When students enter the room, they are asked to take out their journals and to write about the following prompt: What is chemistry? How do you know? What are some examples?
I walk around and read the students' entries while they are working on them. Doing this gives me a snapshot of what the students understand about the topic. Once the students have had some time to record their thoughts, I ask for volunteers to share their answers with the class. If none of the students volunteer, I call on a couple of students. Since I have already read many of their answers, I select students whose answers are on the right track and that have interesting examples of chemistry. This discussion helps to further activate students' prior knowledge of the topic.
The students came up with a variety of different explanations when writing in their journals. In this student entry, the student lacks a clear definition of chemistry and is careful to note that "younger" students think chemistry deals with potions. The example below it comes closer to explaining chemistry by noting that it plays a role in the process of baking as far as the mixing of items and the role that heat can play in chemistry. The final journal entry uses medicine as an example and references information about chemicals and elements, as they were discussed in seventh grade, and alludes to the idea that ratios are important in chemistry. As a whole, the students' prompts showed me that many of them had a working knowledge of some of the vocabulary dealing with chemistry and appropriate examples, but that they lacked a concrete definition for the term chemistry.
I tell the students that as we move into our chemistry unit, I would like to have an even better understanding of the information they remember from previous years. It feel it is important that they know that I use the information gained in this lesson to develop lessons to provide them with the correct level of challenge and support.
The students complete an anticipation guide by filling in the first column on their own and the second column as a group. I remind them that as they fill in the group column they should not just be counting to see how many people marked agree and how many marked disagree, but rather that each person in the group needs to explain why they selected their answer. From there, the group should develop consensus. The discussion and completion of the anticipation guide address CCSS-SL8.1, specifically, CCSS-SL8.1d, which requires students to acknowledge new information presented by others and to justify their own views.
Viewing the students' anticipation guides and listening to their discussions allows me to better understand their misconceptions and prior knowledge about the topic. For instance in this anticipation guide example it is clear that the student understands the basic structure of an atom, but is more unsure of other answers as is noted in the "it sounds scientifically correct" response. This video of anticipation guide discussion demonstrates the way in which I guide students through the process of asking questions about their anticipation guide responses. I ask the students questions about each response they give to try to stretch their thinking. Near the end of the video, I remind the students that I am not trying to confuse them, but rather encourage them to explore various aspects of the topic. A second clip demonstrates the use of probing questions to help students correct their misconception about the pH scale.
Once the groups have completed their anticipation guides, the students preview the chemistry unit information sheet. This preview includes the students highlighting the vocabulary words in red, yellow, or green, based upon their understanding of the word. The students will also highlight the unit objectives. Video instructions for how to complete the task as well as the chemistry unit information sheet are posted to Classroom. The video instructions are intended to help the students become more responsible for their own learning. If a student has a question about the activity in class, but I am working with another student, they can easily access the video for a refresher on the activity. The students can also access the video from home if they are unsure of the directions. The highlighting activity addresses CCSS-RST.6-8.4 regarding the use of context specific terms. The chemistry unit information sheets are working documents that the students will edit throughout the unit as their understanding of concepts grows. By looking at the students' unit information sheets, I can use the colors to quickly gauge the students' self-perceived levels of understanding.
*In my district, chemistry is covered during seventh and eighth grade, so having the students highlight the words and objectives shows me what they do and do not remember from the previous year.
Using Socrative (which works on tablets, laptops, desktops, and smartphones), the students complete an exit ticket on which they are again asked to write a definition for chemistry. I am able to compare their definitions from the beginning and end of class to see how their thoughts and ideas changed after discussing the anticipation guide with their peers. This also gives me a deeper understanding of their misconceptions and allows me to further tailor instruction to their needs. Several students in this class had worked ahead on the notes, so many of them were able to provide a general description of chemistry. Because food examples seem to be important to the students, I will incorporate information about food chemistry into future lessons.