Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

New Teacher here, need help with inquiry-based curriculum

  1. Jun 25, 2011 #1
    Hi everyone,

    I'm Rob, and I'm coming on here because people on these forums seem to know their stuff. I just completed a 1 year student teaching program that has a high emphasis on inquiry-based instruction.

    A few days ago I thought of an idea for a curriculum that might help foster the kids ideas, while getting them interested in the content.

    What if I used commercials in the classroom, have the kids look for things in chemistry in the commercials, and use that information to develop lessons on content from the standard curriculum?

    Ex: I saw a commercial the other day for some kind of laundry detergent. It says twice as concentrated...some thing like that. Anyway, this would be a great way to start a lesson on concentration and molarity.

    So what I'm looking for now though are two things:

    what are the major topics in chemistry if you had to reduce them to 6 or 7 different things (which would then be developed into units)


    for more difficult topics for this to occur, possibly atomic theory, bonding, and quantum: does anyone have any ideas that might help?

    I would love any feedback, whether this is coming from students, teachers, or just people that want to comment.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 27, 2011 #2

    Andy Resnick

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I like your idea of bringing real-world examples into the classroom, but commercials may not be the best source, due to... well, let's just call it "product exaggerations". I've taken examples from the 'science week' column in newspapers and (general interest) magazines with good results.

    Another possibility could be to structure some instruction around an everyday object. For example, discussing soap could involve hydrophobic/hydrophilic interactions, micelles, surfactants, foams, etc. Discussing antacids could involve pH buffering.

    I couldn't think of anything that directly relates to the nature of a molecular bond, but maybe it could be as simple as dissolving salt in water and showing how pure, insulating water becomes conductive salt water due to the mobile ions.

    Good luck- I like your approach!
  4. Jun 30, 2011 #3
    But the approach can be memorable:

    My high school chemistry teacher passed out a magazine ad about underwear that wicked away your sweat and broke down the water molecules into "H2" and "O" (in a little image of correctly shaped bent water molecules breaking into correct diatomic hydrogen molecules and incorrect little oxygen atoms -- as opposed to correct diatomic oxygen molecules). There's of course other things to discuss in there also: such as whether or not you'd really want that reaction in your pants.

    I wish I could find it now (at some point I scanned it into a file)...
  5. Jun 30, 2011 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Hi, Rob,

    Are you currently teaching students? Getting ready to do it for the first time in fall? High school? Junior high?

    My experience with inquiry-based teaching is that (1) there is a steep initial learning curve, because not everything you try will work; (2) success tends to be uneven, and it can be hard to get students to buy into it; and (3) I am very much against the extreme form of discovery-based pedagogy in which there is no textbook and students have to construct everything for themselves -- it shortchanges them.

    Straight lecturing sucks, but there are lots of different alternatives to it, including things like clickers. I like the general approach of Mazur's Peer Instruction method (he has a book with that title), which is that you hold students responsible for reading before class, and then get them to discuss concepts in class rather than expecting you to spoon-feed them everything verbally from scratch.
  6. Jul 1, 2011 #5

    Andy Resnick

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I use this approach (peer instruction) in class (minus the clickers- just have the class raise their hands), and it works. The students must first overcome their fear of 'looking foolish' in front of their peers, but by explicitly establishing a safe atmosphere early on, students will respond very positively.
  7. Jul 1, 2011 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Yeah, I agree that the actual clickers are lame. They're expensive and unnecessary.
  8. Jul 1, 2011 #7
    I actually think clickers are a pretty good tool, but the problem is a lot of people don't buy them since they're kind of expensive. But seeing as how tuition fees are skyrocketing everywhere, I don't get why universities don't just include clickers as part of them or hand them out to students "for free". That would actually make using clicker questions worthwhile including as part of lectures, as the lecturer would get a fairer representation on what the students think. Now, with usually less than half of the people having these things, they can't really provide as good as feedback as they could.
  9. Jul 2, 2011 #8
    I don't like clickers: In our institution (a large state institution) the students dislike them as a hidden quiz or attendance grade. Also, our state isn't one of the very affluent states... and a lot of students dislike the cost of clickers in addition to the cost of a text. As an aside: Having a classroom set would be great, but you'd have to worry about checkout/check-in (including already precious instruction time loss), damage, and physical loss.

    In a high school setting, you could have a classroom set (but worry about loss if you aren't careful)... but really... with a set of likely <30 students (although granted 6- sets of these per day), are clickers needed to keep track of students? With some care in circulating and listening to students during labs and activities, you should be identifying and discussing misconceptions anyways.

    What I do is the following: I give short "preclass quizzes" (in which some questions are graded for completion, some for correct answers)... making sure that students have read the assigned text and have some familiarity with vocabulary. Then my students DO activities... some with "Walmart" stuff (aka. CHEAP supplies) and some with online simulations.

    Examples of materials-based activities (note I teach physics not chem): making ice cream (phase changes/thermo), dice rolling (in a simulation of atomic decay / probability), "air toys" (Bernoulli's law, Pascals' law , etc. / Fluids).

    For simulations, I often use the PheT site. Google "PHeT" (sorry my two year old is calling and I don't have time to link). There are chemistry sims as well as physics. Andd new ones are often added; with teacher-submitted activities and clicker like "concept questions."

    I don't lecture until the next class AFTER the activity is completed; for only 10-15 minutes (referring to important parts of the activity in my summary). Then they move on to the next activity (my class sessions are 75 minutes, so each activity is about an hour).

    The method is a bit like "just in time teaching" but I use none of their materials or terminology.

    Must go. perhaps more later.
  10. Jul 2, 2011 #9


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I do pretty much what physics girl does. I give an easy quiz on the reading before we do the topic in class, but I do not give a grade on the in-class activities. In-class activities can be open-ended discussion questions, discussion in groups, or hands-on experiments. Although it is possible to do the multiple-choice thing without clickers, as described in Mazur's Peer Instruction, I actually dislike that format of a multiple-choice question followed by discussion. It just gets dreary to do it over and over as Mazur advocates. I like to mix things up more. I think the main difference between what I do and what physics girl is describing is that I intersperse little chunks of lecture material between the active learning stuff, rather than saving it up for later. Physics girl, what do you see as the advantage of doing that?
  11. Jul 3, 2011 #10

    Andy Resnick

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Ditto here. I was running into a paradox- the students all answered the reading quizzes, homeworks were fine, students were for the most part really engaged in the lecture/discussion, really excellent discussions/digressions (to explore some misconceptions, etc), but then performance on the test was poor- really poor. The common complaint was "I don't know how to get started".

    So, as an experiment, I spent a recitation period doing problem-solving techniques. Only we weren't solving physics problems, we solved the problem of "what to make for dinner tonight". Most of my students are responsible for their own meals (and a large fraction cook for their family), so it turned into a really helpful session. The students could readily identify with the problem, they understood the various approaches to solving the problem (order out, make something, etc), the various trade-offs and constraints that come into play, and understood that they couldn't simply 'give up' or not check their work in case the food is inedible. And interestingly enough, the performance on the final exam was significantly better than on the three 'regular' exams.

    I'll definitely do this again, but much earlier in the semester- like week 2 or 3.
  12. Jul 19, 2011 #11
    I started out trying to intersperse, but my students (in a large enrollment general education course for non-science majors) were of drastically different levels of preparation (some had high school calculus-based AP, some couldn't remember what science courses they even took...). They weren't finishing material at the same rate.

    During the activity (designed to last about an hour), I do wander around, listening in, answering questions, etc.... and I do sometimes interrupt to explain something on the board for the whole class, but I found that saving up the lecture for the first 15 minutes of the next class made it more concise, and additionally students then felt like they got a "lecture"... (some students used to "traditional (perhaps didactic) teaching" originally complained about that).
  13. Feb 1, 2012 #12
    Hi Rob,

    I was "thrown in" to teaching Chemistry last semester -- hired August 8th, started teaching the course August 11th. I hadn't had the college coursework in about 12 years. I normally teach another subject.

    I survived. I faced basically the same quandary as you.

    I found a few good lab books that helped. One was a college lab book called "Chemistry for People who Hate Chemistry" (great name; very good and helpful book) and another one was a Homeschooler's Guide to Chemistry Experiments. Those two were written in a way that I thought students would really understand, instead of the usual overly academic or cookbook labs.

    I focused on the labs that I could fully grasp after a first or second read. The number of poorly-written labs seem to exponentially exceed the number of well-written labs. I wish I had time to "redo" more of them. So I had about six good labs last semester, instead of eighteen poor labs.

    I did use ordinary materials as much as possible. I found a great titration using laundry soap and detergent, for instance. An added benefit was not having to worry about my (not especially mature) students from harming themselves with strong chemicals. (Although for next year, I do need to bring more "strong" chemicals into the course, but I will have ample time to plan for that.)

    I lectured 5-10% of the time and instead had students read the textbook, paraphrase important points in their own words, and sometimes do a comprehension-based worksheet as they read. They were not happy with me about that approach. Still, I think there is more value and they're more likely to retain information that way. Plus, the state has us under some pressure to focus on Literacy during our science courses, which was another reason why I chose this route. I made myself available for one-on-one help and they did take that opportunity to some extent.

    I focused my course on the state standards (there were ten) and took the perspective that in a high school course, the most important thing to do is have them master the basics and get a good foundation. In years to come, I can decorate the tree, so to speak, and add more of the optionals. I hit the required standards hard. Lots of work with the periodic table, elements, molecules, moles, stoichiometry, etc. Again the students did not quite fully grasp why we sometimes went from Chapter 7 to Chapter 10 without going page by page through the book. We had limited time though, and the choice was cover the required's deeply, or try to cover everything extremely broadly. We had Brown, Lemay, which was a college text, and I was not particularly pleased that we had to use a college text on an introductory, first year high school chem course. I don't think it is age-appropriate from a pedagogical perspective; even though 16-year-olds are beginning to think more and more like adults, they are not mini-college students.

    Please look up something called "Modeling" at Arizona State University. It is apparently the next new thing. It embraces science inquiry and it is now available for Chem, Bio, and Physics. Data is showing that students are doing very well with this approach. It is, I believe, a lock step approach that you have to use with fidelity. My state is offering training for teachers. I am not involved in this yet, but I am interested.

    Also, BSCS has an inquiry-based Chem series, but unfortunately my school does not own it.

    How did your class turn out? What activities and approach did you use?
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2012
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook