Proud to say that I have achieved the highest rubric mark "excellent" on all 16 areas of assessment in my first two modules of my specialist! Only 5 to go! :)
Today, two grade ten students (both of whom I've taught) spent their morning before school putting a sticky note on EVERY locker in the school with a little nice note for Valentine's Day. We have 1600 students at our school! So sweet!
Question: We invite you to explore current research on teaching chemistry using the following journals. Please select one article that interests you from either of these publications and summarize.
This article caught my eye since many of us have been discussing the benefits of applying inquiry-based chemistry labs in the past week. It is a case study conducted in Isreal looking at open-ended inquiry labs versus straightforward “recipe” type experiments.The researchers already knew that students benefited from labs, but they wanted to really find out what metacognitive skills were taught in the labs versus technical skills. They also mentioned that doing well in the lab involves good questions and often students do not know how to ask the right questions and test their hypotheses.
After about 15 similar experiments were performed by each class, the control group being step-by-step labs with room for data and questions relating to the results, and the experimental group being open-ended inquiry-based labs where students had more time to design experiments, all students were given a practical test – a simple experiment involving mixing two unknown powders with water, and placin thm in a bag, and recording observations. They were allowed at this point to choose a question for further investigation, and propose an experiment to support their hypothesis. Another evaluation was to read a scientific article and write down questions they would ask after reading this article, and pick one to investigate. The results from the practical test were that the experimental group students asked more questions in general, with many of them being higher-level questions than the control group. There was an equal amount of lower-level questions between the two groups. Results were similar in low-level questions after reading the article as well, but the number of higher-level questions asked in the experimental group was ten times the control group! These results indicate that if students have the chance to go through inquiry-based chemistry experiments over time and develop their critical thinking skills, they are able to ask higher-level thinking questions and learn more from their experiments.
Once again, we all know that doing labs is fun for the students, they get to work with others, actively-learn, and change up the routine. Many teachers (including myself) are still hesitant to implement many inquiry-based labs due to fear of student reaction, time constraints, lack of resources, and lack of where to start. Even if we can implement one per semester, or one per unit, all the planning time will definitely pay off for our students, and ultimately, ourselves for their accomplishments.
Hofstein, A., Navon, O., Kipnis, M., Mamlok-Naaman, R. (2005). Developing students’ ability to ask more and better questions resulting from inquiry-type chemistry laboratories. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(7), 791-806. doi: 10.1002/tea.20072
*Note that the journal includes the practical test question and references the article they used for the scientific reading – perhaps we can look to see what types of questions are students are asking as well?
Question: Write a one-paragraph account of how you could improve the teaching of your concept by drawing on suggestions from the above sources.
I used the PEEL database to search science in years 9-12, and using the principle “build a classroom environment that supports risk-taking.” I found an interesting article entitled “Challenge the right answer.” In this article, the teacher gave students a very basic skeleton of a note, that did not include errors, but did not give all the information students needed to know. It was about states of matter – solid, liquid, and gas, and particle motion. Based on what was given, students were encouraged to use the information to challenge the principles and ask questions, like “why doesn’t water leak out between the particles in a cup” to eventually come up with a better understanding of the states. This lesson would work for any intermediate science course, but best for grade nine science, when learning about the particle theory and states of matter, and then again in grade eleven chemistry, as an introduction to the course, as the various states of matter are examined throughout each unit.
This practice promotes risk taking, because often students are worried about challenging what a teacher says – thinking that they know all and that they will be made fun of for asking a question – they may think the question is stupid. Applied classes are the best for challenging the teacher – the students tend to not be as afraid to ask questions and some of the questions, although may be ones that we think they should know, are still asked, explained, and often further questioning ensues. Academic students do not always ask as many questions and are more shy when it comes to challenging what is being taught. Having students come up with questions against your teaching is another method – this can be done orally or written down and collected, and then reviewed. Teachers could also ask a few of these “confusing” questions to start to get other questions flowing. Whatever method, students should learn that it is okay to challenge the answers to questions or data. This method would also work with the principle “Promote exploratory, tentative and hypothetical talk.”
Another article entitled “Reach Consensus” is another way to promote risk-taking. Students work in groups to brainstorm and ultimately come up with a solution to a question or problem. Students must work together to come up with a consensus of the answer – it should not be a simple plug in and solve question, but one that they have not seen directly before, where they can use their background knowledge from the course and from personal experience to brainstorm ideas. This could be as simple as asking “why are we learning this concept” – they would put down multiple answers and decide on the best one as a group to present to the class. This encourages risk taking in a group and peer setting, rather than directed at the teacher. This activity could again work with the states of matter and particle theory, or any individual science lesson for that matter. I am going to try this activity as an introduction to the next grade ten science unit I start.
Learning Point Associates. (2004). Reach Consensus. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/educatrs/profdevl/pd2reach.htm. Accessed 9 February 2011
Peel Publications. (1995). Challenge the Right Answer. Learning from the PEEL Experience (pp. 229). Accessed 9 Febuary 2011
Question: State the Principle you have chosen and describe some of the existing conditions in schools (including what students are comfortable with) that would support or hinder your early efforts to work the Principle into your teaching.
I chose the principle “develop students' awareness of the big picture: how various activities fit together and link to the big ideas” as the focus of this paragraph. Many students are unaware of how lessons, units, and even how courses fit into their lives and how they fit together, and are often unmotivated to learn concepts because they don’t think they will ever need the information. We all know that there are some concepts that students may not use once out of school, but it is still important to teach curriculum expectations and hope that students develop scientific literacy skills to use later on in life. Looking to the big ideas and trying to teach not only the simple expectations, but the overall expectations and goals for the course really help students understand the importance of the concepts. It also sets expectations. Students know exactly what they need to learn, which helps them set goals for the end of each unit, and provide them a framework when it comes to studying for tests and other evaluations. Knowing the “big ideas” ourselves is important so we are teaching the concepts in the hopes of fulfilling those overall expectations.
In school, our department focuses on a “top down” approach for course preparation. We look to the overall expectations for each course and decide the most important concepts that the students will need for the following year. Our exam is tailored towards these concepts, along with our tests and individual lessons. Focus on certain expectations is given where necessary, where others do not need as much time spent in class. Being able to determine what is important should be a group activity, not an individual one. We also let the students know the big ideas for each unit, and students are aware of the expectations set out for them. The challenge comes to actually implementing the curriculum and having the students relate to the lessons set before them. It is true that standing at the front and “telling” students’ information day after day will hinder the concept of the “big idea” with the overwhelming number of concepts. I find starting each lesson with prior knowledge from the last lesson is a good way to link two concepts together, as well as looking to the next day to indicate what is to come and how the lessons work hand in hand. Within every lesson, there is a “so what?” component that sometimes occurs through discussion or an activity that allows students to take the material out of the classroom context and apply it to real life situations. Discussion really does work best because often times students have a hard time getting started with ideas about the material and linking concepts together, but with some guided questioning within a group setting, many more answers to the “so what?” question arise. As with lessons, each new unit starting is related to the previous one, and when units are complete, students and teacher look back to see what could be used ahead.
Question: What is your understanding of what chemistry is and how it developed to its present state? Pick a concept in chemistry, perhaps one that you still find challenging or that you have found is hard to teach (or learn). Use the Internet and any other sources you may have to explore the history of that concept and how it has developed and evolved over time. Please explore how the questions around this concept were influenced by cultural, political, economic and technological considerations. Prepare a brief summary of what you have learned about the historical development of the concept you selected.
Many of my students ask about the concept of absolute zero during discussion of the Kelvin temperature scale. They don’t understand why we can’t reach this temperature, but that we know it should exist. I do my best to explain to them as well I as understand, but I know that I need more information myself to teach them properly, and that I did not have that information ready. I always say that I’m going to look it up, but since teaching that concept is so short, I inevitably move on to the next topic and forget about it completely until the next year. I figured researching more about the concept of absolute zero for this post would be perfect!
Absolute zero is the slowest possible oscillation of a substance’s atoms and molecules. It is a theoretical temperature that has never actually been reached, but scientists have come close – to within one billionth of its value – 273.15°C, or zero Kelvin. Most of the imformation I learned about absolute zero came from a PBS documentary I found online called Absolute Zero which came out in January of 2008. There are various other online sources with definitions, physics labs, and discussion of current scientific work, but I found this documentary to have the most history of this concept and including ongoing research. It could be viewed during the grade eleven gases unit, or the grade twelve energy changes unit, but probably better just to show clips of it instead of the entire film.
The study of cold was not a major focus until the seventeeth century – scientists were much more interested in hot! During a very cold time in Earth’s history, in 1665 during the “Little Ice Age” when people were freezing and barely surviving, the spark in the interest in low temperatures began. This interest was led by questions from people all over the world wondering why it was so cold outside – it was society driven. Today we have heaters when freezing, but when being cold is a life or death situation, most people are much more concerned. Again, scientists were looking to heat, but there were a few alchemists, who were interested in cold, including Robert Boyle, which working with changing volumes of ice. He thought that cold was a substance that atoms absorbed, but after a series of experiments concluded that it wasn’t a substance, but something that happened to particles, like a form of motion. The limitations to any scientist’s study at that point was the lack of technology – there were no thermometers made and readily available that could accurately measure temperature. There were some made but none of them have the same scale – and so a problem of standardizaiton occurred, which is where the Farenheit and Celsius scale came from. Somewhat later in the beginning of the eighteeth century, Guillaume Amontons was working with volumes as well, and heating and cooling substances to see the effects. He noticed that cooling a substance decreased its pressure, and wondered what would happen if it just kept cooling. He could plot his pressure and temperature data and extrapolated it back to a zero pressure. He didn’t actually publish his work, but later scientists used his information to determine the value of -273°C – very close to our current value of absolute zero. This is what I can explain to students – how scientists figured out this number, but I don’t feel that this information is enough – what would happen if we could reach this temperature? There would be no pressure?
I looked into it further, and found that little research with absolute zero specifically took place after Amonton’s work until the mid nineteeth century. The reason for this lack of focus was because of Antoine Lavoisier’s ideas of heat being a substance, a weightless fluid called caloric, and because his past research was so successful and he had so much power, his theories were believed for a long time. This stop in true absolute zero research was due to political and social aspirings of one individual, with scientists too afraid to refute him. It took a long time before people believed that temperature is a measure of the movement of particles again. In the meantime, the economy took over as scientists focused on freezing substances, specifically creating ice, and keeping it cold for long periods of time. When this technology was discovered, there was a great demand and the focus of science was on making money with a new technology. Once Lord Kelvin and James Joule developed some of our current laws of thermodynamics, some research into reaching colder temperatures began, but it was still in effort to keep substances cold and develop technologies, rather than reaching theoretical values to see what would happen. The limitations also had to do with cost – it is expensive to find the lab equipment necessary to do the experiments needed to find these answers.
By the late nineteenth century, physicists had started to find the idea of getting to these low temperatures more fascinating, and started competing against one another. There were great cultural pride in being the one who could reach the lowest temperature, and although this escalated the research, the competition left little information known to anyone outside the laboratory. Scientists were not willing to help one another and so a lot of the same mistakes were made across Europe. Getting to such cold temperatures with such fragile equipment resulted in a lot of damage to apparatus, many missing eyes from flying high-pressure glass, and a lot of money used. Freezing the elements thought to be permanent gases, such as hydrogen and helium, became a challenge, and one by one, this was accomplished. There was still a lot of competition and results were based on who could get the most funding and support from people in powerful political and social positions.
Scientists reached temperatures within five degrees of absolute zero in 1908. Still they wanted to go lower, and as they did so, they discovered new properties of the elements. Scientists like Satyendra Bose and Albert Einstein found that elements seemed to be superconductive at extremely low temperatures, and acted as superfluids – ones acting as if they had zero viscosity. All the particles acted as a “team” instead of the individual – one big quantum system. Eventually they called these elements Bose-Einstein condensates, and research into these substances is the major focus of low temperature science today. The difference is that today many scientists are working together, collaborating, instead of hiding their information and the competition is still there, but used in a much more healthy way – to keep them motivated.
One major thing I took away from this documentary as well as many websites is that the concept is still foreign – it is in constant experiment even today, and we are learning more and more about it. This is important for students to know – our concepts about life and chemistry and things to have thought known for sure can change, and that’s why science is so important. One quote by Daniel Kleppner in the film said “there’s nothing else like that in physics and certainly not in human experience. So just to think about this causes me wonder and confusion.” This shows that even someone deeply involved in this research is still learning and doesn’t have all of the answers. Students also need to know that technology can limit a scientific process – from a more powerful computer all the way down to a simple thermometer. They need to know that sometimes making money overshadows the desire for pure knowledge in today’s society, and political and economic influences occurred from the start in 1665 to today that both inhibited and acted as a catalyst to this research. There is an important lesson in collaboration, and that although you may want a Nobel Prize for yourself, the results are much more rewarding when you can work together as a team and share your victory with the world.
I realize now that this is not as “brief” as a summary that the expectations for this assignment may have wanted, but I really got into this research and wanted to share my findings with everyone. Please know that you can find more information about the documentary based on this concept, along with other related documents and teacher guides at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/zero/.
1 Oldfield, M., Mitchinson, J. 13 January 2011. “Quite Interesting Facts about the Cold” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/qi/8258009/QI-Quite-interesting-facts-about-the-cold.html. Accessed 3 February 2011.
2 Dugan, D. (2007) Absolute Zero. [DVD]. Meridian Productions Inc. and Windfall Films Ltd.
Bardi, J. 10 February 2010. “American Institute of Physics announces the winners of the 2009 AIP Science Communication Awards”. American Institute of Physics. http://www.aip.org/press_release/aip_science_comm_award_09.html. Accessed 4 February 2011.
Goldader, J. April 2008. “Determining Absolute Zero Using a Tuning Fork”. The Baldwin School, Bryn Mawr, PA. American Association of Physics Teachers. http://tpt.aapt.org/resource/1/phteah/v46/i4/p206_s1?bypassSSO=1. Accessed 3 February 2011.
Knuuttila, T. 8 December 2000. “World Record in Low Temperatures.” http://ltl.tkk.fi/wiki/LTL/World_record_in_low_temperatures. Accessed 3 February 2011.
WGBH Educational Foundation. 1996-2008. “Nova – Absolute Zero.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/zero/. Accessed 4 February 2011.
Question: Prepare one paragraph in which you put forward one or two of the goals in your "Major" category about reasons for teaching chemistry and science and briefly elaborate a rationale supporting these goals in terms of value for students' learning.
One of the goals I, personally, placed in the “major” category for the importance of teaching chemistry was to give students the opportunity to experiment and think critically. Science, and chemistry specifically, lends itself quite well to hands-on activities where the outcome is unknown and often quite interesting. Students must first make hypotheses about what they believe will happen, thus activating prior knowledge, and then perform the experiment carefully to determine an outcome, following a procedure. They then are able to make changes, reflect to see what went well and what could have been improved, and extend their knowledge from the experiment to understand why it is important in the greater world. These skills work for simple day to day activities such as following a recipe and doing homework all the way up to making big life decisions, and changing these decisions a million more times before it’s right. As adults, students will have to experiment in any job to see what works, perhaps in a less formal setting, and will have to make decisions that could affect a large number of people. Guiding students to these skills will enable them to use them continuously throughout life.
I think society as a whole thinks learning science is most important for technological advancement and product development. Where would we be without all the medical and pharmaceutical advancement, among other things, without chemistry and science? I feel that if I asked a classroom full of students why science is important, a lot of their answers would center around the creation of new things or understanding past events. These are important skills for students as well and if even one of my students can further develop a past scientific theory or create something life-altering in the future, I would not be more proud! Also, as “The Place of Science in the Curriculum” mentions, scientific literacy is important for everyone, so that they understand the world around them, regardless of career.
I mentioned that I wanted to post some of my thoughts and assignments on here to share with other educators. Here's the first of a few I had to do in the first module:
Question: Please prepare a paragraph in which you describe your own "default" teaching styles and the reasons why you think you use them. If you wish, please comment on (and challenge) the views expressed by Donald Finkel.
As I prepare for the new semester, starting later this week, this default teaching style question was on my mind as I stared at the photocopier, a big pile of notes in my hand, with worksheets to match. I was debating copying them, because doing that would most likely ensure I would use them – notes to fill in, discuss, and then worksheets to practice, day after day. Not that I don’t do other things, but these are my backup, my “just in case it’s a bad day”, my “I’m too tired to find an activity” fall-back routine. So yes, I would say my default style is mainly verbal and visual teaching. I did end up photocopying them, by the way, and now I feel sort of guilty about it.
Donald Finkel made a good point about “telling” as a common default teaching style; usually the reason for it occurring because it was how we, ourselves, were taught. It’s familiar, it can be simple, and the “majority” of students get it – but that is a risky word when we should be teaching to an entire classroom, and not just the majority.
Although I do agree that telling is easy, it’s not the only reason sometimes I am hesitant to have students teach a concept to themselves, or learn through an activity. It’s the reassurance that the information is on that page and they have the knowledge they need to pass tests, exams, etc. So many times I hear “our teacher last year didn’t teach us this”, and I roll my eyes and tell them they probably forgot it. Never could MY students say that, because I could shout back “yes, you did learn it – it was on page two of that section in that unit” – and feel better. But what I’m realizing now is that some of those notes may be as useless to certain students as if I hadn’t taught the concept to them at all, because it didn’t register, didn’t make an impact, and they never bothered to look at it again. So quick are we to hold students accountable without looking to ourselves to see what we are doing to ensure they are actually LEARNING versus just me TELLING them the information.
Now once again I say that I don’t just tell them everything and leave it at that. There are lots of group activities, labs, self-teaching, and online components to my courses, but I feel that they main information lies in simple notes and worksheets. These are still important, because we do have to ensure they have some background information, but I am really attempting to branch out with each new year and try things outside my comfort zone and hope that the students still get something out of the activities that they will remember - the more meaningful and related to real life outside of high school, the better. I also try to remind myself that I don’t simply have to evaluate their knowledge through tests – that they can do these activities and active learning and I can evaluate their knowledge in many other ways.
I’m also trying to do some teaching in what I sometimes think of as “backwards” order. So often in mathematical based science, all the problems are done step by step, over and over, until the students know the formulas and routines inside and out. I would like to do a bit more analysis and “big idea” discovery, and work my way down towards how best to solve a problem. This would help a lot of the global and intuitive learners and not just the sensing and sequential ones. Having the students involved in a discussion and developing these skills together would probably have a greater impact on why the calculations are important, as opposed to me just telling them to memorize it all.
The past few years I have been trying to take even just one lesson from each strand and do it differently then I usually have, and over time, I will have an abundance of “outside the box” resources at my disposal. Hopefully I’ll get some ideas from this course as well!
Just a quick post about my new classes this semester, which started February 3rd. First period I have a grade 11 university chemistry class - I have taught half of them already and they are a really great class. There is only 17 of them so it's a really small and well behaved class - I'm looking forward to teaching them all the chem stuff I have to review myself! More challenging than grade 10 material and I like it. I did electron configuration yesterday - oh yes my science friends - remember all that s, p, d orbital stuff? Lovely!
My second period is another story altogether. Grade 10 applied science. I taught this last year first semester and I don't remember it being this rough. The students were harder to motivate but ultimately they worked pretty well. My class is challenging - a lot of different levels of abilities and very hard to focus. Plus a lot of clowns thrown in makes it difficult to keep the class under control - *sigh* - they are definitely going to be my challenge this year. Hopefully I don't go crazy or worse, get grey hair!
My third period is grade 10 academic science. They seem like a pretty strong class right now - they are very hard working and I can tell right away who my weaker ones are, and make sure I am keeping an eye on them and helping them out.
I have last period prep, which I love, and so far the semester is pretty good. It's a lot more work with the chemistry prep, and the classroom management of the applieds, but not at all overwhelming compared to my specialist. One more assignment this weekend and then I'll be done the second module. I get a progress report to see how I'm doing this week, so I hope it's okay - I've been putting a lot of effort into it and if it says I suck, I don't know how much more I can do without stopping sleep all together!
Oh hi, remember me? I have disappeared due to the sheer amount of work my specialist is demanding of me. Yes, I thought it would be easy BS work to fill my time over the next eleven weeks. I thought there would be a lot of work, perhaps, but it would be easy and a waste of time. Well - I was wrong. The format is online, with most of the assignments being posts to a forum on a topic, along with a "thinking log" to guide your thought process in preparation for the posts. I also have a respond to other people's posts. There are only 6 people in the class, so at least there is only so much to respond to. Marta is taking her bio specialist through Queen's as well (crazy lady who just had a baby 3 weeks ago is taking a course), and there are 20 people - many more posts to respond to!
Well the assignments are challenging. Not impossible, just a lot more depth of knowledge required, and of course, being a keener teacher type, I am probably going above and beyond the expectations. I don't know this for sure, because there is not a lot of detail to what they exactly what in the assigned posts, no rubric to follow, no checklist, no specific format. This is frustrating for me, because that's exactly what teachers are supposed to be providing to students. Maybe that's the point of this module, perhaps - I don't know. I know that I've been the first poster for most of the assignments, and others have followed my footsteps in the majority of cases.
This module is was supposed to take 9.5 hours from Jan 31-Feb 8. I spent 17 hours doing posts, responding to posts, researching, and writing in my thinking log. That's 2-3 hours per day on average, on top of my normal work after school including prepping for the new semester that just started on Thursday. The next one has to be done by the 15th, and I'm supposed to spend at least 10 hours on it.
Long story short - I have no time for life. I'll try to post about my assignments (because some were quite interesting) and my new classes, but they will be sparse. Key date? April 15th - all will be done! Wish me luck!