Reflection: Student Ownership Balancing Chemical Equations - Section 5: Application


Stopping class to discuss this is important because I have come to understand that while this articulation process is a key skill that students should have, many do not; subsequently, while they are often able to do the skills I teach in class and for homework, often there is no evidence of deeper learning weeks later. Too often, the skills are lost a few weeks later because the skill was learned superficially. As a teacher of chemistry, I know I have had to spend a lot of time thinking about how to explain topics in chemistry, and then explaining them. This articulation has led to my own deeper understanding of the subject.

I believe that this realization is one of the key “aha!” moments I will have this year as a teacher: Students need to put into their own words processes, skills, and procedures in order to truly master their material. Here are some things that came out of my debut use of this method. First, many students realized they did not have the vocabulary down. For this lesson, knowing what a subscript and a coefficient are enhances a student’s ability to articulate how to balance and check for balance.

Second, some students realized that they did not really understand the process for balancing equations. They did not know, but this lead to questions because suddenly they wanted to be able to articulate. What a coup for me as a teacher, that suddenly, some students felt a need to know whereas before they did not. Something about being asked to articulate, which is a higher order thinking skill, made students want to understand the material better!

Finally, asking students to articulate made some students say “I know how to balance chemical equations but I do not know how to explain it.” Something about that statement by a student made other students really question what “knowing” meant. They were skeptical of the statement that you could know something without being able to explain it.

All in all, this was one of the most fun days of teaching I have ever had. I had a hunch that my students needed something, and struck a nerve with them when I took a risk and tried something new. 

  The Need to Articulate
  Student Ownership: The Need to Articulate
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Balancing Chemical Equations

Unit 5: Stoichiometry
Lesson 2 of 8

Objective: Students will be able to explain the law of conservation of mass and they will begin to be able to balance chemical equations.

Big Idea: Atoms are not destroyed or created in chemical reactions; they are rearranged. This means that a reaction must have the same amount of atoms of each element on both sides of a chemical equation.

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