Monday, April 24, 2017

Don't Just Copy & Paste! Store it on the Web Clipboard!

I have just finished teaching equilibrium, so my near daily need for a double arrow is done. Where I can type two dashes and a greater than sign (-->) in a Google doc and get an arrow, a double arrow is harder to come by. To solve my problem I used the Web clipboard

What is the Web clipboard?

The Web clipboard is a place where you can store copied text or images for use in Google docs. It's like your computer's clipboard, where all your control+C or command+C text and images go, except it lives on the Web. Here are a couple of things I love about the Web clipboard compared to Cut, Copy, and Paste:
  • You can copy between computers. Put something on the Web clipboard at work and then access it on your desktop computer at home. Because it's web-based.
  • You can store many images on the Web clipboard at once. Your computer's clipboard can only store your most recent copied or cut text or image. The Web clipboard lets you store several and choose the one you need when you need it.
  • Things stay on the Web clipboard for 30 days. Need a double arrow for the next 30 days while you teach equilibrium? Store it on the web clipboard!

Here's how you use the Web clipboard:

Highlight text or an image that you want to copy. Go to the Edit menu and drag down to Web clipboard. Then select Copy to web clipboard. If you have created a Drawing (like a double arrow to use while you teach equlibrium), go to the Actions menu and drag down to Web clipboard and then Copy entire drawing to web clipboard.

In the document where you want to place your copied item, put your cursor where the copied item belongs. Go to the Edit menu and drag down to Web clipboard. Then hover over the Drawings that are copied until you find the one you want. Click on it and it will be pasted into its location.

With a couple of quick clicks, I can turn this 
into this

Once I create that double arrow and copy it to the Web clipboard, it remains there for the next 30 days, so it is available every time I write a test, lab, or quiz and I need the double arrow. Next year, when it is no longer on the web clipboard, I can just put it there again! If there are things you need over and over - maybe graphic organizers or certain diagrams or phrases or directions - consider trying out the Web clipboard. It is a great time saver!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

15 Graphic Organizers For Text Structure Work

This week I participated in some great professional development about text structures, led by my colleague, MaryAnn Tatarunas. She explained that student understanding of text will improve when they are directly taught five text structures. Each of the five text structures can be identified by key phrases that are included in the text and they can be better understood by considering certain key questions. 

Here is a quick rundown of the five text structures:
  1. Causation: cause and effect relationships are explored, phrases like "as a result as" and "because of" are often used
  2. Comparison: things are compared or contrasted, phrases like "alike" and "different" and "as opposed to" are often used
  3. Description: information about a topic is presented, words like "characteristics" or "properties" or "qualities" are often used
  4. Problem/Solution: a problem and solution are explored, words like "answer" or "response" or "puzzle" are often used
  5. Sequence: an order of events is presented, words like "before" and "after" and "finally" are often used.
MaryAnn shared sample reading assignments with us for each of the text structures and then showed examples of graphic organizers that could be used with students to help them better understand the text and recognize these text structures.

I was so inspired by the practical tips that MaryAnn shared with us that I created fifteen Google drawing templates of some of these graphic organizers. They are color-coded by text structure. You can access them here. To use them, go to the file menu and select "make a copy" to make your own editable copy of the organizer. Google drawings are under-utilized but I really like them. They can be distributed through Google classroom or with Doctopus so that each student gets his/her own copy for individual work. Also, teachers can add text blocks in the gray space on either side of the drawing canvas to create drag-and-drop experiences because the stuff in the gray space gets shared right along with the drawing on the canvas. 

It's standardized testing season in Ohio. We just wrapped up testing at my school, but at this time of year, we are all reminded about the importance of helping students use all available strategies to be successful on these tests. Certainly teaching students to recognize text structures and apply appropriate graphic organizers will improve reading comprehension, a handy skill to have at test time.

Feel free to copy and share these graphic organizers. I will be adding more to the collection in the coming months.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Using Stop Motion Animation to show Reaction Mechanisms

Kinetics is a topic that I love to teach, but my students find it very difficult to understand. There are probably a variety of reasons for this, but one that I think contributes is that students struggle to think at the particle level in chemistry. If it's difficult to think about a sample of matter as being made of indescribably small and invisible particles, it is probably even more difficult to consider or propose the order of collisions that must occur in a successful chemical reaction. That is one of the challenges of teaching reaction mechanisms.

When the reaction     2 NO2 + F2 --> 2 NO2F    takes place, we know the reactants are 2 NO2 and F2. We know the products are 2 NO2F. We don't know, from the balanced equation, which particles must smash into which particles in order to change the reactants into products. We do know, though, that it is statistically unlikely that all three particles must crash into each other at once and instantly form products. Scientists propose a mechanism that outlines the order of the collisions that gets us from reactants to products.

I use a guided inquiry activity to tackle this topic every year. During my small group discussion with kids, I often need to use something to model the collisions that happen between the reactant molecules in the example reactions. Sometimes I use paper circles and sometimes circles I have drawn on the iPad. This year I grabbed small colored plastic cubes because they were handy. As I was talking with a student about the order of molecular collisions, it occurred to me that this would be a great occasion for a stop motion video, especially because, as a GIF, it could be watched over and over again until a student really understood the differences in the order of collisions of the same particles in two different mechanisms. 

I grabbed my iPad and took four quick pictures as the student and I talked through these collisions. Using the Stop Motion app, I created the GIF in fewer than five more minutes. Here it is:

It was very easy and can now be used as a tool to help students see the difference between two mechanisms. Next year I will try to incorporate making stop motion videos into the guided inquiry.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Modeling Reaction Kinetics

In my last post, I detailed my takeaways from a powerful workshop I attended on modeling instruction. Since attending that workshop, I find myself thinking more about incorporating the ideals of modeling into my instruction. For years I have created open-ended activities in which students explore and test hypotheses, but questions have remained. How can I make better use of my whiteboards? How can I facilitate more conversations about student experiments?

One of the first topics I applied some of these modeling ideas to was kinetics. Kinetics is one of my favorite topics to teach, so it was a perfect starting point for this new inspiration. For years I have attempted a clock reaction lab in hopes that students could use data to write a rate law. Unfortunately, the results are usually a mix of inconsistent and confusing and rarely lead to even a better understanding of rate laws in general. I have led students through at least four iterations of rate law labs, each year junking that year's plan and vowing to do it better in the future.

Here is what I tried this year: On Day 1 of the Kinetics unit, I demonstrated a clock reaction for my students by mixing a solution of potassium iodate and a solution of sodium hydrogen sulfite. It's a great hook. Then I posed the question "does the concentration of both reactants affect the reaction rate to the same degree?" I sent students into the lab with 10 mL of each reactant and some tips. I asked them to collect at least 10 data points that would support the position they took to answer the question. They completed the experiments in a spot plate, measuring the solutions by drops. Most groups took between 20 and 30 minutes to complete their data collection.

I had ordered whiteboards from The Markerboard People. Each group took a whiteboard and created a graph that showed the concentration of each reactant vs time. Without revealing the whiteboards, I asked each group to summarize their experiments. Most groups conducted similar experiments, so I asked the students to hypothesize whether or not they guessed the data, and the relationship between concentration and rate, should also be similar from group to group. They said yes. Then they revealed their boards. And the data was not the same.

I asked students to talk about their data. What did it tell them? How did they explain why their graphs looked differently? What did they notice about each other's representation of information. The conversation was fantastic. Students used math vocabulary ("It looks exponential" and "This section looks linear but we might have an error that explains that" and "why would you make the scale on the x-axis run backward?") to describe their graphs and identified, without my prompting, errors that might have contributed to poor data.

In the end, they wouldn't have been able to determine a rate law, but I'm not sure that is even what's important here. I kept coming back to the essential question: Do the reactants affect the reaction rate to the same degree? Students seemed almost unanimous that the reactants have different effects on reactant rate. That notion laid exactly the right foundation for the next day's learning about rate laws.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Model Lesson

The best professional development I have attended this year was a day-long session on Modeling Education. For years I have seen information about the summer workshops offered by the American Modeling Teachers Association. I have wanted to enroll in one, but they often last several summer weeks and I haven't found one close enough to home that means I wouldn't be away from my family. That's part of why I was excited when local experts Holly McTernan and Jeremy Secaur shared their modeling expertise with many Northeast Ohio Science Specialists on March 1st.

If you are not familiar with modeling, I created the infographic at the left to sum up its big ideas. The basics include showing students a demonstration or problem or phenomenon and use it to set up an experiment, conduct the experiment, and then present results to the class. The teacher facilitates group activities and provides instruction as needed, often in small groups and through questions.

We worked through this cycle at a rapid pace so we could experience several sample activities. Here is a brief rundown of what we did:

1. Water height vs Volume: Each group of 4 were provided with a glass of a different shape (think tumbler, margarita, martini, wine glass, and so on). The instructions were to collect data about how much water we put into the cup and how high the top of the water was off the table. We had to collect 10 corresponding values, including our glass' minimum and maximum amount of water. Then we graphed it on a whiteboard. Then the whole group formed a circle, with whiteboards in hand but without the glasses. We were peppered with questions about our graphs. Does anyone see a place where the graph looks like the height increases by the same amount each time a certain volume is added? Why don't the best fit lines go through the origin on some graphs? What does your graph tell you about the relationship between water height and volume?

After this presentation of our results, we put our whiteboard graphs against the wall and were challenged to get a glass that we didn't use and try to match it with one of the graphs. Now I recognize that we were all science teachers (read: dorky by nature), but it was very difficult to get the group to stop talking about the graphs and glasses as our presenter tried to switch gears to the next activity. The engagement was incredibly high. Seriously, it was like a great date that you don't want to end!

2. Mass vs Cup + Objects: Each group is given an electronic balance, a cup, a set of similar objects (marbles, washers, wrapped candies, etc). There are two rules: You can't mass the empty cup and you can't put objects in the cup one at a time. Acquire 8 corresponding masses and number of objects in the cup. In my group, we put the cup with two objects in it on the balance and recorded the value. Then we added objects two or three at a time and recorded masses.

Then we had to graph our data and draw a best fit line and find the equation of the line. Then we had to circle up for questions again. What do we notice about our graphs? Why do our graphs look more similar this time? What do we think the y-intercept represents? What does the slope tell us? I was giddy as I realized that the slop was the mass of one of our objects!

3. Who wins the race? Our instructor posed a problem about two students who run a race at different speeds and one of them starts 1 second before the other. Who wins the race and when will they pass each other? We solved the problem, we graphed the solution on whiteboards, we presented our findings. My group solved the problem using a chart and a graph so we showed both. More questions.

4. When will they collide? Our instructor showed us a constant speed buggy. She also showed us a trick. Take one battery out and replace it with a wooden dowel covered with aluminum foil. Then replace it. This slows the buggy down and will make all the buggies go a slightly different constant speed. Genius! She let us make some measurements on her buggy for about 5 minutes. Then we made measurements on our own slower buggy for 5 minutes. Then she took the buggies.

She asked us to figure out if both buggies were released from opposite ends of a 2 meter track, where would they collide? We had to mark our prediction on the track and eventually we all tested it. Here is the video of one group's test run:

This was really fun. Our instructor suggested we graph it, but it made sense to me to use formulas, so I solved that way while other people used graphs. It was interesting to see several ways to attack the same problem. It was also exciting to watch the buggy test. Students would love this challenge!

My takeaways: I came home from this day exhausted and inspired. I realize that I do not use my whiteboards effectively and I want to change that. In fact, I bought a class set of these whiteboards so that I can start using graphs more. I don't have students graph or solve problems and share solutions enough. That's on my to-do list now too. I gave it a shot with a solubility inquiry lab, but it was only mildly successful. I need to keep working on it! More posts will definitely follow up on this!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Flipgrid or Recap: Which Should I Use?

This year I have tried two great, and similar tools, for asking students to make quick videos of themselves and submit them for viewing. Last month I blogged about using Flipgrid to record students as they demonstrate a chemical experiment and then explain it using a gas law. You can watch a sample here. Earlier this year I used Recap to record the members of the Speech and Debate Team as they read something of their choosing so I could get to know them better at the beginning of our season. You can see what a Recap video looks like here.

Both tools were great - easy to use and provided valuable information about my students. So which one would I recommend? That's an impossible choice because they offer different features. In fact, so many different features are offered that the only way I can keep it all straight is by creating a data table. Here it is:

Hopefully this chart will help you determine which one better meets your needs. No matter what you're looking for, I hope you'll try Recap or Flipgrid out before this school year ends!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Memory Game: All Grown Up

As a kid, I loved to play cards. I have many fond memories sitting around the kitchen table with my grandparents, playing Go Fish, Rummy, and Cribbage. Once I got to college, my game of choice became Euchre. As a mom, I have gotten to revisit many card games, including the first one I remember ever playing which was the memory game.

On a recent trip to Target, my kids began squealing when they saw small figurines that go with a Basher Science card game. Longtime fans of all things Basher, they were very excited to see figures of the characters in the books they love so much. I was immediately attracted to the card game and told the kids that I was buying the chemistry version for my classroom. Of course, they each picked out a figurine too.

The cards feature the delightfully drawn Basher characters that represent science concepts, like catalyst or element or reaction. Each card also has a sentence about the science concept. It might be a definition or similar information. For example, one of the element cards says "all matter is made of me" and the other element card says "there are 118 variations of me." 

The card game has two variations. There is a battle game where two opponents flip over cards and determine the winner based on the point value on the card and the power listed on the card (think "War" meets a strategy card game like "Magic"). We played that one and I thought it was ok, but I liked the second version, a variation on Memory, much better.

In this grown-up version of Memory, the cards are placed upside down. On your turn, you flip over two cards but do not reveal them to your opponents. Instead, you read aloud the informational sentence on the card. If you find a match, you keep it. If you don't, you replace them, but your opponent has to think about what the card might have been based on what you read. This is harder than regular Memory because you have to pay attention to where the cards are on the board, but you also have to think constantly about the vocabulary words on each card. This would be a great activity for a center or station rotation and would give kids great vocabulary practice.

My son and I enjoyed playing the game so much that I created a polygon version for my daughter. Her fifth grade class is working on quadrilaterals right now and we have done a lot of dining room table talk about when is a rhombus a square and when is a quadrilateral a parallelogram. There are so many vocabulary terms that it seemed like an excellent occasion to introduce the game. I created a Google document of the cards if you'd like to take a closer look or even try it out.

When we played, my daughter found it to be pretty challenging (but she DID beat me!). She asked if I would draw all the shapes and label them so it would be easier to think about what the definitions told her about the shapes. My son also thought it was challenging but fun. I like the gaming aspect of learning vocabulary this way. With the game, the definition, the picture, and thinking and talking about the words, using it will hit at least 4 of the 6 Marzano vocabulary strategies.

I am going to keep buying booster packs to add to my Basher card game. I will use that one in my classroom for sure. In the meantime, I am also going to work on a chemistry vocabulary game that has one card with its chemistry definition (a tier 3 vocabulary word) and one card with its traditional definition (a tier 2 vocabulary word). For example, there might be Compound with a definition of "a pure substance made by at least two elements chemically combined" and a second definition of "made up or consisting of several parts." This will help students learn chemistry vocabulary but also help them apply that knowledge to words used in similar ways outside of chemistry. When I finish that set, I will write about it and make it available here. Stay tuned!