How to Make Time for 100 Days of Revision

Revision Timetable for GCSE studies
A well-planned revision timetable

Students who aim for a Study Score of 42 or above complete at least 20 practice papers for each subject they’re studying and correct them critically before examinations begin. High-achieving students print these 20 practice papers and make a detailed revision schedule before full-time revision sets in.

Learn how to make a quality revision timetable here.

Twenty practice papers, with proper correction and revision of theory, require 20 days to complete. A student studying 5 VCE subjects therefore needs 100 Days of Revision before their examinations begin.

VCE exams begin on October 28th, 2015, and 100 Days of Revision therefore begins on July 20th, 2015 for students who want to excel. Most schools plan to finish teaching Unit 4 at the end of August, which is just 40 days before the final examination. Forty days allows you only 8 days of revision for each of your 5 VCE subjects, and this simply isn’t enough practice for students who want to excel.

The best way to make time for 100 Days of Revision is to study Unit 4’s Area of Study 2 during this upcoming Autumn Holiday.

In this upcoming Autumn Holiday, by yourself, or with the help of a home tutor, you can study the topics that your school has planned to teach after July 20th, 2015. Typically, this is Unit 4’s Area of Study 2 (Chapters 23 to 28 in the Heinemann Chemistry 2 textbook). By studying this topic early, you’ll save time later in the year, which will allow you to complete 20 practice exams per subject instead of using that time to learn new theory.

Autumn Holiday Tutoring 2015

If you want to learn Unit 4’s Area of Study 2 this holiday, and free up your homework schedule later in the year, get in touch for a short-term set of tutoring sessions in April 2015. I am offering new students a short-term Autumn Holiday tutoring package for $300.

The $300 tutoring package includes:

  • Chemistry Unit 3 & 4 diagnostic test;
  • Quizzes based on knowledge areas that need to be improved upon (as identified in the diagnostic test);
  • Three home tutoring sessions of 2 hours each, which includes:
    • Critical review of the student’s homework answers;
    • 1-to-1 teaching of Unit 4 Area of Study 2 (Chapters 23-28) with homework exercises and quizzes;
    • Answering any Chemistry questions the student has accumulated while doing homework exercises.
  • Personalised Chemistry study timetable for the whole year; and
  • 24/7 email and phone support for the duration of the Autumn Holiday.

The program includes 6 hours of home tutoring and requires 15 to 18 hours of self-study to be completed by the student during the holiday.

Get ahead in Chemistry this Autumn. I am available for VCE Chemistry tutoring on the following dates and times.

Monday 30th March 2015 to Friday 3rd March 2015: 9am – 5pm daily

Monday 6th April 2015 to Friday 10th March 2015: 9am – 5pm daily

Request VCE Chemistry tutoring using this online form.

More information about my tutoring services can be found here.

Foldable Biomolecules

Hydrolysis (or formation) of a triglyceride
Hydrolysis (or formation) of a triglyceride. Click to download PDF version for printing.

Visualising reaction mechanisms in VCE Chemistry can sometimes be difficult. Making plastic models helps, but I’ve been thinking that it would be much more convenient if students had their own paper version of molecular models that they could keep for themselves and use at home.

That’s why I created Foldable Biomolecules. Each Foldable Biomolecule is a PDF template that students can fold into a shape that demonstrates a chemical reaction clearly. Pull apart the edges of each sheet to visualise a hydrolysis reaction, and push them back together to visualise a condensation reaction.

foldable biomolecule: triglyceride
Click to download Foldable Triglyceride
foldable biomolecules: biodiesel
Click to download Foldable Biodiesel
foldable biomolecule: dipeptide
Click to download Foldable Dipeptide
foldable biomolecule: triglyceride
Click to download Foldable Sucrose
foldable nucleotide PDF
Click to download Foldable Nucleotide v2

These paper-based biomolecules are downloadable, shareable and much quicker to set up than their plastic counterparts.

You can also download the complete set of Foldable Biomolecules as a single PDF here.

Five most important things in any classroom

Students in a classroom
Students studying in a classroom. Source: theguardian.com

At the beginning of each academic year, I ask my VCE Chemistry students what the most important things are in the classroom in order to learn Chemistry. Typical answers include ‘pens’, ‘notebooks’, ‘tables’, ‘chairs’ and ‘a teacher’. I have a different view.

1. Students

Students are the most important ‘things’ in the classroom if any learning is going to happen. No learning happens without students present!

2. Textbooks

The primary source of information is not the teacher. It’s the textbook. The textbook explains every topic on the course concisely and accurately, and teaches students all the theory required for the end-of-year examination. Textbooks contain so many practice questions that some students don’t even complete all of them. Before hunting for extra resources or question sets, do all of the questions in the textbook first.

Learn how to use a textbook here.

3. Stationery

Pens are more important than notebooks because the textbook is designed to be annotated. The giant margins in a textbook (which aren’t there in novels) are placed purposefully to accommodate students’ personalised notes. Students should use at least two different colours of ink to annotate their textbooks, and they should highlight important definitions and phrases as well. (They should translate words, too, if they are fluent in another language.) Teachers will need to guide and encourage students through this process initially. Some students enter your classroom with an aversion to writing in textbooks.

4. Notebooks

Making your own notes is a very efficient way to learn. Any teacher who gives pre-made notes to their students is depriving their students of the opportunity to learn for themselves. It’s fine to give some notes to students as an example, but the vast majority of student notes should be written by the students themselves (even if they’re copying most of it from the whiteboard).

An interesting study found that students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their teacher.

Several interesting studies have found that students who hand-wrote their notes learned more than those who typed them.

Learn how to make great notes here.

5. Teacher

A teacher’s role, in addition to providing academic and moral support, is to bring the textbook (or the subject) to life. A teacher is the difference between reading a play and watching a play. A teacher makes the subject more engaging, more interesting and more relevant by bringing their own experience, funny stories and exciting experiments into the curriculum. Great teachers make even the dullest academic subjects exciting to learn. They serve to inspire and guide students to an extent that technology will never be able to match.

Not in my top 5…

  • PowerPoint slides
  • Internet access
  • iPads, laptops and other gizmos
  • interactive whiteboards
  • laboratory equipment & chemicals
  • printed notes for students
  • past examination papers

What do you think of my low-tech “top 5″ list? Should technology be in the top 5? Will technology reduce the need for teachers? Is something other than the textbook the primary learning resource in your classroom?

Let me know in the comments section below.

Science Questions with Surprising Answers

Science Questions with Surprising Answers
Science Questions with Surprising Answers website

I came across an amazing website today called Science Questions with Surprising Answers. The website is run by Dr Christopher S. Baird, who teaches at the Department of Physics at University of Massachusetts Lowell. The website answers fascinating (and sometimes bizarre) questions with a rare balance of accuracy and clarity.

I particularly like the Chemistry section, which answers the question, “Are two atoms of the same element identical?” His answer is as follows:

“No. Two atoms of the same chemical element are typically not identical. First of all, there is a range of possible states that the electrons of an atom can occupy. Two atoms of the same element can be different if their electrons are in different states. If one copper atom has an electron in an excited state and another copper atom has all of its electrons in the ground state, then the two atoms are different…”

The blog actually reminds me of the book, What If?, which is a more comical (and less relevant) companion to this blog.

Browse his website and introduce it your students this semester!

Will Smith on Talent, Skill & Success

“Talent, you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft” – Will Smith

I read an interesting article in The Conversation this morning, in which, author Kevin Donnelly claimed that the recent success of Shanghai’s students in international examinations such as PISA and TIMSS was owed to the “chalk and talk” teaching method that’s so popular in Chinese schools.

I have a different view. I think that their success was owed to one main thing: study-hours. Typically, school students in China spend ridiculous amounts of time practising for those tests, which usually translates into excellent scores on examination day. Here’s why.

Ericsson’s 10,000-hour rule states that on average, people become world-class ‘prodigies’ at a particular skill (such as playing a sport, chess, or an instrument) after spending about 10,000 hours practising that particular skill. The 10,000-hour rule was made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his excellent book Outliers, who illustrates the rule using Bill Gates, Bill Joy, the Beatles and famous chess players as examples, all of whom spent about 10,000 hours practising before they had a major breakthrough on the world stage.

The notion that greatness comes with tenacious practice seems obvious to most adults. However, it seems less obvious to most children.

High-achieving students spend more time on their homework assignments. When the teacher doesn’t set any homework, the high-achieving students re-read the textbook and/or re-write their notes, allowing them to clock up extra study-hours before their final examination. Students with more study-hours, in my experience, really do get higher grades.

We can estimate the number of study-hours a student gets per subject during Years 11 and 12. Five Chemistry lessons per week totals 300 hours. Doing 3 hours of homework every evening (averaging 45 mins per subject) equates to another 300 hours in two years. Students who study each subject for 50 minutes a day during the school holidays will clock up an extra 80 study-hours. Weekly tutoring could add another 160 hours, and last-minute revision lectures (e.g. such as those from TSFX) could add another 10 hours.

Students who ‘cram’ for three weeks right before the exam for 8 hours a day, 6 days a week earn an extra 36 hours per subject.

Study-Hours Graphic jameskennedymonash chemistry

First, we can see that sustained, deliberate practice throughout Years 11 and 12 is clearly the best way to clock up extra study-hours, and thus maximise your examination score at the end of the year. Second, we notice a huge disparity in the amount of time that students might devote to their studies in Years 11 and 12. The disparity in study-hours is about as large as the range of test scores you might find in a class: 42% to 90%.

Learn more about the 9 habits of successful students here.

Kevin Donnelly’s article neglects the fact that most of the Shanghai students who were chosen to sit PISA and TIMSS sat through countless practice exams prior to taking the real ones. Their schools will have forced them to take the “maximum” preparation in the chart above. To paraphrase Will Smith, the Shanghai students’ examination successes can be explained mostly by a “sickening work ethic”, and the countless hours of tenacious practice they clocked up before doing the exams.

I use the Will Smith video above (and some real-life examples) to demonstrate that even the most talented people can’t afford to be lazy. I tell students that there are no shortcuts to learning anything difficult, and that learning anything (including VCE Chemistry!) takes a large amount of time and effort – even for those students who are naturally ‘talented’.

Learn more about study-hours and work ethic from Angela Duckworth here.

How to Make Great Notes (15 steps + video)

6431-taking-notes-with-pen-and-paper-is-powerful
Image: Shutterstock/isciencetimes.com

Look inside the notebooks of any student who gets excellent grades and in most cases, you’ll find that they have a pristine notebook, too.

neat notes from Paper Love Story
An excellent notebook from Paper Lovestory (fashion blog)

Before you begin, make sure you’ve already started reading your textbook and have made gorgeous annotations inside it.

Learn more about how to use a textbook.

Now, follow these steps to transfer your notes to an A4 pad. This key learning exercise is suitable for Years 10-12 and undergraduate level.

Part A: Stationery Shopping!

  1. Get three colours of pens ready: black, blue and one other colour
    Always write in black or blue. Use the other colour to draw boxes, underline important words or make things stand out.
  2. Use a large, sturdy, lined A4 pad.
    Do not use notebooks smaller than A4, and do not use notebooks with cartoons or other distractions pre-printed on the pages.

Part B: Making notes

  1. If the teacher gives you notes for their PowerPoint lecture, don’t use them. Make your own notes instead. You learn by making notes!
  2. Always write the date, title and subject in the same places on the page.
    It’s a simple rule but many students (especially in middle school) still don’t do this!
  3. Add references.
    Always write the textbook page number in your notebook. If the teacher doesn’t tell you, just ask.
  4. Use subheadings.
    Organise your notes by writing subtitles. Use the same subtitles that your teacher uses (on the whiteboard or on their slides).
  5. Use at least two colours.
    Colours guide the eye around the page. Use them logically: one colour for headings, another for questions, and another for definitions, etc. Only use legible colours such as black, blue and one other colour. Write mostly in black or blue.
  6. Write neatly in easy-to-read, lowercase letters.
    Make your notes really easy for people to read.
  7. Draw diagrams large and clear.
    Diagrams need a title, a caption, and everything needs to be labelled. Never draw a diagram without any words to explain what it means.
  8. Write notes using “examination language”.
    The definitions and explanations in your notebook should be acceptable to use as answers in an end-of-year examination. The glossary in your textbook is the best source for definitions of scientific words. Make sure you can explain the concepts learned in both colloquial language and in exam-specific language.
  9. Don’t try to save paper.
    Instead, your goal should be to use up your notebook. Whitespace is crucial to making the notes easy to re-read so don’t cram your text onto the page: leave some white spaces where necessary (e.g. between paragraphs and in the margin).

Part C: Reading and sharing your notes

  1. Re-read your notes regularly
    Add to your notes using new knowledge you’ve learned from the textbook (and from class). This is why it’s important to keep your notes tidy and organised!
  2. Add comments from examiners’ reports.
    For example, “always write the ‘+’ symbol near the nitrogen atom on an amino acid in an acidic environment” would be a great comment to add (with a diagram) to the biomolecules section of your Chemistry notebook. This comment is paraphrased from a VCAA Examiners’ Report.
  3. Share your notes proudly with students who miss lessons.
    Email them or share them online.
  4. Re-make them into larger versions and put them onto your wall.
    This not only looks impressive but also reminds you to stay focussed as examinations draw closer.

There are dozens of great note-taking tutorials on YouTube. Here’s one you can refer to for Science classes. Remember that the specifics of note-taking vary from person to person but keeping your notes complete, neat and organised should be one of your most important learning goals as a student.

Any questions? Are you a student with note-taking tips? Leave a comment below!

The Most Astounding Fact

I love this speech. Neil deGrasse Tyson was interviewed by a TIME journalist for their 10 questions page, and was asked by one reader: “What is the most astounding fact that you can share with us about the universe?” Neil deGrasse Tyson’s response was as lucid and as awe-inspiring as always. He answered the question in a relatively modest three minutes, starting with:

“The most astounding fact… is the knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on Earth—the atoms that make up the human body—are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core…”

Tyson is a world-famous astrophysicist and currently serves as director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. He’s very popular on social media and recently hosted the hit TV series Cosmos, which had the biggest launch day in TV history (and featured a 30-second introduction speech by Barack Obama).

I love Neil deGrasse Tyson’s videos because they inspire people to pursue Science. I show one or two Tyson videos to as many of my students as I can, usually at the beginning of the year. Happy New Year.

Here are some of my other favourite Tyson videos on YouTube:

9 Habits of Highly Successful Students

Source: The Guardian

All classes contain students of mixed ability levels. However, performance in an end-of-year examination is more dependent on how hard a student is willing to work than on any measure of innate ability. Student learning correlates much more with “grit” than with talent. In other words, the more hours you study, the higher your grades will be.

In this article, I’m giving you my observations from a teacher’s perspective of what students in the top 20% (in terms of grades) tend to do.

1. They don’t play games on their iPad

Students with low scores tend to resort to picking up their iPads at every spare moment. iPad addiction is a typical sign that a student doesn’t spend any of their free moments reading or thinking. Successful students don’t usually have games on their iPad. If they do have games, they’ll be the more intellectually-stimulating ones such as Scrabble or quiz apps: you certainly won’t find an A-grade student frantically thumbing their iPad screen to Flappy Bird or Crossy Road between lessons.

2. They read the textbook at home, highlighting and annotating as they go

VCE Chemistry annotated textbook Heinemann

When I ask a class of students to open their textbooks to a certain page, four things happen:

  • The most successful students open their books to those pages, which are already highlighted and annotated with key vocabulary circled and translated/explained in the margins (see picture above);
  • The mid-range students open their textbooks, which look brand new;
  • The least successful students do nothing because they weren’t listening;
  • The remainder (if any) didn’t bring their book to school.

Reading the textbook before class does two things. First, it helps you to understand the lesson much better. It’s much more effective to read the textbook at home then ask questions in class than to learn the textbook in class then ask those questions at home. Second, a textbook that’s highlighted and annotated looks very impressive. Your teacher and classmates will be impressed.

3. They write neatly and colour-code their notes

Successful students use large, A4 notebooks. They write the date, title, and subheadings in the same places with the same colour pen. They don’t cram too much writing on one page, and they organise their notes heavily using subheadings.

An interesting study found that students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their lecturer.

4. They have a designated homework diary (or an app)

Successful students always remember to do their homework. They record their homework tasks in their diaries with due dates. Reminders for iOS does this job excellently.

5. They do all their homework on time

Even if the teacher forgets to ask to see students’ homework, the most successful students will actively hand it to their teacher because they’re proud of the work they’ve done.

Even if there’s no homework set, they’ll still spend time reading the textbook (or another relevant book) or watching YouTube videos to supplement their understand of what’s been taught. The most successful students are self-motivated.

6. They pay most attention to their teacher during the lesson

From experience, students who chat to each other too much tend to get low grades at the end of the year. They miss crucial instructions, homework, questions and information being delivered by the teacher. While it’s important to be sociable, the most successful students always pay more attention to their teacher than to their classmates.

“Students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their lecturer.”

7. They ask questions after class and email their teachers at evenings/weekends with questions regarding the homework

Most days, I receive Chemistry-related emails from students. However, these emails are usually sent by the same 30% or so of the students I teach. The students with the habit of asking more questions—both inside and outside the classroom—tend to fare better in the end-of-year examination.

8. They understand that we learn primarily through reading, and that the classroom is just a place to discuss what they’ve read and put it into practice

Successful students learn more outside the classroom than in. They read the relevant textbook section before class; they come to class with questions about what they’ve read. They re-read the textbook section after the lesson as well. They know that the more times they read the textbook, the more they’ll learn and the better their scores will be in the end-of-year examination. They know that their textbook (not their teacher) is their primary learning resource, and that their success depends more on how many hours they put into studying than on how ‘good’ their teacher is.

9. They know when to say, “Sir, I don’t get this!”

This is one of the most valuable skills on this list: admitting that we don’t know what we’re about to learn is the first step we take when we learn something new. Successful students have the confidence to admit to things they don’t understand and are thus more receptive when their teachers explain them. In other words, it’s a dangerous habit to pretend that you actually understand something—this habit usually has disastrous consequences before the end of the year. In a classroom, always admit when you don’t understand something.

“admitting that we don’t know what we’re about to learn is the first step we take when we learn something new”

What do you think?

Are you a student who agrees/disagrees with these 9 observations? Are you a teacher with more observations to add to the list? Write them in the comments section below.

For more study tips, click here.

Chapter 10: Organic reactions: pathways to new products

10.1 Reactions of Alkanes

Alkanes contain strong carbon-carbon single bonds and strong carbon-hydrogen bonds. There are no partial charges on alkane molecules that might initiate reactions. The effect is that alkanes only undergo very few reactions.

(1) Combustion of alkanes

Alkanes can undergo combustion, producing CO2(g) and H2O(g)

When asked to create a combustion equation for a particular fuel, do the following steps:

  1. Write the fuel’s molecular formula
  2. Add excess O2(g)
  3. Produce CO2(g) and H2O(g)
  4. Balance C, H and O in that order.
  5. REMEMBER TO INCLUDE ALL THE STATES!

General formula: alkane + O2(g) → CO2(g) + H2O(g)

Example: C6H14(l) + O2(g) → 6CO2(g) + 7H2O(g) (halves are okay!)

(2) Substitution of alkanes

Alkanes can also undergo substitution, in which one of the hydrogen atoms is replaced with a halogen (e.g. F, Cl, Br, or I).

General formula: alkane + X2 → chloroalkane

Example: CH3CH3(g) + Cl2(g) + UV light → CH3CH2Cl(g) + HCl(g) (note that HCl is a gas!)

10.2 Reactions of alkenes

(1) Addition of alkenes

Alkenes can under addition reactions with halogens, hydrogen gas or water.

addition reactions of alkenes
Source: VCEasy.org

The first reaction happens at room temperature. If you have a gaseous alkene like ethene, you can bubble it through either pure liquid bromine or a solution of bromine in an organic solvent like tetrachloromethane. The reddish-brown bromine is decolourised as it reacts with the alkene.

(2) Addition polymerisation of alkenes
Source: Chemhume.co.uk

Chemguide links

Chemguide is an excellent revision resource that goes a little further than VCE. Read the relevant Chemguide pages below.

http://www.chemguide.co.uk/organicprops/alkanemenu.html
http://www.chemguide.co.uk/organicprops/alkenemenu.html
http://www.chemguide.co.uk/organicprops/estermenu.html

10.3 Oxidising ethanol to ethanoic acid

You will need to memorise the following ways to oxidise an alkanol into a carboxylic acid.

3 ways to oxidise alcohols
Source: VCEasy.org

For more information, visit this Chemguide page.

10.4: Making Esters

Table of Esters and their Smells
Click to enlarge

10.5: Organic Reaction Pathways

making esters from alkenes
Source: VCEasy.org

10.6: Fractional distillation

Fractional distillation can be used to separate compounds with different boiling points. It is commonly used in the separation of the compounds contained within crude oil.

More information about fractional distillation can be found here.

When hydrochloric acid is added to propene, two products can be produced: 1-chloropropane and 2-chloropropaneOnly the 1-chloropropane can be made into a carboxylic acid. We must therefore separate the 1-chloropropane from the 2-chloropropane by fractional distillation.

When reacting alkenes with 3 or more carbons (such as propene) with hydrochloric acid, we must write “HCl and fractional distillation” on the arrow.

For example:

propane fractional distillation
Source: Heinemann Chemistry 2

Click here for a 4-minute explanatory video about fractional distillation (beyond the VCE Chemistry course).

Read: Heinemann Chemistry 2 Chapter 10

Common Names of Carboxylic Acids

Ever wondered why ‘formic acid’ is so-called? Or montanic acid? Or melissic acid? This handy A3 poster shows you the Latin/Greek/Persian origins of each of the carboxylic acids’ common names from ‘formic acid’ (no. 1) to ‘hexatriacontylic acid’ (no. 36). Each acid comes with a cute graphical description of where its name comes from.

Common Names of Carboxylic Acids
Click to enlarge

There are some interesting origin stories behind each of these names. Formic acid, for example, is found in insect stings (hence the name). Palmitic acid is found in palm trees (hence the name), and myristic acid is found in nutmeg.

Three of the carboxylic acids are named after goats: caproic acid, caprylic acid and capric acid. Together, these three molecules comprise 15% of the fatty acids found in goats’ milk, and many reports also suggest that they smell ‘goat-like’!

Many of the odd-numbered higher carboxylic acids are rarer in nature and thus didn’t earn a common name until recently. Undecylic acid, for example, which has eleven carbon atoms in its backbone, is named simply after the Greek word for ‘eleven’.

Click here for more Chemistry posters.

Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet

Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet image
Click to download my Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet

The VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet contains answers to many questions you’ll be asked in the end-of-year examination. Unfortunately for students, however, the information it contains is neither explicit nor complete. Students need to know how to use the data booklet if they are to make the most of it.

Many formulae and definitions still need to be learned. For example, the data booklet doesn’t give you calorimetry formulae, and hydrogen bonds aren’t shown on DNA nucleotides. Trends are missing from the periodic table, and the electrochemical series comes with no annotations whatsoever! All this extra information needs to be memorised for VCE Chemistry.

I’ve annotated a real VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet to help you understand it. You can download it here.

Features include:

  • Trends are now shown on the periodic table (page 3);
  • Electrochemical series is fully labelled and explained (page 4);
  • 17 equations and 4 gas laws are given on page 5;
  • NMR data is now labelled to help you identify functional groups (pages 6 & 7);
  • Infrared absorption data is now pictured with 3 peaks described (page 7);
  • Amino acids are now labelled “polar/non-polar” and “acidic/basic” (pages 8 & 9);
  • Number of C=C bonds is now included for fatty acids (page 10);
  • DNA structure is explained in much more detail (page 10);
  • Colours of two indicators are corrected (page 11);
  • Ka is explained (page 11);
  • Solubility rules are added on the back.
Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet
Every page is colour-coded and annotated with explanations

Chemistry data booklets make great revision tools. Check out the following data booklets from around the world: