether sometimes to get out of the way of the conversations. I'm continuing down the path of student-centered learning, but I am always looking for better ways to actively engage my students in the learning process.
Students working on an a lab to investigate ionic compounds.

I'm not a big fan of educational jargon or "boxes", so I hesitate to label myself. But you can use a few descriptors for my methods like blended learning, flipped classroom, or constructivist.  The beginning of the Flipped Classroom Experiment in the fall of 2012 opened my eyes to the possibilities of a student-centered classroom. By taking out the lecture, I freed myself (and my students) for more active learning opportunities during our class time. Students access the content on their own outside of class, at their own pace and using their preferred learning style. Gone are the days of waiting for a student to copy down my notes from the board.  I always hated that awkward pause as the slow student would try so hard to keep up with the notes. Especially because I knew that this student wasn't actually learning anything at that moment by copying my words.  However, if you use the definition of a flipped classroom, I'm not sure my class would fit. My teaching style goes beyond the classic idea of doing the homework in class and the lecture at home.
White board work is great for planning a lab or doing practice problems.

Technology is a vital part of my student-centered model. At Woodstock Academy the students all have an iPad to use for school. Easy access to class content is critical for my work in the student-centered classroom. I can post class activities on our iTunesU class that each student can download directly onto their device. With everything we do posted on the iTunesU course, the students can make good use of class time by transitioning from one activity to another at their own pace. Sometimes we work as a whole group, other times the students work with a partner or a small group. With all of my class content on the iTunesU course, my students have access to a everything from class whenever they need it. I'm really happy with the iPad in class. It's a fantastic tool to use for just about everything I've wanted: easy access to class activities, science lab simulations, videos, ALEKS work, and chemistry apps like the molar mass calculator.
These students are working on a POGIL activity in small groups.

The lab program is an obvious part of the student-centered model for chemistry class. Labs are the perfect opportunity for kids to get into the learning. I have tried to move my labs away from the "confirmation lab" model in which my students are trying to get the right answer. For example, a classic chemistry lab determining the value of the ideal gas constant (R). What teenager cares about that number, you can look it up on line in every possible combination of units. Instead, I like to do labs that have a real-world application and a unique answer. Instead of deriving the value of R experimentally, I ask my students to use the gas laws to design an airbag. Even something as simple as density can be used to answer an interesting question. I like to have my students create a calibration curve for the density of known sugar solutions so they can determine the sugar content in a drink.
Growing alum crystals for the US Crystal Growing Competition.

White-boarding is also a critical part of my classroom model. I believe in the benefit of white board activities for practice and review. I love the formative assessment opportunities that I get from the white board. Students can work at their own pace and I have time to conference with individuals who have questions. The iPad is a great tool for my white boarding activities because I can post a list of problems for the class for self-paced problem solving. Once again, I have figured out how to remove myself from the center of the activity, giving ownership to my students and freeing my time to work one-on-one with my students.
My colleague and partner in Friday Fun, Caroline, also uses a student-centered approach.

This year I have added in an extra element of fun into my classes. In addition to all of my favorite labs and demos that I do with my students, I have decided to add in Friday Fun to my regular weekly program. Friday Fun is a nice way for me to pull out demos or activities that may not "fit" in the content of the course, but provide an interesting and entertaining look at science principles. My hope is that I will also turn this over to my students at some point during the year. I have asked for suggestions for Friday Fun from all of my classes. Slowly they are starting to come up with some ideas and suggestions. I hope we aren't far away from students showing the class something cool they found on the internet and setting it up in the lab.
Student-centered learning is not always the first choice for these high achieving students.

An interesting wrinkle in the student-centered classroom is the response from the students. My honors students are not only used to a traditional classroom but also happily succeeding in the teacher-centered model. They don't always take to the change with enthusiasm. Even though these high achieving students are good at performing in a traditional classroom, I feel that they deserve the challenge and responsibility that comes with a  student-centered approach.