Reflection: Developing a Conceptual Understanding Chemical Reactions Un-Notes - Section 4: Signs of a Chemical Change Un-Notes


Over the course of my teaching career, I have evolved a lot in terms of my view of "notes".  Early in my career, I thought that notes were an essential part of science.  It was something that you had to do as a science teacher.  I "learned" that way and it was the same way my college professors taught. At the start a new unit or skill, I would have my students copy down information from a powerpoint, projector, or the board.  

However, as I have continued in my teaching career, I realized that there isn't much learning happening on these note-taking days.  There was just a lot of copying.  I starting to feel as if learning requires students to develop their own ideas and conceptual understanding.  And, simply rewriting my words was not even close to accomplishing that.  So, I started what my students now call "un-notes".  They named it "un-notes" because it is quite different from traditional note taking.  

Here is the short explanation on "un-notes":  

1.  Any definition, law or theory that I want the students to have are already typed and included on the notes sheet.  The students never copy anything word-for-word from the board.

2.  Students are the ones coming up with their own conceptual understanding.  Anything worth writing down must be an idea or concept generated by the student.

3.  The un-notes involve hands on models, labs, or teacher demonstrations.  Students need to move, see, and experience things in order to generate real ideas on a topic.

Earlier in my career, during this lesson, I would have had the students take notes.  I would have told them the "5 signs of a chemical change are gas production, temperature change, color change, pH change, and solid formation."  Then, I would have had them write those down.  I would have explained examples of each of those and would have the students copy down an example of each.  With "un-notes", the students are the ones determining the signs of a chemical change on their own.  And, believe me, they will remember them way more having developed them themselves than they would have copying them down on paper.  Real learning can only happen when students make their own understanding and connections.

This is such a big shift in thinking, I know there are some of you out there already going through the reasons in your head why this won't work.  So, I thought I would address some of these right away:

1.  "But note-taking is an important skill.  I have to teach it."  As an adult, I cannot remember a time that I have been in a meeting that I wasn't given a copy of the agenda or power point.  The speakers don't expect me to write everything down word for word.  In the professional world, traditional note-taking does not exist.  What is expected however, is that as I listen to a speaker, that I add notes in the margins as I make my own connections and ideas about the topic.  These notes are absolutely important.  These are the kinds of connections I think that "un-notes" help with.  Copying things down word for word does not "teach" note taking. 

2.  "But students are going to have to be able to do it in high school."  First, I would guess that most high school teachers put their power point slides on their websites.  In this day in age, the resources are there.  Second, I would encourage you to never make a decision founded on educational practice that is not developmentally appropriate just because someone in the students' future is going to make them do it.  If it is not supported by evidence of having educational benefits, you are only perpetuating the problem by repeating it.

3.  "But I have to teach the kids or they won't learn it."  It is terrifying to let go of control, I know.  It is scary to believe that the students could actually learn without you.  But, I am telling you they do learn this way.  And, while you might not be the one up there telling them what they should know, they do still need you - just in a different role.  They need you to help them increase their observation skills.  They need you to ask them probing questions to help them reach an understanding.  They need to you to address misconceptions when you hear them.  They need to you to provide them with the perfect demonstration or lab that can help them see the learning in front of them.  But, they don't need you to tell them all of the concepts and definitions.  They can do that on their own.

4.  "But if I don't tell them, they might learn it wrong or form incorrect ideas."  You are right.  They might form misconceptions; however, I strongly believe that they are doing that same exact thing when you are lecturing.  Students are forming these misconceptions in their minds each time you give notes.  The difference about "un-notes" is you get to hear their conversations.  You get to hear their mental processes of how they formed the misconception.  Then, you have the insight into not only how to address the misconception, but help others that might be thinking in the same way.

5.  "But students need a resource to look up information."  I agree!  You don't have to throw away all of your own powerpoints or notes sheets.  All I am suggesting is that you simply copy them or link them to your website completely filled out for all students to use whenever they wish.  Students will use your typed notes as a resource along the way.  But, this way, they will have it exactly as you wanted them to.  No gaps in their notes where they got distracted when the student next to them was tapping their pencil.  No illegible handwriting with spelling errors that makes it impossible to use as a resource later.  They have a valuable resource that they can utilize to further their thinking when they need it.

  The Benefits of "Un-Notes"
  Developing a Conceptual Understanding: The Benefits of "Un-Notes"
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Chemical Reactions Un-Notes

Unit 6: Chemical Properties and Reactions
Lesson 1 of 9

Objective: Students will be able to identify the signs of a chemical reaction, and find patterns in qualitative data that can be used to make predictions about other phenomena.

Big Idea: Students watch three exciting demonstrations that allow them to come up with signs of a chemical reaction on their own! The demonstrations include Elephant's Toothpaste, The Iodine Clock, and Rocket Engine. Your students will be in awe of these reactions!

  Print Lesson
117 teachers like this lesson
Science, Chemistry, Temperature Change, Chemical Reactions and Balancing, middle school, signs of a chemical change, chemical reaction, gas production, color change, physical change, reaction
  90 minutes
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