When Technology is Needed: Fixing a Stale Chemistry Class

As discussed previously in this blog, I had observed that my chemistry students were not really experiencing the shift that 1:1 computing has brought to my other classes. They were using their textbook as the primary information source and slogging through practice problems by the dozen. In an attempt to mix things up a bit, I decided to have them educate each other (and anyone else who finds their work) about some aspect of current technology made possible by advances in chemistry. Last year at this time, I tried having students do a project about liquid crystals, since we were talking about states of matter.  The problem was, when it came time to present the projects, everyone had done pretty much the same powerpoint show with the same information, so that by the third presentation we were all bored because we knew it all already.

So a few weeks back I presented students with a broad list of possible topics about chemistry and technology that I thought that we all would like to learn more about such as alternative energy sources, bioremediation, quantum computers, and so on. Each student chose a topic and set to work finding good resources to post to a glog at edu.glogster.com. In addition to making an informational glog, they chose a current article about their topic to discuss with the class and created a few short quiz questions about their glog. We spent about three weeks constructing the glogs and researching articles.  Glogster proved very easy to use, with a few delays in loading media files and a few false starts for some of the students whose work didn’t save at first. As students worked, they periodically left comments on each others’ glogs with kudos or suggestions. Overall, the finished glogs were fantastic. Links to their glogs can be found on my Learn/Share page.

When it came time to present their work to the class, we got to experience their glog together on the smartboard so that we could view the video clips and have each student talk us through their topic. But before the presentations even began, I had the students agree on how we would judge each presentation. Both classes decided to score the presentations on style/creativity, required elements, and quality of information in the glogs.

After working on their glogs for so long, students seemed eager to share them with the class and to discuss their topics. Clearly everyone had chosen a topic that they cared about and the discussions were lively and interactive.  Even the quiz over the glogs was fun and challenging at the same time, with an 88% average score. After taking the quiz, students filled out an evaluation form in which they scored everyone’s project, including their own, according to the standards that they had agreed upon.

Could we have done this project using the chemistry textbook? No way! Students researched cutting edge technologies and incorporated graphics and videos, things that paper textbooks could never hope to accomplish. Additionally, the laptops allowed us to quickly evaluate the projects and assess what students learned from each other using electronic forms and Moodle-based assessments.

I continue to be sold on the need to get laptops into each student’s hands and this project confirmed for me that all of my classes need to be doing more project-based learning.  These projects might take a lot of class time away from our normal routine and “required content” but they appear to provoke genuine learning and enhance relevancy for subjects that may have lacked it in the past.

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