Unit Redesign IT is…

As January comes around we will move into the second and final semester of this school year and my IB Standard level Chemistry students will have one topic left to cover.  They will also have plenty of review to do, examination technique to perfect and past paper questions to work through until they are ready and prepared for the May session.  My choice of Unit Design will be two-fold.  I plan for them to be very self-directed for that last major topic: Environmental Chemistry.  I would like to incorporate flip-teaching in two ways.  I will prepare or recommend videos for them to watch before coming to class in order to discuss.  I will also require them to prepare videos (using educreations so they do not go overboard with production and editing) with which to teach their peers.  They will be required to embed their videos into the class Environmental Chemistry website which they will create and collaborate on using Google sites.  Environmental Chemistry is such an important topic of which everybody has opinions (whether they are a chemistry student or not); the environment is discussed on the news and in other areas of the curriculum (TOK, Geography, Physics, Environmental Systems and Society); it will make for excellent discussion.

Some rights reserved by fusion-of-horizons

I would envisage students using TodaysMeet in order to keep records of their key points.  There will also be the opportunity for plenty of experimental work and the use of technology will be key as we’ll need to utilize the data-logging probes to measure pH etc.

As we move into Examination Review mode I would like to see students using Google Forms and Flubaroo to create review quizzes for each other.  I’ll want a number of those quizzes to be converted into a Jeopardy type format to help change the pace of lessons as we get closer to exam time.

I know that within those classes there is a fair amount of IT expertise – but I also feel that I will be able to help them out effectively and, as mentioned in previous posts, I have the good fortune to have the additional back up of Tech Integrators who will be happy to stop by and help out.  Exciting times ahead!

Tech management in class

This school year has seen me take some big steps to integrate tech into the classroom.  The management of students and their laptops has not really been any more of an issue than before.  There are always (and I think there always will be) hindrances to the smooth running of a lesson.  Students might be working on other assignments, be Skyping with friends in other classes, not have downloaded the file from the blog as requested, not have watched the video you asked them to, have left their USB key at home, have forgotten their laptop charger, have been locked out of the server and need to visit IT to get their password reset etc.  These problems and others are clearly addressed in Classroom Management of Laptops and 23 Things about Classroom Laptops.

My biggest problem, though, has been to go paperless.

marked using iAnnotate

I expended a huge amount of energy back in August and September trying to not use or receive paper from my Grade 10 Chemistry classes.  The school had introduced Teacher Dashboard for Google Apps and together with my new iPad and iAnnotate I was determined to grade electronically and say “bye-bye” to paper assignments.  The idea was (and still is) marvellous; students placed their assignments into their folder in my Teacher Dashboard as a pdf.  I would then open it with my iPad using iAnnotate and then use a stylus to mark and make comments on their work.  The problem was how to then get that work back into the original folder so the students could access it.  iAnnotate allowed me to import and export annotated docs to Dropbox but the problem was getting them quickly and easily from Dropbox back into Dashboard.  Problems with Dashboard, Google Drive and the way folders were named (or not!) led me to seek help from David Collett.  We experimented by moving my entire Drive into Dropbox; I was then able to rename the folders in Drive and so quickly identify student folders so that files could be easily moved back and forth.  It was quite a Eureka moment until we discovered that there were problems with my Dropbox being on several computers and synching issues with them and Dropbox in the Cloud.  Fortunately everything we had moved around and tampered with had been securely backed up.  We decided to call it a day at that point and wait until either Google Drive, Dropbox or iAnnotate came up with an update to streamline the process.  I think we’re still waiting.

The experiment was an exciting one and really got me more interested than ever in the possibility of e-marking.  The biggest frustration I encountered was the fact that my students were suffering since they did not receive back their assignments in a timely manner.  If I had received it on paper they would get it back the following lesson.  I still prefer handwriting comments to commenting in the Google Doc itself and so this journey is one that is not yet over!


You’ve Come A Long Way Baby

I began my teaching career at an international school in Hong Kong back in September 1991.  I taught Mathematics and Chemistry.   I had no computer to prepare lessons with or to search for resources, no smart-board to use with the students, no data probes to link up to laptops….the use of technology in my classroom was zero.

Today, each student comes to class with their own laptop, and smartphone, perhaps a tablet such as an iPad.  My lab is equipped with an interactive whiteboard.  I have access to class sets of Powermacs and iPads.  I have Vernier and Pasco data loggers with which to record data straight to a laptop during an experiment.  The myriad of interactive applications and software (mostly free) available to a teacher is now huge: I can incorporate google forms, docs, Flubaroo, Quizlet, TodaysMeet, Socrative, Reflector (to name a few) into my lessons.  Has technology changed the way I teach?  It’s come a long, long way!  The increased use of technology means that everything a student could possibly need to help them in their understanding, application, analysis,  evaluation and creation is at their fingertips.  My role is that of facilitator.

There is more and more use of online methods of education such as University of the People.  While these type of “schools” have there place the most compelling thing about a school education is that it brings students and teachers together in the same room.  We engage with one another in our classrooms despite the technology that we use.  Isn’t that the most fulfilling part of being a teacher? It is something I truly hope will not disappear……

Flippity doo dah…

I’m very fortunate to be a Chemistry teacher interested in trying the flipped approach to teaching in the classroom/lab.  Two of the the innovators of the flipped class room, Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, happen to be Chemistry teachers.  Hear from them about how they see a flipped classroom.  They have created an entire set of videos with which to use in a general chemistry course.

Brian Bennett, another Chemistry teacher, is another hugely inspirational leader in the field of flipped education and his site is a treasure trove of useful resources and ideas for science teachers.  Brian is serious enough about this to explain the entire philosophy of the flipped approach to administrators, teachers and parents.  Follow Brian at #flipclass and see what others are doing out there at Flipped Learning.

I personally do not flip my lessons as much as I would like to but have found it to be a great way to devote more hands on time in the classroom.  Creating your own videos can take a huge amount of time and although there are hundreds out there on YouTube, TedEd and Kahn Academy they do not always precisely address what I would like to get across to the student.  I have found educreations to be a great timesaver; it is a very simple iPad app that allows you to create your video and then post directly to their site where it is immediately available to students.  In the past I used my Promethean whiteboard together with a microphone but found the process a bit too messy and you need a Promethean!  With educreations and an iPad you can reply to student email queries with a video from wherever you are (within reason!)…it can take as little as 5 minutes to make and share it.  As a teacher of an experimental science I have also found the flip useful for demonstrating lab techniques.  I can have students watch a lab technique at home, pause it, replay it, make notes etc. and then come to the lab ready to carry out the experiment without me then having to spend 30 minutes showing them what to do.

YouTube Preview Image

Having students watch me solve calculations or explain chemical concepts in the comfort of their own home (or on the way to school on the bus) allows them to spend more time in class solving problems and asking pertinent questions once they have had time to digest the information.

I think the flipped classroom is the way forward but whether I will ever get to the same level of preparedness as Sams, Bergman and Bennett is not likely to happen soon…..perhaps when my 1 year and 5 year old daughters have grown up.


Technology Integration assessed using SAMR

Any time we use technology in the classroom we must force ourselves to think carefully and critically about why we are doing so.  An excellent way to gauge the relevance of what we are doing is using the SAMR model for evaluating our integration of technology.  Making this type of evaluation (and it only needs to be a brief, informal evaluation) can ensure that we are not just using technology for technology’s sake.

Reflecting on my own integration of technology in my Chemistry lab I feel assured to know that as well as including Substitution and Augmentation, there is plenty of Modification and Redefinition going on.


The interactive simulations found at Phet (University of Colorado at Boulder) allow for experiments which are impractical or impossible in High School labs to be carried out and data to be collected and processed; Redefinition according to SAMR.

Models of the Hydrogen Atom


Click to Run


Other examples of Redefinition can also include the creation and use of video tutorials (by teacher and student) using a number of applications. My current favourite (thanks to its simplicity) is educreations which allows you to make a video on an iPad and then upload it to the Cloud giving students immediate access.

TodaysMeet allows for for class collaboration and immediate feedback during tasks such as group discussions or during educational videos; Modification. Socrative allows for immediate student feedback in the form of quizzes, true/false questions, multiple chice questions, short answer questions and an Exit Ticket which allows for an end-of-class pulse-check. This is Modification but the immediacy and speed with which responses are recorded (anonymously) allow for much more effective use of class time.

Evaluation of one’s own use of Technology Integration is a valuable exercise allowing a teacher to weigh up pros and cons.  If the integration is helping to make students attain a higher level of understanding then go for it!


The NET Standards for Students

“Who’s job is it to teach the NETs standards to students and how do we ensure they are being met in an integrated model?”

Such an incredibly important question! I think that teachers often like to assume that the job is somebody else’s.  I personally believe that it should fall on the shoulders of all subject teachers to make sure that students are able to work effectively in this digital age.  Fortunately at the High School I work at we have Technology Integrators who are happy to come to classes to suggest ways that students can carry out various IT tasks; they do a great job of digitally enabling the students.  Grade 9 students used to take an Information Literacy class where the NETS Standards were addressed.  However that course has been phased out as, this year, a wide variety of new courses (Integrated Technology-Computer Programming-Intro Robotics-Advanced Robotics-Integrated Technology-Animation, Digital Effects and Game Design-Digital Photography and Imaging-Digital Graphic Design and Publishing-Design Technology ) were offered allowing students to focus their personal interests while still being able to use the NETS standards.  I think then the onus of teaching those NETS  would move to Middle School with High School making sure that they are integrated throughout the curriculum.


Uploading an edited video…not always so easy

Here is a video (Part 1 of two) that I use with my chemistry classes in preparation for them carrying out an acid/base titration.
In the past I would demonstrate the techniques shown here in the lab with my students on the day of the experiment.  By getting the students to watch the video at home it allows them to pause and watch clips again until they have a better understanding of the techniques they will use on the day of the experiment.  It also means that the entire class period can be used by the students to carry out the actual titration.

This video itself was made last year and posted to my Chemgoody YouTube channel without any editing at all.  The footage was recorded on a Flip video camera and saved as an AVI file.  The first problem I came across was that AVI files cannot be imported to iMovie, so I had to convert to MP4 using HandBrake.  After importing into iMovie I edited the video on my home iMac by cutting out various frames and adding transitions between the cut sections.  I then came across the second major problem; when I tried to add text to frames iMovie crashed…every time.  I managed to solve this by copying the project and event onto my USB key and bringing it to school.  By opening the project on my school iMac I was able to add the title page, end page and a couple of subtitles to the film.  All good so far until I tried to upload to YouTube…third problem…each time I tried the upload would stop at 31 % and go no further.  My solution was to upload to Vimeo and finally we have a result!

Remix Culture

I heard about this remixed video from Sean Thompson at a recent IB workshop we both attended.  It was created by Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University and I love the way it encapsulates copyright law while at the same time showing an imaginative way of remix in action.  I’ll be showing this to my classes when I get back from my long-earned October break at the beach.  It’s amusing yet very pertinent to their needs and the issues surrounding academic honesty; something that our students forget with the hugely accessible resources on the WWW.

I made another post about “Everything’s A Remix” if you’re interested.


I loved these infographics from The Chemical Blog.  They are aesthetically pleasing, include essential chemical information and give examples of the chemical’s use in everyday life; beautiful yet practical!  They’ll look great up on the wall in my lab or on my blog…..great ways to capture student interest,  provoke further inquiry and get into that long-term memory.

Ethylene Glycol Infographic by The Chemical Blog
Courtesy of: The Chemical Blog
Acetic Acid Infographic by The Chemical Blog
Courtesy of: The Chemical Blog