Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Chemistry Capstones...OK...Now You Can Freak Out

Earlier this week, my chemistry class got their first taste of my new take on that whole "rigor" thing.

Because this year, I have introduce capstones. We are close to half way through our first trimester, so many of my kids are starting in on the grade anxiety. I have never really had a giant uproar over the standards part of my grading, so that isn't so much the problem.

But now...

"You mean, I'm not going to get an A in this class?"

Not easily, no.

"You mean I can be perfect and still not get an A?"

Nobody's perfect, sweetie.

"But, I'm a senior, you can't go changing the status quo now!"

Okay, I see your point, but too bad.

"So, this is like extra credit?"

Well, no, not exactly. Extra credit implies not a lot of work in order to get your grade up to where you want it.* When a student says, "can I write the definitions out twenty times to get my grade up to an A?" I just want to scream.

We discussed capstones this morning, and to be honest, I can't believe I haven't heard from a parent yet. For the most part, the reception was not favorable. We talked about why it is important for them to be able to not just memorize all this important chemistry stuff, but also why they should be able to apply it. And not just because it is chemistry class. This is a life skill, children.

To kind of ease them into it, we did a practice capstone with the last part of our conservation of mass lab. In that part, we add Alka-Seltzer to water. The mass at the end is not the same as the mass at the beginning. For our system, technically, mass was not conserved, but most kids recognized that it was because the gas escaped. So I had them think about what we could do to show that this incident did, indeed, support the law of conservation of mass. While much simpler than what I would probably require for a capstone, this was a good one to walk through and get them in the questioning mode.**

There was arguing. There was bribery. There was attempted blackmail and coercion. But we stuck with it and eventually, everyone came up with a plan and submitted a draft proposal. We went and did the experiment and I talked about what kids should have in a formal write up. There was even one or two, very grudging, "that wasn't so bad" mutterings in the back.

When it was all said and done, my kids seemed a little bit calmer. At this point, they are terrified at the idea of having to come up with ideas for a project. I totally get that. I am terrible at writing engaging questions, plus this is brand new to these kids. We spent so much time beating the curiosity out of them, that when we try to instill it back in, of course there is going to be some struggles.

But I'm sticking to my guns on this one. If I have learned nothing in the last few years, it has been that big changes can't be made if you give in even just a little bit.

*The most accurate portrayal of education in the media, ever, is the Spongebob episode where Mrs. Puff tries to give him extra credit so she doesn't have to have him back in class.

**Looking back, this was actually a lot more difficult for them than I thought it would be.


Unknown said...

This is awesome. I'm looking forward to hearing how these capstones turn out.

Tracie Schroeder said...

John - I am so nervous! At this point, I have kids looking at me and saying "so we get to blow stuff up now?" And the only thing I can think of to reply is "well, if it aligns with one of your targets..."

Unknown said...

I think chemistry capstones probably are, on the whole more challenging than physics ones, just because most chemsitry experiments are harder to set up, etc. But then again, there are a ton of videos out there of difficult experiments to do the classroom that might be worth analyzing.

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