Reflection: Grappling with Complexity Balancing Chemical Reactions--Part 1 - Section 3: Introduction to the Activity


I use the same strategy for balancing chemical reaction equations that many, many teachers have used.  In fact, this was the way I learned how to balance chemical reaction equations decades ago.  So why do I choose to use it?  Because it works.

This approach to balancing equations is algorithmic--there are clear steps that students take as they grapple with solving the equations.  These steps are not only clear, but they can become routine as students practice solving.

There are other methods out there.  I have one student who had been taught in middle school a process that involved little writing and more thinking through a conversation with himself as he balanced a reaction.  I asked him to teach me the method, but he was having difficulty articulating the steps.  So I then asked him to show me his process, and I watched as he solved several equations.  His steps were very similar to the method I use, he just was not documenting in the same way as he solved.  When I have students like this, who clearly understand the concepts, I allow them to use the method they have already been using--why reinvent the wheel?  But, I do it with the caveat that if I can not tell how they arrived at their answers with the little (or no) work shown, I can not provide feedback as to why they may arrive at an incorrect answer, I can only mark the problem incorrect and give the correct answer.  

Having a clear algorithm for solving these equations helps students who struggle with the mathematical aspect of solving.  These steps also help students who need a visual way to organize their thinking.  Even my English Language Learners take to this process well and replicate it quickly.

  Helping Students Perform Difficult Tasks: Why I Teach Balancing Chemical Reaction Equations Using This Method
  Grappling with Complexity: Helping Students Perform Difficult Tasks: Why I Teach Balancing Chemical Reaction Equations Using This Method
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Balancing Chemical Reactions--Part 1

Unit 3: Chemical Reactions and Stoichiometry
Lesson 5 of 14

Objective: SWBAT balance simple chemical reaction equations using a charting method learned in class.

Big Idea: The numbers of atoms of each element on the left side of the chemical reaction equation must equal the numbers on the right side; Subscripts cannot be changed to balance.

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