September 24, 2009

Chemistry Teaching Musings (IV)

Posted in Chemistry, Teaching/Education at 10:02 pm by faith786

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Assalamu Alaikum,

I think I figured out why I use roman numerals. Probably because when I have to name d-block molecules, I have to put the roman numeral charge, so it is somehow subconsciously coming on to my blog….

I am again procrastinating my lab report and I am super grateful that I DID NOT break anything this week. (Alhamdulillah! LOL)

I don’t feel comfortable typing this. XD

I was reading some random article about how a student’s emotions are almost directly correlated with how the student will perform at school. Now as a teacher, it isn’t my business to know what is happening at home (unless it is something extremely detrimental, illegal, etc.) but I know that I have some control of how the student can ‘feel’ in the classroom. My computer professor always shows us a mini youtube clip before class to ‘loosen’ up our mood so that way it can help us transition into his class.

(News anchorman to a little girl: Do you believe in Santa Claus? Little Girl: No I am Jewish!)

So I was thinking–what are some ways to help ‘uplift’ a student’s mood while keeping the class focused on the subject matter (chemistry)? And how can I be both a good educator and a source of inspiration of learning for the students? So I came up with some ideas that may or may not work:

  • Technology: (Did I just put that as my first point? I must be losing it….) Apparently the new IFS chemistry teacher has one day of the week where for about 5 minutes she would show a video clip of a chemical reaction/something chemistry related just to get her student’s feet wet in other areas of chemistry she can’t bring in the classroom. And watching footage MAY help distract a student’s mind from other problems he/she may be dealing with outside of the classroom. This may work, but it is not something I would want to do too frequently….
  • Articles/Real Event News Related to Chemistry: Chemistry is hard to learn because it is really hard to visualize. I often hear people complaining about the Mythical Irrelevant Chemistry Syndrome (MICS): How chemistry is a bunch of symbols that have no place in the world. Having something related to the ‘real’ world be it an article, movie clip or image, can really help educate and maybe even inspire students to learn….
  • Breaking Apparent Logic. I have seen this done by about three teachers/professors in my life. It is a technique that requires planning and intelligence. I’ll use an example from my high school math/physics teacher, who is one of the coolest people in the world. Period. He mentioned the concept of gravity and how it affects velocity, force, etc. He then asks us that if we keep in mind weight, size and mass, which would fall first to the earth–a small marker or a thick textbook? From ‘apparent’ logic, you would say the book because it would have more force, mass, etc. But then after he dropped both of them and they fell at the same time, he ‘broke’ the student’s ‘apparent’ logic. It immediately captured most of the students’ attention. If anything, by instinct as humans react to loud noises. XD Actually, my chemistry professor did something of this method with calculating atomic mass. The only issue was, I think he tripped up a lot of students with introducing the electron mass because some students left confused. (I was confused for other reasons.) So this method is a bit dangerous, but excellent when executed correctly.
  • Bringing up Facts That are Directly Related to the Students. The keyword is RELATED. You can pull any fact (like how ice in water will remain at the same temperature until the ice fully melts) but it doesn’t mean much to a student unless you can relate it to the student or the student to it. You can, for example, offer the student a glass of water and offer the student to propose on how to make the cup of water as cold as possible and then crack this fact on the student when he/she puts ton of ice in 60 mL of water.
  • Mnemonic (can’t spell it), Rhyming, Catchy Slogan technique(s): Psychology studies suggest that rhythm helps with memory. That is how the Quran is easier to memorize than other religious texts because it has a slight rhythm(s) to it. Similarly, songs, slogans and other things get committed to memory easier than rope memorizing because it exercises different parts of the mind. Red Cat [reduce at cathode], LEO says GER [Loss Electron=Oxidation/Gain Electron=Reduction], Percent to Mass, Mass to Mole; Divide by smallest and multiply until whole [empirical formula], Clouds Hovering Over [balancing combustion reactions: first Carbon, Hydrogen, then Oxygen] etc. I still remember them and they are dead useful on a test. But I never really understood the:’ If it were left up to me, it would be down right easy’ [significant figures] one. But then again, I suck at sig figs.
  • Emphasize Proper Nutrition and Exercise at Home  in the Classroom. I know this isn’t really related to chemistry, but if a student gets this right, I read a study a year ago that performance increases by 30%! And it is good for the student’s physical, psychological and emotional health, which in turn will help them in the classroom. I am not saying to lecture them everyday, but giving a gentle push or offering something can work wonders for an individual. Speaking of which, I haven’t gone for a run today….
  • Asking the Right Questions. This point is specifically in dedication to Mr. Ibrahim, my AP English teacher, my current chemistry professor, and my current history/gender and urban life professor. This is critical for learning in the classroom. You can ask any question, but if you ask the *RIGHT* questions, it can bring a student’s attention back to the subject/teacher. But this requires caution because some questions might be excellent, and the students are thinking, but they need a little ‘help’ or ‘guidance’ or what to look for. For example, my history professor mentioned about the validity of some of the sources of historical studies. I mentioned how almost all the information was procured by a distinct group of people in society, how the questions were biased, how there were no empirical facts. She was looking for us to see the ulterior motive for that particular group of people making that study. To make that inference, she needed to ask us: Well, why do you think the ***** would want to have these studies in the first place? That is a good way of guiding the student without necessarily spoon feeding the student. An excellent chemistry example happened recently: My professor inquired a group of students how the nature of scientific discovery or logic of deduction affect us in other areas of life (i.e. decision making). That took chemistry out of the classroom and made students wonder how scientific thinking literally affects them.

…There are many other points, but I’ll give this as enough for one post. You also don’t want to give students too much to read. XD And I am tired of typing and I think it is safe to say that you are sick of reading. I’ll ramble more later.

Please pray I become the best chemistry teacher I can be and if you have ANY advice (even if you think it is stupid or politically incorrect), please feel free to comment or email me!



  1. Noreen said,

    Nice. I like the breaking apparent logic.Health is important but I am too lazy. 😀

    Stuff teachers do that I like:

    -making us do problems on a worksheet in class or letting us go to the board to do a problem. Only sometimes.

    -Funny experiments related to class. I remember you told me about how you attempted to dip a $100 dollar bill in alcohol and you lit it on fire and you put it out before the flame hit the bill. That was an eye opener. But you have to somehow relate that to class.

    -your chemistry dramas would be great to explain chemical concepts. You should do that again sometime on your blog.

    -Use candy for balancing reactions. Actually, I want candy now. I’ll comment later.

  2. faith786 said,

    Thanks for the tips. I’ll definitely write them down and try to implement them IF i survive to finish both of my majors and miraculously get certified.

    Actually, you have inspired me to write part V. Better start writing!

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