Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Chemistries

We finally closed on our second trimester this week. If you remember, we last left our hero* dangling off the edge of insanity. Come to think of it, I really don't ever seem to get too far from that edge.

My Regular Chemistry class settled down a little bit and more or less accepted that I wasn't going to change what we were doing. It helped that the most vocal mob was broken up. It also helped that our incredible librarian told her groupies to suck it up and rise to the challenge. After awhile those rusted wheels started turning and it wasn't quite as painful.

I never could get them into a discussion with our whiteboarding. They just kind of assumed that whoever was talking was right and dutifully copied down those answers. I'm not sure what adjustments to make there. I thought about requiring them to ask at least one question per day, but couldn't decide whether I wanted to fight that battle or not.

I'm not sure my class learned everything I wanted them to. Even the very last day, kids were not able to recognize when a substance had the nitrate polyatomic ion in it. While kids do need to take some responsibility for their own learning, I blame me for the most part. I need to be more aware of when my kids are not getting it and not let them sneak past me when they don't understand. I think I trusted the curriculum too much when it told me to let them figure things out on their own. Having never been in that position before, they weren't ready for that. I let them flounder for too long and I lost them and never got them recovered. And when you lose them in the first couple weeks, they are lost for the rest of the time. The Modeling people do not like you to mess with their curriculum, but I definitely need to add in something in  to help them understand some of those concepts a little more. I have never been one to follow every little detail anyway, so why start now?

Probably what bothered me more than anything, though, was the last day. Everyone was so relieved to be done with Chemistry. Me included. I really don't want my kids to hate my class. I don't want them to see it as something to just get through. I want them to love it. We live in an incredible, beautiful world and I want them to wonder at it. I'm more than a little disturbed that they keep saying that they hate it. I am hoping (praying) that this is just because I haven't taught Chemistry for several years and that once I am comfortable with the material again, it will go a little more smoothly.

My Applied Chemistry took off with the Modeling. We had relatively small groups (12 in each class compared to 22 in my regular chemistry) and they were pretty comfortable with each other. The whiteboard discussion really turned in to learning most times. Of course, every once in awhile, someone would ask something like "why is your shirt green today?" but hey, they are teenagers, you can't expect a whole lot of maturity all the time.

One great thing about Modeling is it forces those kids to actually do something other than copy from their neighbor. They never know who is going to have to speak for the group or what questions I am going to ask, so everyone has to be prepared and know what is going on. My Applied kids truly benefited from this approach and, of course, this is true for Regular as well, but it doesn't seem to be as crucial for them.

Modeling is just what is says it is. You create a model of matter. We start with the basic observations that have been obvious for your entire life and actually describe them. We draw them. Instead of kids reading about these models, we create them ourselves. This has helped those lower kids develop an understanding of where that information came from. When I ask them why is H2O written that way, instead of saying "because you told us," they can look back in their lab notebook and see the evidence for why. That is what I really love about it. And that is why I will keep doing it.

*Hehe, that's me.

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