Tag Archives: chemistry

Step 1: Buy the kit

When I first started teaching, I was fortunate to walk into a fully stocked Chemistry classroom. It was a Chemistry teacher’s dream room. Problem was I didn’t know how to use the stuff. Well, I mean I had a degree in Chemistry so I knew how to physically use everything; I didn’t know why I should be using it.

So, I went to the catalog and ordered some kits.

The kits have it all: lab manuals (teacher and student copies), everything pre-measured, all the right equipment, and expected results. Now I just had to photocopy everything (yes, I used to use paper. A LOT!!) and the lab would run itself.

Now that I had experience to guide me, I knew everything I needed for the lab. I found cheaper ways to buy the chemicals, I reused equipment from the kit, and I rewrote the lab sheet to make it work better for my classroom.

The best advice I can give anyone just starting out in teaching or teaching a class they have never bought before: buy the kit first. Let someone else do all the prep work so you can make the activity as meaningful as possible. Then go about making it your own.


17 years and…

DaretoChem logo 2Recently I accepted a position to be the Educational Technology Specialist for my building. Basically I am a tech trainer for both students and teachers. I could be fixing computers, installing software, training teachers on new programs in small settings, teaching tech lessons, running the makerspace, doing mobile maker projects, assisting in Shark-tank style projects, running building PD, teaching administrators how to use their new laptops, problem-solving PowerSchool issues,….and those are just the things I know I will be doing.

And, I will be teaching 1 class which is not Chemistry. It is called Innovation and Design and there will be more to discuss on that topic soon. But, you read that right, no Chemistry. I have been teaching Chemistry for 17 years. Even when I was a District Director of Instruction I still taught 2 classes of Chemistry. I have been doing Chemistry either as a student or a teacher since 1993. And now…nothing.

Everyone asks if I am excited about the new job. Yes, there is no question that I am excited about the challenge this position represents. But, I am scared too. I have always had Chemistry to fall back on. When I was teaching




Research Methods in Applied Science years for the first time, I had no idea what that class would entail, but I had Chemistry as my safety net. When I was a Director, I had no clue what I was doing, but I had Chemistry as my security blanket.

Chemistry will always remain at my core (just like fencing). Every day I tell my students that they must be happy in what they are doing and to pursue their passions. Now it is time for me to do the same.

Using Hyperdocs In The Chemistry Lab

When I was at the Google Teacher Academy in 2014, Lisa Highfill led a session on creating Hyperdocs. Basically, a hyperdoc is an interactive Google Doc. Previously, when I was using Google Docs for my Chemistry labs, I simply took the old paper labs and turned them into digital form. It was great for going paperless because now I wasn’t printing 100 copies and the students were typing their information into the lab instead of writing it into the space I gave them. But, nothing was really different about the approach to the lab. The part that always bothered me was that students read the labs less now that the labs were digital. Even if I posted it in Google Classroom in advance, fewer and fewer students were reading the labs before arriving to class. I needed to find a way to get the students to interact with the lab more both during and after the experiment.

In the past, Chemistry labs were used to illustrate why a particular topic was important. Basically, it was the “real-world” example of why you were studying Chemistry. The teacher would teach everything important, then you would go to the lab to practice that information. I wanted to use the lab to teach as well as illustrate. That’s when I remembered what Lisa told us. As you can see in the screenshot below, my Chemistry labs now have links embedded throughout the lab that lead the students to a variety of online resources: wikipedia articles, images, YouTube videos, simulations.

FP Depression screenshot

The Background section of my labs are much shorter because rather than define what specific words mean, I just hyperlink them to other resources. I also use them throughout my procedures as reminders of how to perform a specific task. For example, if it says to measure the volume of water in a Graduated Cylinder, there will be a link to an image of a graduated cylinder as well as one that links to a 30 second video showing them how to measure the volume correctly. In the Analysis section, when students are asked to answer certain questions, I link them to other resources they then use to analyze their results. For example, in a Stoichiometry lab, they were asked to determine if the Law of Conservation of Matter was followed. I hadn’t taught the topic specifically beforehand so I linked them to an online resource. After reading the article, they then looked back at their data to answer the question.

But I think the most important change has been in the reporting of their results. At the end of the lab, rather than simply answering questions as submitting the lab back to Google Classroom, each group must add their data to a collaborative document. For Introduction to Solution Making, that was a Google Slides file; for the Freezing Point Depression Activity above, it was a Google Form. As the data came in from that form it was then displayed on the screen as a scatter plot  for the entire class to see. We then had a discussion about the class’ results and possible sources of error that caused the outlying points. FP Activity Screenshot 2

Too much of what my students were doing in the lab was done in isolation from their classmates. With each group’s work displayed for everyone to see, not only can they quickly compare their work to others to see possible sources of error, but I can catch mistakes in their work before they make their final submission for grading. We learn better together and this method is a perfect demonstration of that.

Now, I have to figure out how to take this to the next level. When doing guided-inquiry labs, I do link instructional videos at different points in the lab. Students should be doing Chemistry labs with a certain level of wonder. Then, as they develop questions on their own, I need to step in and provide the resources to answer those questions.

I would really love to develop a multi-step lab experience. My original thought was something like they perform the experiment for Part 1, they submit their results to a Google Form and then it gives them a link to the next experiment, and so on. Each part has to be completed in order to get to the next. A little gamification, a little inquiry, a little traditional. I almost wonder if I could do a form of choose your own adventure chemistry lab.

Hmmm, something to think about on my drive home.

What does a typical #flipclass lesson look like?

“What does a typical flipped lesson look like?”

This is one of the most common questions I get asked when I talk to educators about the Flipped Classroom. The truth is there isn’t a “typical” lesson in my class. Every class has a general plan, but since each student is working toward an individual goal, each day is different. But, my classes on Monday went really well so I wanted to share what was happening along with some pictures to illustrate.

On Monday, we were finishing the work we were doing on Electron Configurations and starting the unit on Naming and Forming Compounds. I had a DO NOW on the screen asking students to write the electron configurations for Zn, Ba, and Rn. Since the lesson on EC was 4 days prior (one of the negatives of block schedule) most of the class was confused. I asked a student who felt he knew EC’s well to come up to explain it to the class and answer their questions.


Now came the divide. The students who were still struggling and wanted more practice were given a few more elements to complete on the side whiteboards. Those who were ready to move on worked on the “Homework.” Homework is in quotes because I don’t assign outside of class HW other than to find Chemistry in the world around you. All homework is actually classwork, but it is called homework for the traditionally minded. As the students finished the HW, they gave it to me or my co-teacher to grade and provide feedback on the spot. If they did well, they moved onto the assignment posted in Google Classroom; if they didn’t they were given the opportunity to complete another. [Note: we use a modified mastery learning system in which students can complete up to 4 versions of any of our Quizzes, HW, Tests, or Projects. Some students do it just to add extra grades; some do it to offset low grades. No matter what all are more knowledgeable at the end.]

Now, the assignment posted in Google Classroom kicked off the next unit we were studying. There were 2 instructional videos to watch (both less than 5 min), a Self-Check Quiz in a Google Form (which was auto-graded by Flubaroo with the score and answer key emailed in return immediately), and practice problems to complete (yes, you can read that as a worksheet). The practice problems are necessary because we are at a point where drill and kill is a necessary technique to get students to truly understand what is happening.


Now, this is why I can’t give you a traditional lesson. At this point in the block, I have 3 levels of students: those still working on the Electron Configuration HW because they needed that extra practice, those taking notes, and those working on the practice problems. That is 25 students spanning 2 different units. But, if a class didn’t have the faster learners, they might all have stayed together on the same topic for longer. I can’t predict that until we are actually in the middle of the lesson somewhere.

The Flipped Classroom isn’t a magic bullet and I don’t think that I am a good teacher just because I use it. What I do know is my students get a greater level of support from their teachers because of it. My faster learners no longer feel like they are being held back, the students who need more support get more attention from me and get more of their questions answered, and I get to talk to every student every day.

The beauty of the Flipped Classroom is that no 2 classes look exactly the same. My Flipped Classroom will and SHOULD look different from yours. You have different kids, a different school, and you are a different teacher. No matter what you do or how you do it, just remember to make the time that you spend with your students meaningful!

[Author’s Note]: this post was originally written at the beginning of October, but was never posted.

The Dynamic Duo

Four years ago, this random teacher was assigned to work as the in-class support teacher in one of my Chemistry classes. There were a number of kids with IEPs who needed a learning specialist in the room to support them in areas that I was not specifically trained. I had never taught an in-class support class before, and my methods are a bit on the radical side for most people, so I was really nervous that this pairing wasn’t going to work. Add to this the fact that this teacher was special education and Social Studies certified. What could she possibly do to help in a Chemistry class??

Well, four years later, Melissa is one of my closest friends. Even without meaning to, we even dress alike!

Melissa has become an integral part of my teaching life, so much so that I am actually frantic on the days when she isn’t there. Our routine used to be that I was the Chemistry expert and she was the learning expert. More often than not, she needed to spend more time in class counseling students on life and school problems more than helping them pass the class assessments. She has a natural calming effect on everyone (teenagers especially) and helps to make the classroom a comfortable learning environment. But this year she has become so much more! Now students are turning to both of us when they have Chemistry questions.

IMG_20151008_081459 IMG_20151007_132149

This year, we have been flying through the curriculum. It isn’t because the material is too easy or because we have such exceptional students (although, they are pretty fantastic people!), but rather the class now has 2 teachers teaching Chemistry on a daily basis.

How did all of this happen? It’s actually really simple. From the day we met, I told Melissa that we are partners in everything that happens in class. I don’t make decisions about what we are doing without talking to Melissa first. When I decided to make this the #RoomofAwesome I texted her before I told my wife. We try to meet and plan the class every day, not just during on our common planning periods. The students see us as a team and we act like it in everything we do. You can usually find us together at meetings, at lunch, and, most importantly, talking to teachers about how to establish a positive working environment.

I don’t know what I would do without Mrs. Gohar. The Room of Awesome wouldn’t be the same without her!