Sunday, March 31, 2013

Inspired by the Easter Bunny

Watching my kids hunt after Easter eggs today in my backyard, I kept thinking to myself how fun it would be to watch my students do the same thing.

*cough*nerd alert*cough*

I know, I know.

I also know that the day coming back from a break is notoriously rough, so if I could have an activity that served as a review under the guise of fun, that would be just freakin' awesome.

I also know that I have a ton of those plastic eggs laying around my house right now and if I really, really "needed" them for school on Monday, I would totally have an excuse for not putting them away.

So, here's what I am thinking for the Monday we return from break.

The Great Easter Egg Hunt Review of Awesomeness (?):

1) No groups for this activity.  This is a class vs. class competition.  3rd hour vs. 4th hour vs. 5th hour vs. 6th hour vs. 7th hour.  Winner gets cookies or candy or a cavity (or maybe some combination therein).

2) Around my room or the courtyard across from my room (weather permitting...this is Michigan after all; 3 years ago we had a snow day the first day back from break) I will hide as many of those plastic eggs as I have at my house.  Since I have Advanced Chem 1st hour, I am sure I can talk them into helping me hide the eggs for my third hour class, thereby cutting down substantially on time.

3) Inside each egg will be a slip of paper with a question pertaining to one of the following topics:

a. Stoichiometry
b. Nomenclature
c. Writing Formulas for Ionic Compounds

4) When I say "Go!" students will scatter around the room/courtyard.  When they stumble upon an egg, they will open it up.  They will peruse their notes to come up with the answer.  When they have the right answer, they will bring the egg and the question up to the front of the room.  They will tell me the answer.  If the answer is correct, the question slip will go in a beaker, the egg will go in the basket.  This will help me keep track of how many eggs are still out.

5) I will time how long it takes the class as a whole to find and solve ALL of the eggs I have hidden.  Students may use their classmates for help, or design any strategy they'd like to finish faster, so long as each student only has one egg in their possession at any one time.

6) The game ends when all eggs have been found and solved.  The class of the day with the fastest time wins.

7) When the game is over, I will have the class re-stuff and re-hide the eggs for the next class.

I imagine this taking 25-30 minutes, after I will have a better idea of what students are and are not remembering accurately and address that collectively, assigning practice problems accordingly.

I'm excited to give this a try, but do you see anything that I should watch out for as I am?  I would welcome your thoughts and suggestions to help me make this a successful activity.

And because I'm one of *those* moms, I leave you with these pictures of my super cute kids hunting Easter eggs.  You're welcome.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

When Real Life Shows Up

It's so easy to get so caught up in my own little bubble, teaching my fanny off in room 301.  My students come in, I teach/facilitate/flounder/blow minds (or maybe all of these, depending on the day) for 52 minutes and then -- poof!  They disappear into the ether.

I think that's why it hits me so hard when real life shows up.

I have a student in my third hour class whose brother has been battling a brain tumor for a year with a poor prognosis.  She and I have talked about it many times during our 52 minute interludes.  This student (we'll call her Abbi) is a beautiful soul, full of life and enthusiasm.  She is also one of those students you just crave to be able to have in your classroom.  She might not pick up things the fastest, but she works hard until she understands concepts fully.  She is dedicated and responsible.

But as the year progressed, this I could see her worry in the sag of her shoulders.  I could see her on the verge of tears when I asked her how things were going.

This morning, when I opened my email, I had a message from my principal stating simply that Abbi's brother had passed away over night.

I said a silent prayer for Abbi and her family, but before I knew it, the day was rolling along as if nothing had even happened.

In my third hour, when I marked Abbi absent, I spoke with the class about what was happening and encouraged them to reach out to her in love during the challenging days ahead.

And in my fourth hour, she appeared in my doorway at the back of the room.

As I gave my students a quick directive to begin working on some practice problems, I rushed to meet her.  As soon as I started toward her, she dissolved into heart-wrenching sobs.  I took her out into the hallway and just hugged her.  I cried for this beautiful girl whose heart is broken.

We stood together for a long time.  When she pulled away from me, she looked at me and asked for any make-up work she would have from being gone.  I was so shocked that it took me a moment to recover.  I told her not to worry about that, but to focus on her family.  Before she left, she asked me to attend the funeral on Saturday.  I told her I would absolutely be there, and she turned to leave.

I don't know if Abbi visited any other of her classes today, but her appearance today really hit me hard.
I need to stop being surprised when real life shows up.  Students do not live in my bubble.  They live in a world that is broken.  They might not have such obvious tragedies as Abbi's, but that doesn't make them any less real.

I focus so much on how I can help students learn the material.  I know that's important.  That's my job and I so badly want to do it well.

But, it's good to be reminded that part of my job has nothing to do with chemistry.  Part of my job is maybe to help students on a personal level too.  It might be as simple as demonstrating patience (one of my weaknesses), kindness, or empathy.  It might be laughing at myself when I screw up something simple in the math I'm working through.  When it's 3:00 pm and I still have 5 students asking to take a re-assessment and 2 who are asking for help with a learning target, I need to remember that I have the opportunity to connect.  And like designing lessons based on best practices, this will take planning.

So, beginning tomorrow I'd like to make a more concerted effort to be aware of the life that exists for my students outside of my class.  It's time to burst my own bubble and make an impact in real life.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Whack at Differentiation

I don't know about any one else, but there's not much more I dread than coming back to classes after I've had a sub in the room.

Scratch that, I do know what I d

Coming back to classes after I've had a sub in the room for 2 days in a row.

Last week, I attended/presented at the MACUL conference in Detroit, Michigan.  I found it an invigorating and enlightening experience to learn from like-minded, enthusiastic educators who are doing nothing short of amazing things in their classrooms.

But, when push comes to shove, the reality of today was that I needed some lesson plans.  And regardless of whether or not those lessons were done on Evernote or in a spiral-bound notebook, they needed to be done.

After going through the practice problems my students worked through on Thursday during class, I wanted to take a decidedly differentiated approach to today's activities.

We are working on some basic stoichiometry for ionic compounds.  I want students to be able to take the mass of an ionic compound and convert that value to the number of formula units in that sample or vice versa.  This is one of those compounds that certain students pick up very quickly and others with struggle, slogging painfully through each problem and never seeming to really pick up the pattern.

Knowing that I would have some students who had done every single practice problem and thoroughly understand the concept and others who had done very few (if any) practice problems, and even those were done "collaboratively", I decided to go the following route.  I was extremely pleased with the results:

1) As students came in, I placed a single conversion problem on the board.  I gave them 5 minutes to answer this question on a piece of scrap paper.  I called it a Fake Pop Quiz (FPQ) -- and my students are used to these, as we participate in FPQ's fairly frequently in my class.  I asked students to work individually to work the problem to the best of their ability.  Here is the question I used:

"A sample of lithium hydroxide contains 1.26 x 10^23 formula units.  What will the mass of this sample be?"

2) I had a student read through the answers to Friday's practice problems as I checked the students' answers to the FPQ.  Based on their answers, I was able to group the students in the following manner:

*: Totally clueless -- needs desperate help from me

M: Okay on the stoichiometry set-up, but had errors in either the molar mass or the calculation of the final answer.

I: Okay on the stoichiometry set-up, but had an incorrect formula (resulting in an incorrect molar mass and final answer)

T: Totally fine -- everything correct.

3) Based on this information, the class "assignment" was different for each group. I gave one member from each group a set of directions for the assignment:

* : My totally clueless group stayed with me.  We worked through problems on whiteboards together -- each person with a whiteboard.  Then, I gave them each an additional set of 4 conversion problems to do at home by themselves.

M: These students did a set of additional practice problems as a group, with a key to check their molar masses and final calculations as they worked.

I: These students created a paper slide video tutorial about writing formulas for ionic compounds (there weren't very many of these students, to be honest, so I had some of my T's do this as well).  I left scrap paper, a set of markers, and an iPod out at their station and told them a video on the iPod was due by the end of the hour.

Here's an example of one of the videos made:

T: These students created a video tutorial about how to successfully complete a mole conversion problem in similar fashion to group I:

What I loved about today:

1) I got a chance to help the students who needed help, but also made them accountable for the work they didn't complete.  I worked with them, answered their questions, discussed what was causing them problems, but I made them finish the practice problems they didn't do after we were finished.

2) I gave the students who were fine the chance to do something different.  They were able to do something a little bit more creative rather than more practice problems that were unnecessary for them to understand the concept.

3) I killed two birds with one stone.  The videos the students made can be used as an additional resources for students who continue to struggle or were absent.

4) The students who made little mistakes (group M) were able to build confidence in their skills through just a little more exposure and practice.

This is one of the best days back from a sub I think I've ever had.  It really didn't take too much work on my part, and I think most of my students walked away from my class with more than they would've with a traditional approach.