Inner Dialog

(I am basing this internal dialogue off of a conversation I had with a  co-worker last year.)

Me:  Is it possible to pass your class while still failing an assignment?

Traditional Me:  yes, but we review the material several times in class so, they will still learn it.

Me:  Can they get those questions wrong on the test but still pass the test?

Traditional me:  Possibly, but they will still need to know it for the final.

Me: Can they fail that test but still pass the class?

Traditional Me:  sure, but they won’t get a good grade, besides, they will still need to know it for the final exam.

Me:  can they miss those questions that pertain to the questions they missed from the assignment, the review, and test,  and still pass the final exam?

Traditional Me:  I suppose, it’s possible.

Me:  Then why do you teach that particular material?

Traditional Me:  Because they need to know it in order to pass the class/ it’s part of the curriculum.

Me:  You just said they can pass the class without needing to know it.

Traditional me:  So, what am I supposed to do?  We can use that logic for anything I teach in my class.

Me:  Only if you assess their work the way you currently do.

Traditional me:  but changing the way I teach and grade is one hell-of-a lot of work.

Me:  yep.

Traditional me:  Why should I change everything I do now at this late stage in my career? 

Me:  Why do you teach?


Teaching and Mistakes

One of the prevailing theories we are hearing about in education is that we should promote a risk-free atmosphere for our students. we know that great innovation is usually only after great amounts of trial and error.  In other words, after we make a bunch of mistakes, we tend to finally get it right.

So, our students are encouraged to try without fear of ruining their grade.  Only when they become comfortable with their results should we finally assess them.  If they are dissatisfied of the assessment, we should let them try again.

All right, I can buy that.  Polio vaccine and light bulb filament are both results of thousands of failed attempts, and Rutherford’s own experiment to prove the “plumb-pudding” model of the atom was so off-base, that it resulted in a completely different model of the atom.


Are teachers also treated this way?  Are we willing/allowed to try something new without fear of failure?  Do we create an environment for our students which reflects the environment with which we work in – both good and bad?

Sometimes it’s hard to set aside the fact that everything we do is under immense scrutiny by the students, the parents, the administration, the state.

I happen to be the type of teacher that might dip his toes into the deep end of the pool to check how cold the water is, but I still jump in right away afterwards.  Frigid water or hot water, it doesn’t matter.  I think the dipping of the toes is so I’m not surprised by the results.  I do my research before the great leap.  I prepare the activities, but I still like to “see where it takes me and my students”.

Once I start with some new idea, take it all the way to the end.  I’m a bit stubborn that way.  I get excited when it all works out great and I keep it as part of my repertoire.  Even when it has failed miserably, and yes, I have had those activities as well. I dissect what was done; I try to figure out why it failed, and adjust and try again the next year.  I usually give an idea three tries before I set it aside.  Waiting for students who are “not like they used to be” so I can give it another three years worth of trying.

Luckily, I have an administrator who allows this.  He seems to also get excited whenever someone tries a new method or idea.  As long as we have research to back up our idea, he will even back up our idea to parents who like things the way they have always been. Which is a good thing.

This year it’s electronic lab books (first year of a third attempt) and Google Classroom (I’ve tried Edmodo, wikispaces, and html websites).  Wish me luck.

Next year, I want to go back to atoms first chemistry.

BCA part two

Half way through the unit.  One thing we’ve noticed about BCA is that it is much easier to find the misconception that students have about what goes on in a reaction and correct it right away.

Lab on Monday.  I like to blend the old with the new and have, therefore, dusted off an oldie.  Mixing two solutions together to form a precipitate and filter.  From the mass of the precipitate, they have to find the Molarity of the original limiting reactant.

As this is my first time with BCA, every time a student comes in with a question, I’m making a note of what to change for next year.  the latest one is to remember to stress “subtract reactants” and “Add products”

bce example

I’ll see how the lab goes on Monday.

Like I’m A Kindergarten Teacher

A few years ago, I worked in a school that allowed every teacher that taught science to sit down for several days.  When I say every teacher I mean teachers from Kindergarten through high school.  It was an amazing experience and we were able to get a lot done.

What I remember the most was when the Kindergarten teacher would shake her head and say “I don’t teach science.”  we only talk about the seasons, the weather, how we breath faster when we run, sweating, laughing, and that batteries can go dead.”  We told her that was science.  She still shook her and said that she didn’t know how it was science, when she didn’t think it was science.

I think about this a lot; especially while reading some of the articles in Chemical and Engineering News and Physics today. I start reading the article, and then just shake my head and wonder how is what I teach my chem and physics students ever going to help them to understand some of the theories based upon these ideas?  I don’t even get some of it.

Maybe that’s what is needed.  A workshop that pairs research scientists with science teachers where all they do is discuss a couple articles published in a professional journal and trace the theories back to what is taught in a high school chemistry or physics class.

There is a subreddit titled “explainlikeimfive.  Perhaps, it could be something like that.  Except more like explainlikeimteaching it to a five year old?

Chemistry First?

I was helping my daughter with her biology the other night.  She is learning about activitation energy and how the role of an enzyme is like a catalyst.  I had to grit my teeth (not for the first time) as I read the text and its nice siimple explanation that a catalyst “speeds up a reaction” by “lowering the activation energy”.  I explained to her that isn’t totally true, but she needed to write it down as the answer to the question on the worksheet that had been copied from the workbook that goes along with the text (the title of the workbook was at the bottom of the copy next to the page number).  As educators, we know that it is more difficult to unteach a wrong assumption than to teach it correctly the first time.  This is not the first time this year I had to do this.

Yesterday, I related this traumatic experience to my coworker,  our biology teacher (my daughter does not go to the same school that I teach at), and she just smiled.

You see, most of our students take chemistry before biology.  Some of them even take physics concurrently.  So, as freshman, our students take a “Freshman Science” which is one quarter chemistry, one quarter biology, one quarter physics and one quarter Earth science.  When possible, the subject teacher is the one who teaches that science to the student in the appropriate science classroom.  Each quarter 20 – 25 students are each in the chemistry room, biology room, physics room, and Earth science room.  As the year progresses, the students move to the next room/teacher.  Once the basic lab techniques are learned, and the equipment unique to the subject matter is mastered, the students learn the basics of each class.

As sophomores, we recommend they take Chemistry (actually, we offer AP Chemistry every other year as a double block class, and this allows the students to be able to fit in AP Chemistry if they are willing to commit to the rigor of the class.)

So, Back to the title of this, Why not Chemistry First?  the mathematics are not more difficult than basic algebra, and as sophomores, they have yet to pick up very many bad Math habits, so stoichiometry can be taught and the fraction button on their calculator can be surreptitiously removed from the front of the calculator (not really, but I have threatened to do it with many a senior).  Their understanding of the “EE” button can be developed before they stumble upon the “carrot” button, so exponential values will be multiplied without mistakes.

As for the science, students will definitely understand the different molecules discussed in biology becuase they know what a molecule is.  The carbon cycle can be taught as a series of chemical reactions, and photosynthesis as an energy process might just be understood a little better.

Just a thought.  It works great for us.