Sunday, January 28, 2018

What are chemistry students prone to when learning stoichiometry?

A blog I am reading every week is Math Equals Love. Sarah Carter, math and chemistry teacher in Oklahoma, writes in exquisite detail about the things she is trying in her classroom. Every time I read it, I wish she had been one of my math teachers. Sarah loves, and often features, puzzle she is using in her classroom. I, too, love puzzles and that's probably one of the reasons I love her blog. One of the things I loved best about middle school math were those cheesy, punny puzzles when solving a math problem led to a letter that led to an answer to a question involving math. I recently had to miss three days in my classroom, right as my students needed to take a big quiz over stoichiometry (the math of chemical reactions, for non-chemistry teachers), so, inspired by Sarah and middle school math, I created a puzzle for them to do in my absence.

The puzzle consists of 24 paper tiles that have a letter in the center. All the tiles also have an answer at the top of the tile. Some of the tiles have a stoichiometry problem at the bottom of the tile. Students, working in groups of 4, solve the problems and then look for the answer on the letter tiles. Finding the correct answer shows the letter that comes next in the sequence. Solving the whole puzzle correctly answers the question "What are chemistry students prone to when learning stoichiometry?" Answer: Overreactions.

The puzzle is pictured below and you can make a copy of the file here if you'd like to use it. Please attribute it to me if you share it with others.

The reason I love a puzzle is because the kids can figure out the word(s) and that helps them check if they are solving the problems correctly. The puzzle provides the feedback that they need, especially when I am absent and cannot. I am particularly proud of THIS puzzle because I built in some ways that make it challenging. The four chemical reactions in the puzzle all involve lithium and water in one way or another. Finding the limiting reactant, then, is not as simple as just looking at what is in a particular reaction and finding that tile. The extra tiles (answers but no questions) are spoilers, common mistakes that students might make when solving these types of questions. One of my students emailed me right after class to ask about a problem that her group struggled with, so I made this video to try to help.

Are you using puzzles in your classroom? I hope you'll share them and inspire others.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

New Year, New Calendar

Are you seeing this pop-up on your Google Calendar? Have you noticed the blue Use New Calendar button in the upper right hand corner? This week I made a screencast to highlight some of the changes in calendar:

  • The new version of calendar has more white space, so it's easier on the eyes. The dates - the part that we are looking for on a calendar - are larger, more prominent. It has a fresh look.
  • When you look at events on the calendar, you can see how you have RSVP'ed.
    • Solid color event = I am attending!
    • Solid color event with diagonal lines = Maybe I am attending.
    • Outlined event = I have not responded to the invite. 
    • Outlined and struck through text on event = I am not attending.
  • When you add an event or edit an event, you can see more information right away. Of course, you can still see date and time, but now you can also see location, guest list, what calendar the event is on, and if you are attending. You can also email the guests from the event pop-out! Click MORE OPTIONS to add attachments, a Google hangout, notifications, and more.
  • There is a drop down menu in the upper right to change the view of your calendar. Agenda view (one of my favorites, actually, for my classroom calendar) is now called Schedule.
  • Click the gear icon in the upper right to access Settings. Here you can change your general settings for Calendar or click on any calendars you are using to change their settings. You can also import and export data here and add calendars.

If you'd like to take a video tour, here is my screencast. Enjoy!

Go ahead and click the blue button. Upgrade now!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Add 'Em Up: A New Strategy for Me

As is often the case at this time of year, the winter weather is breaking up my lessons. I introduced stoichiometry, or what I call reaction math, on December 13 but some snow days and semester exams put it on the shelf almost immediately. Now that we are back to school, I needed a way to help students review what they began almost one month ago. 

I am often inspired by the tweets and blogging of Sarah Carter. I haven't met Sarah, but I know she teaches math and chemistry in Oklahoma. I read her detailed blog posts where she generously shares many great ideas with great interest. Sarah has written about a favorite strategy called Add 'Em Up and her posts were the inspiration for this lesson.

In Add 'Em Up, a sheet is created with four math problems. When the answers are added, they should equal a sum that is provided. If the answers do not equal the sum, students know they need to look for, and correct, their errors. With my teaching partner, I created an Add 'Em Up activity for stoichiometry with a few revisions. We created four sheets of four different math problems. Today we instructed the students to solve a problem on the sheet they had and then pass the sheet to the student on their left at their table and solve another until all four were solved. 

Once the problems were all solved, students added the digit in the ones column of each answer to get their sum. We didn't tell the students at first that these digits would be 2, 0, 1, and 8 (because welcome back to school for 2018!), so the sum would be 11, but we eventually revealed the sum and the digits to streamline the process of finding the mistakes.

Part of "welcome back to school for 2018" in my classroom is getting new seats and new groups. Today was the first day in new groups for my students, so I wanted to do an activity to help the students get to know each other and build some teamwork. This was perfect for that. Because the papers were passed from student to student, every student worked on every paper. When they got back to the original participant, each student had to evaluate each other's work and investigate errors. While they worked, they were incredibly collaborative despite the fact that they all had different problems. There were excellent conversations all day long in these new groups. They really worked together nicely to get to the correct sum on each paper. Things I heard students say to each other included:

  • Does that make sense?
  • I'm not sure about the coefficients. What do you think?
  • Can I use a whiteboard?
  • Someone please help me.
  • Is this the way you solved number 2?
  • Should we all just check one problem?
  • Can I use this problem as a model for this one?
  • I know Ms Roediger likes dimensional analysis but it makes more sense to me with ratios.
  • Oh, cool (when he saw the 2, 0, 1, 8).

I loved the strategy and am looking forward to trying it again sometime. If you'd like to take a look at the file, you can see it here. Make yourself a copy if you'd like to use or modify it. And check out Sarah's blog. It's amazing!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Whose Game for Chemistry? Science Ninjas Valence

Every since I read this post by the amazing Sara Vanderwerf, I have been kicking around the idea of a game table. Honestly, when I first read it, I thought that math teachers are so lucky that there are so many cool math games you could put at a play table. Then I read this post from A Mighty Girl blog. There is a game mentioned called Compounded that caught by eye. So I searched for it on amazon; the search lead to a lot of chemistry games. It turns out that chemistry teachers are also lucky that there are cool games for a play table. One I recently bought is called Science Ninjas Valence.

Science Ninjas Valence is a card game that plays quickly. Each player gets six cards from the shuffled deck. The rest of the deck goes face down and the top card is turned up. Players look at the element cards in their hands and try to make compounds - acids, bases, salts, water, carbon dioxide, etc. When you can make one, you discard your cards and pick up the compound card that you made. Each compound has a point value. The first player to ten points wins.

What I like about Valence:

  • The game plays fast. My eighth grade son and I played 4 games in 30 minutes on the day I got it.
  • It's good practice in adding up ionic charges to get a neutral compound.
  • There is chemistry involved, but if you don't know any chemistry, you can still successfully play (and will probably learn some chemistry). For example, If you don't know that a base is often composed of a metal, an oxygen, and a hydrogen, the base card is color-coded to emphasize that. After you play a while, knowing no chemistry, you will start to remember that an acid has a hydrogen and what a metal oxide is.
  • There is also some strategy involved. When you have to draw a card because you can't make a compound, you can choose from the deck or the discards, so the order that things are discarded is important.

The Science Ninjas who created Valence have also made a sequel game called Valence Plus. This one looks more complicated. And awesome. I'm putting it on my wish list!

This semester I am going to start putting out some chemistry games. Valence is going to be the first one. Stay tuned for how it goes!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Happy Retirement, g(Math)! Welcome aboard, #EquatIO!

image from
Yesterday g(Math), a popular add-on to Google apps for inserting math, was officially retired. This means it can no longer be downloaded and added on, and it doesn't appear in my list of add-ons any more. If you loved using g(Math), you will find much of what you used in the Chrome extension EquatIO which was developed from g(Math) by John McGowan with support from TextHelp. If you have never used g(Math), or EquatIO, read on for some details.

Install EquatIO from the Chrome store. If you're a teacher, apply for a free premium account after you install it. You must be signed in to Chrome to use the extension. This is one drawback for teachers who teach in many rooms with shared computers, but I don't think it's a deal breaker. Once you install it, you will find its icon at the top of your browser window, to the right of the address bar.

The premium account of EquatIO, free for teachers (thanks, TextHelp!), will allow you to add math to Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, and Drawings. The free version will only get you integration with Docs. Once inside a Google tool, click the EquatIO icon and a window pops up at the bottom of your screen. 

From that pop-up window, you can type in the math you want, use LaTex to code the math you want, use handwriting recognition to write the math you want, or use speech input to record the math you want. Then click "insert math." It's that easy.

Here is a quick video to show how the handwriting recognition works:

Here is a video to show how the speech input tool works. It's worth noting that EquatIO "listens" carefully to what you say and tries to only turn that math words into insertable math.

EquatIO also has a prediction feature for premium users. In this video I show a few things that are quickly predicted:

EquatIO also has a student response tool that I blogged about here. The retirement of g(Math) is really an evolution from add-on to Chrome extension, full of more possibilities and to be used in more ways. 

Monday, January 1, 2018

What Top Chef Taught Me About Teaching

Did you see this tweet on New Year's Eve?

I did, and just as my wheels started turning about how fun it could be, the tweet was quickly ratioed. The Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere almost universally hated the idea. Math teacher Jamie Garner postulated that the idea could work and posted this good read to her blog. Other than Jamie, most comments read like Alice Keeler's opinions on homework.

I don't watch a ton of TV, but a few reality shows have captured my interest over the years. I jumped on the American Idol bandwagon after season 1, but was with Project Runway right from the start. This summer the viral Mandy Harvey video got me hooked on America's Got Talent. My unlikeliest love is Top Chef. Who wants to watch a show where you see food being prepared but don't get to eat it? It turns out, I do! Here are my takeaways from my reality show viewing:

  • You will have to step out of your comfort zone to create something spectacular.
  • But it's important to edit. Don't add so many elements that you lose your focus.
  • You will have to work in teams and your ability to do so will help determine your success. The people around you can influence your work and teach you great things.
  • It will be stressful. And there will be challenges that you don't see coming. Some will manage that well; some will not.
  • If you attempt this without much training or experience, the odds are not in your favor.
  • Reflecting on why something worked, or didn't, is a very important part of the process.

That list sounds a lot like teaching to me. Sometimes, as I prepare for a lesson or an inservice, I start telling myself to pare down, that I have too many ingredients in my dish!

I don't know exactly how the Great American Teach-off will pan out, but here's the show I would like to watch, Teach Your Way to the Top: Take a group of twelve amazing teachers with varied backgrounds and licenses. Give them a week to learn a technique or some content or whatever the challenge is. They teach every day and on the last day someone is eliminated. The week everyone teaches kindergarten, perhaps the calculus teacher struggles, but during chemistry week, maybe the preschool teacher has to dig deep. Change locations so we can see rural, urban, and suburban settings. Find a great host and expert judges. Film it during the summer so teachers wouldn't have to leave work to participate. Show the episodes during the school year so others could be edutained and inspired. Make the prize a great one.

A wise man once said that Math Class Needs a Makeover. Certainly others have said that about American education in general. Would a show like this provide that makeover? Absolutely not. But it might raise awareness of the successes and challenges in our education system. Because of Top Chef, I learned about food trucks and pop-up restaurants. I didn't know that chefs carried around their knives as their most important tools. I didn't know that salt, fat, acid, and heat can be considered the 4 elements of every great dish. I didn't know about the training or artistry that a chef brings to his dish. And I certainly couldn't have named any famous chefs past Julia Child. Perhaps if people tuned in to Teach Your Way to the Top, they might learn more about the time we devote to our craft, the importance of content standards, the reasoning behind a new pedagogy, and the inequity inherent in American education. And understanding and awareness might pave the way for needed reform and innovation.