15-Step Checklist when Teaching a New Class

Students in classroom

It’s so much easier to change your teaching style at the beginning of a year than in the middle. This is because new students in a new class after a long summer break are much more receptive to change than the ones who are already used to the way you teach. In fact, most students return from their summer vacation eagerly expecting something new!

The following checklist is based on what I’ve learned since I started teaching in September 2006; and I believe it’s a great way to start teaching a new class.

Part A: Get to know your students

1. Make a grades database in Excel

Start with the following columns: Surname, First name, Email address and Gender.

Make columns for any compulsory assessment tasks (raw score and percentage). If any assessment tasks are submitted late, just add a comment to the relevant cell in the spreadsheet. Nothing more needs to be recorded in this database. Keep it really simple!

2. Set up group email lists

Use your email client (e.g. Outlook) to create groups for (a) your students and (b) your students’ parents. You’ll use these to distribute resources and reminders in future.

3. Email the parents

Send an introductory email to the parents and attach the course outline. For most students, this will be the only time you ever email their parents. Just send them one message to establish contact at the start of the year, and they’ll feel welcome to email you if they have any concerns regarding their child’s progress in your subject. Remember to put their addresses in the bcc field to hide their addresses from each other!

4. Prepare start-up packs for your students

See next week’s post on creating start-up packs for VCE Chemistry students, or make a similar start-up pack for the students in your subject.

5. Put students’ birthdays into your calendar

Take the time to put all your students’ birthdays into your calendar at the start of the year, then wish them a happy birthday face-to-face on the day. This builds rapport, and students really appreciate it!

Part B: Get to know your curriculum

6. Read and annotate all your textbooks

Teachers need to be very familiar with all the resources they give their students. Just as you’d pre-watch a YouTube video before you show it to the class, you also need to pre-read the textbook before you endorse it and use it in class.

Unless you’re already done so, read all the textbooks for all the subjects you’ll be teaching from cover to cover. Make notes in the margins as you would expect your students to do. Highlight important facts carefully and summarise every paragraph all the difficult sections in your own words. These will be the words that you write on the whiteboard (along with any important diagrams) during the lesson.

See my post on How to Read a Textbook: 6 Rules to Follow for more information.

7. Add the following to your course plan:

Your school will give you a plan for the course you’re going to teach. However, these plans don’t always contain all the information you need. Get a copy of your course plan and add the following columns to it:

  • Textbook chapter references for each week
  • Any extra resources you want to use (e.g. YouTube videos) – you can always use more later; add them to the course plan if you do.
  • Assignments / tests and their due dates. Give each assignment/test a name and stick to it. Label how much each assignment/test counts towards the student’s final grade.
  • Experiments. Label how long each experiment takes and plan which days to do each of them for the entire term in advance.

8. Gather misconceptions for each topic

Dialogues about misconceptions are a brilliant way to introduce new Chemistry topics. Derek Muller, founder of the YouTube channel Veritasium, explains this beautifully.

Using your own experience marking tests and examinations, annotate your own textbook with misconceptions that students have about each topic. For example:

Great resources include:

9. Find out what’s going to be on the tests and exam!

Not all schools teach all topics on the curriculum, and not all schools test all the topics in the examination. Find out the topics to be tested on the tests and examinations and tell the students in advance (with textbook chapter references) so they can plan their revision.

Part C: The first few lessons

10. Monthly Seating Plans

Allow the students to choose their own seats in the first lesson. Sketch a map of the room so that during the introduction session, you can label who chooses to sit where. Tell the students that you will modify the seating plan every calendar month to break up students who don’t work productively together.

Be very strict about maintaining the seating plan. This creates an atmosphere of order, structure, fairness and respect very early in the year. Be strict about punctuality and homework as well.

11. Introduction lesson

  1. Stand in a circle: “What’s your name” and “tell me something interesting about you”
  2. Ask around the circle again: “What is [Chemistry/Physics/History]?
  3. Sit down. Teacher answers questions 1 and 2 for the class. Distribute the start-up packs and show their contents.
  4. Show students the textbook and get them to write their names in it. Don’t be afraid to write in your textbook!
  5. Revision of fundamental concepts from last year (a worksheet). Use this to recap the required knowledge for this course.
  6. Dictate classroom rules & homework expectations into students’ notebooks
  7. Show the students your office
  8. Homework is to make a name plate to put on your desk (be strict about this)
  9. Dismiss

12. Second lesson

  1. How to Read the Textbook: 6 Rules to Follow
  2. How to take great notes (see my post on this in November 2014)
  3. Start teaching the theory behind first topic to be learned. Follow textbook closely.

13. Third lesson (experiment/demo)

Do the first week’s experiment in the third lesson if possible. For year 11, doing flame tests in watch glasses is a great place to start. Keep the students motivated by questioning every aspect of the experiment: why use methanol, not ethanol? (Try both!) Why does methanol emit light when it combusts? (Electrons absorb energy/emit quanta of light) Why does the presence of metals change the colour of the flame? (Electrons at different energy levels in different elements emit light with different wavelengths when falling back to their ground state, producing different colours).

Flame tests (YouTube frame)

14. Do a feedback survey

Use SurveyMonkey to set up a very simple, anonymous survey and send it via group email to your students on Friday afternoon. There should be very few questions:

  1. Which class are you in? (Tick-boxes)
  2. How would you rate Chemistry lessons so far? (1-5 rating)
  3. (Any other questions you want to ask)
  4. Is there anything you particularly (dis)like about your Chemistry lessons so far? (Large comment box)

Thank the students for their honest feedback on Monday. Honest feedback builds rapport!

15. Plagiarism & Referencing Session (optional)

To establish an honest work ethic in the classroom, you can give your students a one-off session on Plagiarism & Referencing. Use PowerPoint such as t h e s e and give all students a printed handout. The purpose of this session is merely to raise awareness that copying is detrimental to student learning and should include:

  • what plagiarism is (and why it hinders learning);
  • the severe punishments for plagiarism in academia and in industry;
  • how to locate good learning resources (with emphasis on the textbook!); and
  • how to reference those resources in an assignment (using Harvard or APA style).

In some schools, the library staff are happy to arrange (and teach!) these sessions for you. Arrange this Plagiarism & Referencing session early in your course if you think that copying and cheating is a widespread problem in your class. ■

Is there anything I’ve missed out? Write in the comments section below.

How to Pronounce Chinese Names

People who don’t speak Chinese find it very difficult to pronounce Chinese names correctly. Chinese names are written using the pinyin transliteration system, in which some letters of the alphabet have very different sounds to English.

Here’s a handy table of the 25 most common Chinese surnames and how to pronounce them in English.

How to Pronounce Chinese Names graphic james kennedy monashClick to download PDF version.

Guo should pronounced “Gore”, for example, and Sun should be pronounced “Soon”. Zhou should be pronounced similar to “Joe” and Xie should be pronounced similar to the English word “Shear”.

Australia is the third most popular, and fastest-growing emigration destination for international students from China. There are around 20,000 Chinese students currently studying high-school examinations in Australia, and another 50,000 studying at universities and TAFEs.

How to Make an Exam Revision Timetable

This is the post where I divulge how I achieved an ATAR of over 99. I was in a government school at the time and didn’t have any home tutoring. So how did I do it?

Examinations, like sports, require tenacious practice until you’re good at them. To excel in an examination, you need not only strong subject knowledge (e.g. Chemistry), but also great examination skills, which include the following:

  • Using exam-specific language
  • Working to a strict time limit
  • Working in silence in a big hall
  • Coping with the stress that examinations bring

Follow these 8 rules to practice examination skills effectively and you’ll maximise your performance on examination day.

1. Revision is a full-time job (38 hours per week)

To get enough spaced repetition for all the subjects you’re studying, you’ll need to study full time: that’s about 38 hours per week.

This is about the same amount of time as you usually spend in school (7×50-minute lessons plus 2 hours of homework per night). You can fit 38 hours of revision comfortably into just 6 days of the week, leaving your Sundays completely free to relax and catch up on sleep. Start full-time revision several months before your big exams.

2. Revise in 3.5-hour blocks

This will train you to sit and focus for an entire examination. In 3.5 hours, you’ll have enough time to finish an examination paper and then mark it immediately afterwards.

3. Revise during regular, scheduled revision sessions at the same times every day

Research has shown that people recall more information when they’re in a similar physiological state to when they learned it: at the same time of day, and with similar hunger and stress levels.

Revise for 2 of these 3 sessions, 6 days a week:

  • Morning study session: 9:00am to 12:30pm
  • Afternoon study session: 1:30pm to 5pm
  • Evening study session: 6pm to 9:30pm

Try to revise for morning examinations in the morning, and afternoon examinations in the afternoon where possible.

4. Create a revision timetable and stick to it

Get a giant wall calendar (minimum size is A3) from Officeworks and split each day into thirds. Each third represents one of the three study sessions mentioned above.

Get coloured stickers from Officeworks and use them to label your examinations. Use a different colour for each subject. Working back from those examinations, put more stickers on the chart to denote which subjects you’ll study in each study session.

Rules when filling your timetable:

  • Revise for 11 sessions each week (about 38 hours)
  • Revise for no more than two sessions in a day.
  • Take one day off each week.
  • Use your free time to relax or get some exercise.

5. Revise in exam-like conditions!

Disconnect from all social media until after your examinations have finished. Just leave one tweet/status update saying “Preparing for exams now full-time until November XXth. Wish me luck!” and delete all the social media apps from your phone. People will understand!

  • Revise in a comfortable, clean, quiet, uncluttered room. (Some students in China rent hotel rooms at this time of year to help them revise more effectively!) Is your study place as clean and quiet as a hotel room?
  • Revise sitting upright at a desk without a computer present. Don’t cross your legs. Use a desk that’s high enough, and sit 10cm from the edge of the desk. Remove all non-study-related objects from your desk and put them behind you.
  • Don’t listen to music while revising. Not only will music distract you (no matter how much you insist otherwise!), but it’s also forbidden in the examination hall.
  • Eat and drink only things that are allowed in the examination while you’re revising. For the vast majority of people, that’s water only!
  • Only two pieces of technology are allowed: your scientific calculator and an analogue clock. (Why? That’s all you’ll get in the examination hall!)

6. Practice examination sessions (50% of study sessions)

In half of your revision sessions for each subject, do a past paper examination and mark the paper immediately after you’ve finished it. Circle any questions you didn’t get full marks on: you’ll use these as the basis for your next note-taking session for that subject (step 7).

7. Note-taking sessions (the other 50% of study sessions)

Use your textbook, your teacher and your Chemistry notes to correct any questions you answered incorrectly in your previous practice examination. Make detailed theory notes from the textbook on concepts you don’t fully understand and arrange them neatly on your wall. Make these notes colourful and large enough to be legible from a distance of 2 metres.

Not only will this help you to get 100% in those topics next time, but a bedroom wall covered with succinct study notes also look really impressive to anyone else who sees them!

If you start revising early enough, you’ll have time to make great theory notes from the entire textbook. Your bedroom wall should be plastered in study notes for all your subjects.

8. On examination day

  • Don’t revise on the morning before examinations. This will only make you feel rushed and more stressed in the morning. Use your time more wisely by making sure you get to school on time and instead.
  • Don’t listen to music on examination days until after your examination is over! Songs stay in your head for a long time after you’ve heard them, and they’ll distract you slightly from the material you’re being tested on.
  • Bring water in a transparent bottle into the examination hall.
  • Wear layers of clothing that you can add/remove easily. The temperature in examination halls can be unpredictable.
  • Always let invigilators know about errors in the examination paper. However, only tell them about the errors that might affect your score!

Sticking to these 8 tips earned me excellent grades in school, and I believe that you can maximise your potential as well by following the same advice.

Agree/disagree with any of these? Leave your comments below.

The 6 Best Graduation Speeches on YouTube

graduation caps james kennedy monash

It’s graduation time for Year 12 students in Australia. Emotions are high as students reflect on their years at school and look forward to university and the many years of adulthood that lie ahead. Graduation is a time of emotional speeches and life advice, and this post is no exception.

Here are my six favourite graduation speeches on YouTube. Watch them and be inspired.

1. Steve Jobs on “connecting the dots” (2005)

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

2. JK Rowling on “blaming your parents” (2008)

“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”

3. Neil deGrasse Tyson on “thinking outside the box” (2012)

“You realize when you know how to think, it empowers you far beyond those who know only what to think. Now, let me tweet that”.

4. Oprah Winfrey on “doing what makes you come alive” (2013)

“Theologian Howard Thurman said it best. He said, ‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.'”

5. Bill Gates on “being an activist” (2007)

“Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives.”

6. Barack Obama on “sacrifice and decency” (2009)

“Acts of sacrifice and decency without regard to what’s in it for you – those also create ripple effects – ones that lift up families and communities; that spread opportunity and boost our economy; that reach folks in the forgotten corners of the world who, in committed young people like you, see the true face of America: our strength, our goodness, the enduring power of our ideals.”

Know of any more that should be in this list? Share them in the comments section below.

How to use a Textbook: 6 Rules to Follow

VCE Chemistry annotated textbook Heinemann
My own Year 12 Chemistry textbook. Does yours look like this?

Anyone who’s spent time in a classroom knows that in any academic subject, the student who reads the textbook several times from cover to cover and makes colourful, organised notes all over it is going to excel in examinations. For this reason, I’ve been trying to get students reading their textbooks (and making great notes on them) almost as long as I’ve been teaching (since 2007).

Glancing your eyes over the words in a textbook isn’t enough. How should you use a textbook properly, in any subject? There are six rules you need to follow.

1. Make notes all over your textbook

The signs of a well-used textbook are obvious: it should be inked heavily with a student’s own notes, the cover should be wrinkled and torn, and there should be at least three different brands of sticky tape holding the book together. It should flex open at 180 degrees with ease, exposing the sturdy threads of spine that prevent it from falling apart. Textbooks are designed to be used!

A pristine textbook is the hallmark of a student who doesn’t study. Treat your textbook as your own, and prove that you’ve read it by plastering it with your own notes. Taking notes while you read has been proven to increase comprehension levels by up to 50%… and it makes revising much easier, too. (Just re-read your notes!)

What do great textbook notes look like? In all the important sections (and that’s most sections), you should draw a horizontal line in the margin to separate each paragraph. Each paragraph should be summarised in eight words or fewer in the resulting spaces. (See next week’s post on How to Make Great Notes.)

2. Translate key words in your textbook

If you’re studying in a second language, or if you speak more than one language, it will help you to translate key terms into your first language in your textbook. Circle important new words and phrases in the textbook and write the words in your first language beside them.

3. Build vocabulary lists & concept lists based on what you read in the textbook

Vocabulary lists need to contain three things: the word in English, the definition in English and the word in your first language (if not English). Vocabulary lists relevant to the topic you’re studying need to be placed large in prominent places: your bedroom wall (if you’re a student) or on the classroom wall (if you’re a teacher).

Build word lists and learn these vocabulary lists using spaced repetition software such as Pleco for iOS or ProVoc for Mac. These apps will quiz you on the vocabulary you’ve been reading at exactly the best time-intervals to ensure you beat the famous “Ebbinghaus forgetting curve”!

4. Highlight your textbook carefully

Highlight important concepts, but don’t go overboard. If you highlight everything, nothing stands out!

Use your highlighter and your pen in approximately a 1:1 ratio: they should occupy approximately the same surface area on each page. The best use of a highlighter is to highlight not only key sentences in the book, but also to highlight important notes and summaries that you’ve made yourself.

Key things to highlight in a Chemistry textbook, for example:

  • Formulae that need to be learned (lead-acid battery half-equations)
  • Ions (their names, formulae, charges and colours)
  • Acronyms and mnemonics that you’ve created from bullet lists
  • Phrases that examiners really care about (“carbon-carbon double bonds” and “alternative reaction pathway”, for example)

5. Make your own notes on paper using the textbook and external sources

Learning is consolidated further in your mind when you translate the notes you made in the textbook margins to make your own hand-written notes on paper.

Make a first set of notes on A4 paper. Use a logical colour scheme and concise language and diagrams to consolidate the key information. Use the textbook as the basis for at least 90% for your notes, but also add information (no more than 10%) from other textbooks, news articles and examiners’ reports. Keep your notes safe, organised and visible.

Hand-write your notes! Research has shown that people consolidate much more of the information they’ve read into their long-term memory when they hand-write their notes than when they use a computer to type them up. There are several theories that attempt to explain why: the most convincing of these are that computers can be distracting, that typing requires less hand-to-eye coordination than writing, and that typing is slower than writing (if we include colours, diagrams and large amounts of superscript, subscript and the special symbols required for Chemistry). Always hand-write your notes.

6. Always know the textbook references for your current topic of study

Not all teachers give textbook references for the topics they’re teaching in class. But knowing the textbook reference is crucial if students want to review what they’ve learned after the lesson. How can you make your own notes or do further reading if you don’t have a textbook reference?

Even worse, many teachers provide students with their own notes, summaries or PowerPoint slides that accompany a lesson. I’m strongly against this. Learning happens in the act of taking great notes, and a teacher who gives their students pre-made notes is depriving their students of the opportunity to learn.

Learning happens in the act of taking notes, and a teacher who gives their students pre-made notes is depriving their students of the opportunity to learn.

If your teacher gives you notes or PowerPoint slides, don’t use them. Kindly ask your teacher for a textbook reference and make your own notes directly from the textbook instead. The textbook will always be more coherent, more comprehensive and more correct than any notes that your teacher distributes in class.

For more information, watch this 10-minute clip from ThePenguinProf:

The 8 Benefits of Home Tutoring (VCE Chemistry)

VCE Chemistry home tutoring MelbourneIf you’re looking to boost your Study Score in VCE Chemistry, you should consider hiring a home tutor. Home tutoring provides quality contact time that often isn’t available in school. Home tutoring has eight main benefits:

1. Students get a thorough review of what they’ve learned in class with a home tutor

Studies show that a student who leaves a class without having made any notes is able to recall about 10% of what was taught as they leave the classroom. Spaced repetition reviews with a home tutor can increase memory recall of knowledge being taught to well over 80%. By remembering more of the course content, students are primed with a foundation to understand and apply that knowledge much more easily.

Tutors can also explain concepts much faster and more succinctly than teachers in the classroom because they’re working in a one-to-one environment. Without distractions, and without having to divide their attention between 20 or more students, a home tutor can explain clearly in ten minutes what might take a whole lesson if taught by a teacher in a classroom.

2. Students are more motivated to do their homework with the guidance of a home tutor

Students who work on homework tasks with a home tutor tend to stay focussed for longer periods of time than those who don’t. With a home tutor, students can ask questions while doing their homework and spend less time getting ‘stuck’ because they get instant support when they need it. Home tutors can also question students and ask them to explain the answers they’ve given to check and consolidate understanding.

A tutor can also break down even the most complex homework questions into a series of simpler questions that the student is able to complete. With home tutoring, students complete their homework assignments on-time and always to a very high standard.

3. Students can pre-learn what’s about to be learned in class before a topic begins

Imagine walking into a classroom already knowing the gist of what you’re about to learn. If a student learns a new topic with a home tutor, the classroom environment becomes the place for revision rather than first-time learning. Learning a complicated subject like VCE Chemistry is far more efficient this way. Probably the greatest benefit of pre-learning with a home tutor is that students can then make a great impression among their teachers and peers by grasping ‘new’ concepts extremely quickly in class, which gives them a huge confidence boost in the subject!

4. Students receive adequate homework tasks

Not all schools set enough homework tasks. You can ask your tutor for more homework questions. Unlike most classroom teachers, a home tutor knows your student’s exact strengths and weaknesses in the subject with great detail, and can select homework questions from a wider range of sources to help your student improve on the exact topic areas where they need more practice.

5. Students receive very, very detailed feedback on their written answers with a home tutor

In a VCE Chemistry examination, writing “the solution decolourises from blue to colourless” might earn one mark, whereas “the solution loses some of its colour” will not. Labelling ethanol in a combustion equation as “liquid (l)” might earn one mark, whereas “aqueous (aq)” will not. A classroom teacher marking dozens of tests can easily miss the subtle nuances of language that VCAA examiners are be looking for, or might not have the time to explain exactly why a question was answered incorrectly to each student in a class.

Home tutors can examine, question and correct every answer the student givesno matter whether it’s written or spoken—and provide instant feedback on the student’s responses as they work. Instant feedback is very motivating and time-saving for students.

6. Students get a second voice explaining new concepts

If the class is quite large, or if the teacher has a heavy accent, not all students will understand all of what the teacher is saying. Home tutors can explain the course concepts one-to-one in a quiet, home environment, which is efficient, engaging, and is always done in a way that the student understands.

7. Students get an extra set of textbooks

Home tutors always coach students from different schools. Hiring a home tutor allows you to gain access to a second set of textbooks, past paper examinations and practice materials from that teacher, which your current school might not have access to.

8. Students get meta-study tools from home tutors as well

Home tutors do more than just review content, help with homework assignments and pre-teach upcoming topics. They also provide students with:

  • personalised examination revision timetables
  • examination tips
  • thorough notebook checks
  • general study tips
  • note-taking strategies (e.g. Cornell)
  • reading strategies (e.g. The Reading Process)
  • and more… 

The benefits of home tutoring allow the student to maximise their potential in homework, tests and examinations not only at VCE level, but throughout all the years of university as well. For as long as a student is sitting some kind of examinations, the student will be using above the strategies that a home tutor can provide.

As a VCE Chemistry and Physics teacher, I can testify that students with regular home tutoring are generally happier and more focussed in class, pursue their homework tasks more thoroughly and gain higher scores in tests because they’ve had the one-to-one time required to learn all the subtle nuances in language that examiners are looking for.

Find a tutor fast in Melbourne’s south-east suburbs.

Leave me a message using the contact form below.

Australia sees its last lunar eclipse until 2018

The full moon above Australia will be “blood red” according to some reports as the moon enters the fringes of our Earth’s shadow called the penumbra tomorrow night.

The Moon’s redness will be a result of the selective scattering of blue light by our atmosphere, which causes only the longest wavelengths (red) light to reach the edges of the Earth’s shadow (called the penumbra). Our huge, red Moon will pass through the penumbra as it orbits the Earth then become momentarily invisible as it traverses the centre of the Earth’s shadow (called the umbra).

SMH lunar eclipse science infographic jameskennedymonash
Image from Sydney Morning Herald

Melbourne is the perfect viewing spot for this spectacular eclipse. The reddened Moon will also appear extremely large (this is an optical illusion that results from the Moon being very low in the sky!).

Date: Wednesday 8th October, 2014
Time: Moonrise is at 7:21pm. Eclipse starts at 7:30pm and finishes at 11:30pm.
Location: low in the eastern (or north-eastern) sky

Penumbral Eclipse begins: 7:17 PM
Partial Eclipse begins: 8:18 PM
Full Eclipse begins: 9:27 PM
Maximum Eclipse: 9:55 PM
Full Eclipse ends: 10:22 PM
Partial Eclipse ends: 11:32 PM
Penumbral Eclipse ends: 12:32 AM

For more information: http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/australia/melbourne

The next time this happens will be in 2018. Make sure you get outside to see this one tomorrow night!

Bill Nye is coming to Australia in February 2015!

An Evening with Bill Nye the Science Guy

I’m really excited that Bill Nye the Science Guy will be doing his first Australian tour in February 2015. He’ll be stopping off at Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth between 26th February 2015 and March 2nd, 2015 to present “An Evening with Bill Nye”.

Bill Nye has garnered a worldwide following for his take on creationism and sciences, accumulating more than six million views in a YouTube video titled ‘Creationism Is Not Appropriate for Children’. Watch it below.

The video attracted a response from David Menton & Georgia Purdom of the Creation Museum here:

This debate culminated in a highly eloquent showdown between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, in February 2014. Both sides argued brilliantly. You can watch the 3-hour debate below.

I also love Bill Nye’s work on Startalk Radio and on the ASU Origins Project, and I still use his earlier videos in my Year 10 Science classes.

An evening with Bill Nye will be in pursuit of a mission: to foster a scientifically literate society, making science entertaining and accessible. Bill Nye tackles numerous issues of scientific debate and is most notable for locking horns with creationists and global warming deniers. In many of his disputes with political leaders and climate realists, Nye proclaims the paramount importance of battling the causes of climate change now, before the effects are too catastrophic—“We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening”, says Nye.

Melbourne dates and booking details are below.

Date: February 27th, 2015
Time: 6pm
Venue: 1 Convention Centre Place, South Wharf, VIC 3006

South Wharf Map for An Evening with Bill Nye the Science GuyStudent ​ticket: ​$49 ​​+ b.f.
GA ​ticket: ​$79 ​+ booking fee
VIP​ ticket:​ $99 ​+ booking fee [This includes: signed poster of Bill Nye and A reserve seats]
Meet and Greet​ ticket:​ $179​ + booking fee​​ [This includes: signed poster of Bill Nye, premium seating and an hour to mingle with Bill Nye after the show, with canapés and drinks included]​

FOR MORE INFORMATION AND TO BUY TICKETS, CLICK HERE:
http://thinkinc.org.au/BILLNYE/

Finally… for those of you who are attending the STAV Chemistry Conference on the same day at La Trobe University, Bundoora—you’ll have time to drive straight from Bundoora to the South Wharf immediately after the conference for one epic day of Science!

Colourful Chemistry: Chemistry of UNIVERSAL INDICATOR

Chemistry of UNIVERSAL INDICATOR jameskennedymonash
jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com

By definition, an indicator is a substance that changes colour in different pH environments. Universal indicator is a brown-coloured solution—containing a mixture of indicators—that can be added to any substance to determine its pH. Like all indicators, universal indicator changes colour in different pH environments. At low pH, it appears red, and at high pH, it appears blue or violet. At neutral pH, it appears green. Universal indicator can form a continuous spectrum of colours that give an approximate reading of the concentration of protons in a sample.

Water and propan-1-ol are used as solvents. They are both polar and dissolve all the other ingredients in the solution. Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is an alkaline solution that adjusts the pH of the universal indicator to ensure that each colour is shown at the correct pH value. It is necessary to add NaOH to the universal indicator because some of the indicator compounds (e.g. methyl red) are acidic themselves, which would affect the colour of the other indicators present. NaOH is added to neutralise the solution.

Methyl red is red at pH <5 and yellow at pH >5. It provides orange and red hues to the universal indicator solution at low pH. The end point of an indicator compound is defined as the pH at which it changes colour. The end point of methyl red, therefore, is somewhere around pH 5.

Bromothymol blue is blue at pH >6 and yellow at pH <6. It gives blue and indigo hues at high pH. Its end point is therefore around pH 6.

Thymol blue has two end points: it is red below pH <2, blue at pH >8 and yellow in the middle. Thymol blue allows universal indicator to differentiate low and very low pH by providing another red hue below pH 2. Thymol blue is yellow at pH 7, which, when combined with bromothymol blue (which is blue at pH 7), give a green colour.

Finally, phenolphthalein gives universal indicator a deep violet colour at very high pH.

This 2-miunte BBC video is a great introduction to universal indicator:

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! New infographic: Chemistry of MOON CAKES

Chemistry of MOON CAKES infographic jameskennedymonash
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Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节) is a traditional Chinese festival celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month each year (a full moon night in September). It started as an agricultural tradition (like harvest festival in western cultures) around 1000 BC in the Zhou Dynasty, and was formally acknowledged as a festival during the Northern Song Dynasty (between 960 and 1279 AD).

Today, Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with moon cakes, family reunions and three days off work. Moon cakes are circular to represent the full moon that always occurs on the Mid-Autumn Festival. Watch the video below to learn about the story behind the festival:

Moon cakes consist of crust, filling and an egg wash. The crust is made from flour, the polysaccharides in which bind together at oven temperatures to form a strong, intricate network (also including proteins) that allows the moon cake to keep its all-important circular shape.

The crust also contains invert sugar syrup, which is chemically similar to both honey and golden syrup. Invert sugar syrup is made by hydrolysing sucrose into its constituent monomers, glucose and fructose. The result is a sweeter-tasting, gooey liquid that doesn’t crystallise during cooking. This gives the moon cake a smooth mouthfeel.

Peanut oil (a blend of mostly monounsaturated triglycerides) is added to the crust for two reasons. First, it is a non-volatile liquid at room temperature, which prevents the moon cake from drying out. Second, the peanut oil molecules disrupt the protein matrix in the crust and give it an even smoother texture (not a doughy texture).

Maillard reactions are caramelisation reactions involving the removal of two hydrogen atoms from a sugar aldehyde or ketone. The resulting compounds are yellow/brown in colour because they contain carbon-carbon double bonds (C=C), which absorb violet and UV light (λmax ≈ 190 nm). The moon cake is usually also given an egg wash, which provides extra protein necessary for Maillard reactions to occur. More egg wash will provide a deeper brown colour to the dough.

Alkaline water (枧水) is a common ingredient in Guangdong-style cuisine. Chemically, it’s a ~0.020 molar solution of potassium carbonate and can be considered as the ‘opposite of vinegar’. It raises the pH in the moon cake, which accelerates the Maillard reaction, which is favoured by alkaline conditions. Alkaline water thus makes the crust more brown!

Finally, the fillings can be very diverse. Lotus seed with salted duck egg yolks is a common filling, but “five kernels”, red bean and green tea (with beans) are also quite popular. Lotus seed filling, for example, is made by soaking dried lotus seeds in alkaline water, pulverising and adding sugar. The resulting paste is then cooked with more oil and sugar before being used to fill a moon cake. ●

Full “Ingredients” Poster Set Just $99 with Free World Shipping!

From today, all 12 Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana (and other Fruits) posters are available for just $99 with free world shipping by clicking the image below.

Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana and other fruits set $99

They’ve been featured on dozens of news websites and magazines and received over 2 million views in total this year. They started as an educational ‘hook’ for the classroom (specifically to introduce organic chemistry), but went viral online and sparked articles from all sides of the “is natural always best?” debate.

From today, get the entire original 12-poster set on sturdy 300 gsm card stock for just $99 with free world shipping by clicking the button above. (Usual selling price is $10 each plus postage).

VCE Chemistry curriculum gets tougher, more interesting in 2016!

Originally posted at VCEasy.org

VCAA has just released its proposed draft VCE Chemistry study design for 2016-2019.

Major changes are in store for future VCE Chemistry students.

First, the Key Knowledge points have been restructured into subheadings. These subheadings represent 37 enquiry-based “topics” across Years 11 & 12 that each take 1 or 2 weeks to teach. This makes planning the curriculum a little easier, and makes the course structure a little more visible for students.

Second, the school-assessed coursework tasks are more specific and more exciting. units 1-4 include extended investigations (like the EPIs done in Physics). Students produce posters, reports or do presentations at the end of each unit. Some examples are shown below (there are more choices available in the full Study Design):

“the properties of a chemical or material that make it useful with specific reference to its structure and bonding, analyse its life cycle and evaluate the impact of its production and use on resources and the environment.” (Unit 1);

“a quantitative laboratory investigation related to the quality of water.” (Unit 2);

“analysis and evaluation of two or more media articles related to energy options.” (Unit 3);

“response to an issue related to food and diet.” (Unit 4)

Third, history of the atom and history of the periodic table have been taken out of the curriculum and replaced with something far more exciting: the Big Bang and how the universe started. The first three chapters of the text book will have to be re-written! Many other (minor) course changes have also been made.

Finally, the entire Chemistry course is much more detailed. Organic molecules now include alkynes and are studied up to C10, for example. The only problem is that it’ll be more difficult to squeeze all the topics into the same amount of time. Students and teachers will probably be working a little harder as of 2016…

What do you think of the new 2016-2019 study design? Read it and give your feedback on VCAA’s Chemistry page (click here).

Links

Draft Study Design (pdf – 655.45kb)

Summary of proposed changes to the Study Design (doc – 423kb)