Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Do Your Students Memorize the Periodic Table?

Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three.

- Confucius -

Frequently, when I mention the fact that I teach chemistry, the first question in response is, "Do you still have them memorize the periodic table?"  This of course is followed by an explanation of how they remember having to memorize all of the elements, the names, the symbols and of course the masses, and how they can no longer remember any of it.

My first inclination is to break into a tirade about my theory of teaching, the Three C's and building a culture of learning.  And, how I do not believe memorization is learning.  How if you memorize something, this does not mean you know what it is or how to utilize it. I would continue that I do not sit down and memorize the recipies in order to cook a meal.  But if I cook the meal well enough a number of times the recipie becomes a part of my knowledge base.  And, that the more times I cook the meal, the less often I need to refer to the recipie.

That is why I give all of my students a periodic table that I have created. I gathered ideas from the other chemistry teachers I work with as well as using information found on the various periodic tables available online and through science distributors like Fisher and Flinn and of courseI looked at a variety of periodic tables in textbooks.  From all of this I designed a periodic table that is a tool that can be used by the students to successfully navigate their year of chemistry.

I allow my students to use their periodic table during all of their work throughout the year, including in class work, quizzes, tests, homework, online assignments, the entire workload for the year.  Invaribly if the students use a this tool enough, the information on the periodic table will become part of their knowledge base and eventually they will use the most repetitive information without referring to the table as the year progresses. Of course, the elements that are used most often like oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen sodium and chlorine, are the elements that become part of the students knowledge base.  How often, really, do we use Praseodynium [59 Pr - 140.91amu] or Erbium [ 68 Er - 167.26amu] or in the course of our lives?

Therefore, my answer is a resounding NO!!!! I do not have my students memorize the periodic table.  I do however, expect them to master the use of the periodic table as a problem solving tool throughout their year in chemistry and beyond.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Viscosity Tube Lab

Speed of the Bubble
Viscosity Tube Set

For several years now I have used the Speed of the Bubble Viscosity Tube sets from Educational Innovations as an introduction to speed and velocity.


The viscosity tubes set contains three tubes filled with oils of varying viscosities in three distinct colors.  Students time the movement of a bubble through the oil.  Beginning with the basics of distance over time as the speed of an object, students can calculate the speed each bubble.  Students then create a chart of distances at 2 second time intervals.  From this data students then plot points on distance versus time graph on a coordinate grid.

Students continue the process by drawing the line of best fit for the data of each tube and then complete their data by calculating the slope of the line for the data of each tube.  Utilizing this data and the calculations students compare the slope of the line and calculated velocities to gain an understanding of reading a motion graph.

From this activity students can demonstrate an understanding of:

  • Distance
  • Defining Viscosity
  • Calculating Speed
  • Calculating Velocity
  • Measuring Techniques
  • Timing Techniques
  • Gathering Data
  • Creating a Data Table
  • Graphing x and y Coordinates
  • Drawing a Line of Best Fit
  • Calculating Slope of a Line
  • Reading a Motion Graph

This Speed of a Bubble Lab is a great way to review basic algebra concepts while introducing the properties of velocity in physics.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Brain Cravings

I have been most fortunate to participate in three workshops by Louis Mangione.  It is an absolute pleasure to experience an educator who makes both teaching and learning appear effortless.  Louis Mangione's workshop on "Brainstreaming" is an absolute masterpiece as Mr. Mangione weaves together the art of teaching into a lessons about how the brain learns, efficient teaching in the block, history, math, italian and art.

One of the most important points Mr. Mangione shared is the three things that the learning brain craves:
Ritual, Novelty and Challenge.

Children, especially teen-agers crave Ritual.  They are lulled in to a state of security in knowing what is going to happen.  They are most comfortable when there is a definite routine, pattern, schedule.  It is in the safety of the expected that students find comfort and are able to let down their guard and be open to the process of learning.

Routine, however, can also be the death of the learning process if that ritual becomes monotonous.  Therefore, the brain also craves Novelty.  Students are always looking for something new, different, unique. Something to grab their attention and keep it.

Although most students will not admit this for fear of the work it may create, they do crave Challenge.  
They want to be challenged to complete new tasks, scale new heights and push themselves to new accomplishments. 

It is the task of the teacher to find balance among these three concepts.  Create a culture of learning within their classroom that balances the structure and routine that provides a safe environments for students to accept and take on the challenges without fear.  Where there is enough novelty that the process of learning does not become stagnant and the willingness to take on a challenge is not lost to boredom.

"It is the supreme art of the teacher...
to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."        
- Albert Einstein -

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Summer Read - The Disappearing Spoon

This summer I read The Disappearing Spoon (And Other True Tales of Madness Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements), by Sam. Kean.

Kean provides a wonderful new viewpoint of the elements of the periodic table through many different parameters.  He groups the elements in such a way that the reader can easily understand the format concept of the periodic table. Kean introduces the elements of greed Gold, Silver and Platinum as well as those used as weapons of war Bromine, Tungsten and Molybdenum to allow the reader to understand the chemical characteristics, similarities and differences that make these elements functional for each purpose. The book provides enough background of the development of the periodic table from Mendeleev to Seaborg. 

However, one of the better portions of the text involves the explanation of the Big Bang, the lives of stars and how "stuff" gets produced.  Kean's explanation of of "How we are all Star Stuff" and the process of this understanding offers a wonderful bridge for the link between Physics and Chemistry.   

For any science teacher The Disappearing Spoon provides those stories that will help to capture the attention and imagination of students at any level of science. Kean brings such an enthusiasm for the material that the reader is drawn in to reading more and more.  He makes chemistry real by tying the usually vague ideas of elements to very real historical events and people. Kean does an outstanding job of blending the history and science of the elements in everyday language. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Five Basic Rules to Learn By

Everyone needs time to think and learn.
We each learn in our own ways, by our own timeclocks.
It is okay to make mistakes. That is how we learn.
It is intelligent to ask for help. No one need do it alone.
We can to more an learn more when we are willing to risk.

These five basic rules should be embodied by teachers, mentors, coaches, parents and students alike.
If everyone who is involved in the process of learning would take into account that we all have a wide variety of talents, skills, characterisitics and tolerances, and that each of us must be given the opportunity to develop our own success the process of learning would be far less stressful and much more enjoyable for all. 

Educators must understand that there is no definite timetable for learnig. Just because the curriculum guide or our semester overview or our lesson plan says we are supposed to be on chapter five, this des not mean that we are all ready for the content or skills in chapter five.  However, we do not live in a perfect world where everyone is allowed to do what they want when they want to.  Therefore, we must
create a learning environment that provides the comfort and security for our students to be willing to attermpt new things, to make mistakes and take risks, knowing that the process of learning is the ultimate reward and that success is measured against oneself not against an artificial measure of the group.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lasallian Educators are FAITHFUL and CREATIVE

I was given the following at a back to school retreat  last week. 

Lasallian Educators are both FAITHFUL and CREATIVE

FAITHFUL - Commited to the values, beliefs and attitudes that underly the ministry

CREATIVE - Versed in the methodologies employed to communicate tose values to TODAY's student.

As I begin this new year, I am reminded to look at my classroom as means of providing the students entrusted to my care with an avenue to understand and embrace those core principles that make us a Lasallian Community: Faith in the Presence of God, Quality Education, Inclusive Community, Respect for All Persons and Concern for the Poor and Social Justice.  I must gaurantee that these are not just a nice list of words and terms that the students can memorize but an actual method of living that the students can embrace.

I must look at the lessons I am creating and first determine, not only if I am providing a clear model of the core principles, but am I providing that message in a way that speaks to those students on a level that thaey can visualize and live out? I must step out side my own comfort zones at times to experience their world but also have the conviction to demand the most of each of them within our community.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Welcome Back!!!

School is back in session.
Summer vacation has come to an end.
Students are heading back to the classroom.

Are you simply going to break out last year's lesson plans and change the dates?
Will you make copies of the same handouts you used last year?
Will this year's students hear the exact same stories you have told for the last five years?
Can students simply find copies of last year's quizzes and tests from your former students?
Have you checked the video library to make sure the same movies will be available again this year?

What will you bring to your classroom this year?
What have you added to your repertoire?
How will you enhance the learning process for the students entrusted to your care?

Have you added a new project to the curriculum?
Did you increase your understanding or use of technology?
Have you read journals, books, blogs or newletters to gain new stories and information?
Did you or will participate in a workshop or inservice to gain new insights?
Have you read any new research on how the brain learns?
Did you visit other teachers classrooms to add to your Best Practices?
Did you take a class this summer? 
Did you travel to someplace that will provide inspiration to your classroom?
Have you watched any documentaries, TED Talks or You Tube videos to add to your knowledge base?
Have you created a classroom blog?
Will you create new quizzes or tests?
Have you added a new text?
Have you changed the decor of your room?

What will be new in your classroom?
How have you made yourself a better educator?
Are you a Dynamic Teacher?

I refer you back to one of my first blog posts, If as a Teacher...

Remember, Stagnant Waters Kill the Fish!!!

If you wish to turn your students into life long learners, than you must also value learning?
Your growth as an educator is just as important as their growth as students of learning?