Monday, April 25, 2011

I tricked them into enjoying chem lab

At my school we are experimenting with a "third trimester" after fairly early state testing in the beginning of April. Since many of our students need to catch up on papers and other work, the plan is to use this time for them to finish papers and do other catch up work.
For example, I have 2 seniors who really needed the chemistry class that got converted to "Integrated Science I" about when I started, so I meet with them about 4 hours a week going through the text book and exercises they should be working on independently. And then they join about 10 others who have "Science Enrichment" to do some real chem labs (except that we barely have any equipment. I just bought 10 inexpensive lab goggles to replace the cheap swim goggles they were using.)

But the 10 students felt duped that they had to have more chemistry, since they didn't have much say in the matter. So when they arrived in the first lab class last week they were mad.

Although they did enjoy getting into the disposable lab coats we save from lab to lab, they refused to read the 2 pages of lab prior to doing it, and wouldn't create the data table they needed.

But I tricked them. The lab was on purifying "foul water" (coffee grinds, garlic, veggie oil and salt.) So I took the jar of water, taking the top off so they could smell it, and everyone turned around, read the first lab section, created the table and got to work.

I had them come up table by table to ask for the materials they would need (mostly with apparatus I created myself) and sent them back to read if they didn't ask for the right things.

So they ended up reading, writing data in the table, discussing chemistry, and being amazed when they dropped activated charcoal capsules into their mixture for the last step, and discovering that the room no longer smelled like garlic. Most were very good answering the questions, being very realistic about the lack of proper chemical equipment.

I find it distressing that kids have lost the curiosity to want to learn. Some prefer sitting around doing nothing, or chatting with friends about nothing in particular, or doodling (we've had quite an outbreak of male organs this spring) than using their brains a bit to figure things out.

Students tell me I'm not teaching them anything if I ask them to read, or discuss something in groups. When I try to draw on prior knowledge or extend what they've learned to something they know, they say "but you haven't taught us that!"

They apparently think that "teaching" is presenting a PowerPoint, which they are expected to copy into their notes - and then forget!

I hope the students at our school, most of whom couldn't manage at the regular public high school, are the exception. Otherwise I fear for our future when these kids who have lost their imagination - and their ability to follow directions, or read or write their own thoughts - become the adults who are to lead this country on!

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