Virtual vs Tangible Labs

At this moment, the AP Chemistry exam is in 19 days. I have about 1.5 chapters to cover with class only 3 times per week.

I was at this same point last year, but the exam was a week later, so the situation wasn’t as stressful as it is this year. But, that’s the nature of the exam and I have to work with it.

Currently, we’re discussing applications of aqueous equilibrium…specifically, titrations. This is one of the great topics for labs, but how does a time-strapped teacher work an entire titration into one class period? I feel like a lot of teachers at this point would just skip it and do what they could to get all of the content in.

Because there are so many people on the internet much smarter than me, I was able to find two fantastic titration simulations. You can see them here and here.

The first is a good introduction. I had students use it for a strong acid – strong base titration to get the idea down.  Students can select the type of reaction, which to titrate (acid or base) and what chemicals to use.  They then run the titration and calculate the molarity of the chemical in the buret and check to see if their answer is correct.  The mechanics of the simulation are the same as an actual titration and they can get instant feedback from me as I wander the room and from the web when they check their answer.

The second simulation is more in depth (designed by a college Ph.D) and is more skill-based than the initial titration they ran. There are more variables and require the student to really understand what is happening in the chemical reaction.  I really like the real-time pH curve that is displayed for the students and the instant feedback the simulation gives.  This particular site also has 3 different experiments students can choose from…acetic acid titration, unknown weak acid titration, and determining pKa of an unknown solution.

If you’re running out of time, don’t be afraid of virtual labs. My kids have now done 4 different titrations and I didn’t “lose” any class time. This is the Google Doc procedure my students used today if you’d like to use it.

Another great simulation resource is the University of Colorado, Boulder physics department website sims made for chemistry, biology, physics, and math.


Update 4/2/2012: After receiving some questions about my procedure and the websites, I am sad to report that the second titration simulation from the University of Pasadena is no longer available. Also, I have accidentally lost the Google Document procedure I linked in the original article. If you find other titrations that work well for you, I would love to hear about them in the comments.

Student Nuclear Chemistry

I love being a teacher and I love being a soccer coach. But, those tend to get in the way of one another.

Being an international school, we compete with other international schools from all over Korea. I travel at least once a week, which means I need to miss school more frequently than I would like. It used to be very difficult to keep all of my classes engaged for an 85 minute period if I’m not there. But, because of the availability of great resources on the web, they become opportunities for students to be creative while learning something new.

I recently gave an assignment relating to nuclear power, and specifically, to the events in Japan. There is a lot of confusion about nuclear power and its role in society. There is a great webquest on nuclear energy put together by Ms. R Wadsworth and Ms. M. Shuck at Claremont Secondary School that I used and added to for the assignment.

The first part was a collaborative Q&A document students created and shared. This was simply the information gathering and served as a single location students could go to for information.

Second, they had to create a newsletter that could be given to someone that had zero prior information about nuclear power. They used the information from the GoogleDoc to build the newsletter. You can see some of the best ones in the slideshow below.

Third, I asked them to create an infographic on nuclear power as it related to Japan…not necessarily the tsunami, but in general. Many students had a hard time being creative with this, but some of the better ones are here…feel free to look through them and use them as exemplars if you’re interested in doing something similar. They used this website to begin building the graphics.

You can look at the slideshow or you can go to the album.

Jeopardy in class

I’ve written a lot lately about general chemistry, but I’m also using technology in my AP Chemistry class when I can work it in around all of the podcasting.  That isn’t a great excuse (I don’t even feel like that’s the right word) but the podcasting has definitely taken up most of my technology time.

Anyways, I decided to play Jeopardy with my AP Chemistry class this year.  Now, the funny thing is, none of them (well, very few) have never even seen the show…all they know about it is what their American or Canadian teachers say about it.  So, after I finished trying to explain the whole answer-in-the-form-of-a-question concept, we got going.  It went really well because I put together a hyperlinked PowerPoint presentation that linked each question value to the slide.  There was no back-and-forth, searching for the slide, etc.  I ended up liking it so much, I’m posting it here if you’re in need of a quick time-saver for a review game or for whatever else.  Just click and download the file.  The file is set up such that all you need to change are the category titles and then add-in your questions for the appropriate unit.

Right now, I only have single Jeopardy.  I’ll get a double template posted this week (hooray Thanksgiving) so if you’d like to do a double round, you don’t have to go through and change every single slide.

I hope some of you find this helpful…enjoy!

Jeopardy! (Template v2.0)

The Mol Project

I started teaching the concept of the mol (not the animal…the amount) in chemistry this week.  The problem is, the mol is such an impossibly large number to comprehend (6.02 x 10^23, or 602 sextillion, or 602 followed by 21 zeros) students often don’t grasp the quantity of things we are attempting to count.  So, I had them do a quick project on quantifying the number of things…anything…in a mol.  They had to relate one mol of an object to a concrete idea for people to visualize.  Many students just looked at the length of an object like a pen or a keyboard key.  Some others measured area, and still others measured volume.

For the project, they gave an example of a dozen, a gross (a dozen dozens), one million and one billion.  I got some great projects from this…better than I anticipated when I assigned it.  Below are some of the projects I had students turn in for the assignment.

Periodic Table of Cereals

Update 9/18/2012 – Unfortunately, the videos no longer work because the students closed their accounts. Feel free to use this Google Doc for the activity.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about students putting together a periodic table of cereals for a project.  Well, the final drafts are in and I got some work this year that blew my mind.  Some of the best are shown below if you’re interested in browsing through some.

As an overview, students picked 25 cereals and then had to organize them in a comprehensive table.  It had to classify both rows (periods) and columns (groups) as well as 3 other properties of their choice.  Some students opted to use this as a test grade and were also required to submit a video answering some questions other students chose to write about.  Anyways, enjoy their work!

These are two of the videos that stood out amongst the rest.



Coming Up: Student Periodic Tables

Part of the mastery system is assessing students through their own, unique work.  For this next unit (beginning today) students have an opportunity to show me what they know through their own digital periodic tables based on…cereal.

While this isn’t true student-driven assessment, it’s a step in the right direction for my class.  I’m hoping to be able to do something like this for every unit…I’m just not there yet.  For this project, they have to do a lab in which they produce a periodic table based on different cereals.  They have the option to turn in a supplementary video to be used as their chapter assessment.  I’m really hoping I can get some of the more creative students to jump at this opportunity.  We’ll see in a week or two what I get.