Chemistry is a combination of the comprehension of scientific content and the application of mathematics to those concepts. My students have to be prepared to think deeply about difficult concepts the minute they step into my room. Starting the class with a relevant "Catalyst" helps them initiate their own thinking processes in preparation for a productive day in the same way that biological enzymes catalyze chemical reactions. During The Catalyst, I model my thinking process for how to approach a mathematical problem by having my students identify the key steps in the calculation and establish a foundation that students who struggle with math can fall back on when they're confused.
Truly understanding science requires my students to think in ways they might not have experienced before. Conceptualizing something that our eyes can't always see is difficult, and so it's valuable to provide graphic organizers, visual models, and other support tools as resources that my students can access while diving into content. One of the richest ways to get students to build their own methods and approaches to solving problems is to allow them to think on paper. Lessons involving direct instruction are always broken into small segments with short, casual writing periods built into the end of each one. These Quick Write Summaries are meant to focus on content construction and are free of structural analysis. I don't grade them, but I'll always help students put together their thoughts and present them with questions that guide them to the answer. Writing-to-learn strategies like the Quick Write Summary help visual learners with long-term comprehension of scientific terminology and sets the stage for students demonstrating their knowledge through writing in future assessments.
I would describe my classroom model as a tweak on a flex model of instruction. I start each class period by giving students a problem I want them to solve, such as “How would you use the gas laws to explain how popcorn pops?” Students then have the opportunity to create their own learning paths by accessing a variety of curated online and offline resources and activities. I determine if a student has achieved mastery on a given concept by evaluating the online and offline work products they have produced during class and by administering more traditional assessments. However, if a student fails an assessment, he or she can always go back and re-take it. My classroom is 1:1 with a mix of MacBooks and iPads, which have become the vehicle for my students to move at their own pace through difficult chemistry content.
Number of Students: ~ 36 students/period
Number of Adults: one teacher
Length of Class Period/Learning Time: 120 minutes (M, T, Th, F); 45 minutes (W)
Digital Content/Ed Tech Tools Used on a Regular Basis: CK-12 BrainGenie; Google Apps for Education; eduCanon; Formative; YouTube; Screencast-O-Matic; Wikispaces; Weebly; Versal; Common Curriculum
Hardware Used on a Regular Basis: MacBook computers (1:1); 2nd Generation iPads; SMARTboard; Surface Pro 3 (for teacher)
Key Features: competency-based; content in multiple formats; problem-based; gamification; student agency
Keeping students motivated is very important in a self-paced course. Scholar Dollars is a strategy I developed to reward my students for working hard and making progress in the course. The concept of Scholar Dollars is pretty simple. Every time a student passes a Mastery Quiz, they receive five Scholar Dollars. Students receive 15 Scholar Dollars for passing a Level Test. Scholar Dollars can be used to buy school supplies, snacks, or even a pizza party. On random days, I switch up the payouts on Scholar Dollars - doubling the amount given, only paying for 100s on Mastery Quizzes or Level Tests, or giving all the Scholar Dollars earned on that day to one lucky student picked by lottery at the end of class.