Archive for March, 2009

My Classroom and Chemistry
Photo credit - Laura Brophy

     These colors aren’t in rainbow order but they’re just as beautiful.  They are organized from lowest pH to highest pH (left to right) and were made using red cabbage juice indicator, vinegar, and ammonia on my classroom overhead.   It was one of my favorite demos – well right up there with the flaming metal halides that I did for my middle school students!

     It was a good week overall.   I worked with the special education co-teacher for an inclusion class to develop a lesson on the Chemistry of acid rain and its environmental impact – my city is at the epicenter of the most acidic rainfall in the country.  The co-teacher is a Social Studies teacher working in science classrooms so we merged our areas of expertise into learning about both the chemistry of acid rain and geopolitical issues that block efforts to improve the situation.   Monday, we will move onto exploring buffers and pH chemistry through a lab using “model lakes” to investigate the effect of lake bed composition on the relative effect of acid rain.

     One of the major priorities of my current and future practice is making sure students understand that chemistry is everywhere and everything.   Chemistry is not just on the wall of the classroom in the Periodic Table or in the classroom prep area in small bottles with neat labels – all the ingredients used in the above demonstration were bought at the grocery store.  It was a fun week!


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     I’m not feeling very innovative right now but I’m thinking a lot about color.  Tomorrow, I am starting a unit on acids and bases with a demonstration of indicators which should be very cool.   I’m supposed to be doing the final touches on making this unit innovative.    I’m stuck on some of the assessment pieces and the pacing of it.    I think I’ve been moving too fast without enough scaffolding and explicit instruction.

     Have I mentioned that my students didn’t do so well on their last test?   As far as they are concerned, having a student teacher is enough innovation.   If I do anything too unusual, the attendance numbers will probably take another steep nosedive which is why I’m also working on engagement and relevance.

     Two more weeks of student teaching and there is still so much to learn.   I know the learning takes years but I want to do a great job, right now, for these students.

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The Vernal Equinox

Happy First Day of Spring!

[Chives trying – stepping stones swept]

     You have to have a sense of humor to live on the North Coast of the US.   A brief but persistent snow squall overnight reminded me that the Vernal Equinox and Spring are not necessarily synonymous here.    I have long told my kids that Groundhog Day is a joke; where we live, you are going to have six more weeks of winter whether that pesky groundhog sees his shadow or not.   Perhaps I need to work a bit harder on that Shiny, Happy Person thing.

     Yesterday was science fair day – both at the school where I teach and at the school my children attend.   Both schools had some amazing projects and some so-so projects.  All the projects at large urban HS where where I teach were clearly done by students.   Some of the projects at my community’s school were clearly done by parents.   One of the science teachers told me a story about a student in tears because he couldn’t set up his project on time – his dad was at work finishing it.   Sigh.

     It’s been a good week at school.   There was a bit more conflict than I like, but with adolescents there always seem to be boundary skirmishes.  The week ended with an assessment of a long unit starting with water, a brief tour of moles, and then solutions.   I wish my students had done better;  I need to do some thinking and adjusting. 

     It’s odd not to be teaching on a Friday.  It’s a conference day but nobody could figure out how to register me or if I was included for this event.    I went in to school this morning to make sure that all grades were in for the end of the marking period but am spending the afternoon planning for next week and getting organized for the rest of the semester.   Science Friday is discussing Darwin’s work and there are sunbeams.   Life is good.

     Happy Vernal Equinox!   The light is changing swiftly.

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     This is where I spent my weekend.  Campus is beautiful but… it was over 50 degrees, sunny every day, and I missed the St. Patty’s Day parade.    I was in the library under the watchful gaze of statues designed to represent Industry, Geography, Astronomy, and Navigation.

     I wanted to highlight some of the comments directed at me last week:

  • “Would you please just tell us the answer?   We have no idea.”   [This in response to what I thought was questioning designed to engage them in wondering.]
  • “I will never, ever use this again in my life.”   [I responded with some real world examples and was met with raised eyebrows and disbelief.]
  • On Monday:   “Are you here again this week?   How much longer is this going to go on?”
  • On Friday:   “Is it really your last day?  I heard that all the student teachers are done today.”
  • On two occasions:  “I have no idea what you are talking about!”

     Actually, the last one is my favorite.   I really like that I get feedback all the time from my students.  Some of it could be stated better and all of it includes “Miss” at the beginning of it but I am trying to figure out what it all means.   On the one hand, I am grateful that they tell me that they don’t understand;  on the other hand, many of them are making it clear that they cannot wait until I am gone and my CT is teaching again.

    The students’ reactions to having a student teacher vary:

  • some are “on strike” and have neither done any labs nor turned any work in since I started.   One girl is turning in labs with just her name on it, nothing else.
  • some are very clear that they are biding their time until they get through this.   [see comments above.]
  • some are being quite rude and disrespectful – hoping to provoke a reaction.   My Cooperating Teacher says that I may have to throw one or two out of class to make a point – :::sigh::: he is probably right.
  • some, not many, respond positively.   One student told my CT that he should promote me.

     I really can’t tell if this is because I’m the worst teacher ever or what.   Both of my CT’s have been amazing teachers.   The teacher that students visit frequently for years after they have had the class.   Observations were great because I saw this connection happening and I saw some amazing teaching.   Is it possible to build a connection in six weeks?   It is possible to be anything other than something to be “got through”?   Most of my students can’t wait to get their regular teacher back.   I think my CT also misses teaching these kids.   I wonder if I should put a countdown on the board so that everybody can see that it will be over soon.

     All of them are tired of doing labs.   I really like a hands-on approach to learning but this week will be notes and a virtual lab with some videos worked in.   Ugh…

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© kevinruss - istockphoto.com

all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

     This was my experience last week.   If we were doing demos and notes, some students complained they wanted to do labs.  If there was equipment on the lab benches, others complained about doing a lab.   My lesson – mix it up and rotate the happiness.

     My students and I were learning about the chemistry of water – an amazing substance, unique in many ways due to hydrogen bonding.  We did the classic drops of water on a penny demo and my students immediately complained that they had been there and done that so many times.   This was the first time they had understood that hydrogen bonds were the cause but, nevertheless, they were unimpressed.

     Scrambling quickly, I reinvented a lab plan for water vs. MeOH or soap to be more wide open.  The students had wondered about heads vs. tails and hot vs. cold water so they could investigate those questions or something else with methanol, soap solution, and vinegar.   I asked them to consider variability when determining number of trials and what they might need to control such as dropper type and technique.

     The next day, we pulled all the data together.  For one class, there was a clear difference between hot and cold water when you included all of their trials in the data analysis.    For another class, enough had tried water vs. soap solution to see a difference.   It was fascinating and an excellent example of how combining data from many experiments could improve your confidence in the data enough to make a statement.   In retrospect, I wish I had done a better job of making that explicit to the students.   It was there but I’m not sure that all of them completely understood it.

     I need to be more explicit about lots of things but these students did a great job on a lab that was very open ended.   Good thing that I hadn’t done this week’s readings for my Science Methods course before I did this with the students.   I would have been more cautious about opening the investigation up to that extent and missed out on a fantastic experience!

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