All posts by James Kennedy

About James Kennedy

Science teacher in Melbourne, Australia

Try the Most Difficult MCQ that VCAA Ever Asked (2021 edition)

Some multiple choice questions (approximately 2 out of every 30) are “tricky” – that is, they contain a distractor that students choose more frequently than the correct answer.

This collection of 10 multiple choice questions is entirely comprised of questions where students did worse than guessing (in other words, <25% of students chose the correct answer). One of these questions was so tricky that only 8% got it right.

Try these questions then scan the QR code at the end for the solutions.

Kennedy College students came 1st out of 248 small schools in the Australia & NZ Science Championships 2021

View the full leaderboard on Education Perfect

My Kennedy College students worked tirelessly to climb to the top of the small schools (≤50 students) leaderboard for the Education Perfect Science Championships 2021. The competition is open to schools of any size in Australia and New Zealand. We came first out fo 248 small schools who participated.

I’m very proud of their achievement.

While this competition was online, there will probably be more opportunities to compete with other schools face-to-face in 2022 (depending on covid restrictions!)

Well done!

VCE Chemistry Written Examination 2020 Analysis

The pandemic turned VCE Chemistry upside-down. Stoichiometry, traditionally a difficult topic, was the best-answered of all. Chromatography, traditionally an easy topic, was the most difficult for the class of 2020.

Most noticeable is the increase in “difficult” topics highlighted red in the chart above. (For a comparison with the 2013 & 2014 VCE Chemistry written examinations, click here.)

Unbelievably, the Victorian state average score in the 2020 VCE Chemistry written examination was a FAIL at just 47.9%.

Disruptions to learning caused by the pandemic could help explain why the VCAA is considering making the VCE Chemistry curriculum substantially easier from 2023 onwards. If the educational effects of the 2020 pandemic really do linger for most of this decade then making the curriculum easier fails to tackle the root of the problem, which is the loss of quality study-hours. I believe the only correct remedy is to provide current students with extra training and support to make up for the pandemic… not to drop the bar so low that our students cannot compete on the world stage.

Marks lost by topic. Chapter numbers refer to the Heinemann Chemistry 2 textbook.

Introducing the VCE/VET Statistics Dashboard

I made a free VCE/VET Statistics Dashboard.

Find insights into your favourite subjects here. Data was scraped from VCAA and VTAC using open-source Python. #Python #dataviz

The Boys vs Girls tab and the Dropout Statistics pages are most interesting.

Why are girls 5.5x more than boys likely to drop out of VCE LOTE Arabic?

Try this Python script that scrapes data from the VCAA Research & Statistics page and generates a scatterplot of boys vs girls in each VCE subject. Girls outperform boys in 15 of the 20 most popular VCE subjects.

Data was scraped from the VCAA Research & Statistics page in Python (click here for the source code)

Original code is here:

https://colab.research.google.com/drive/1XFS4Kq5nsYPs5YQIPZrP3q3ehKDrnDgv?usp=sharing

If you’re new to Python, go to the menu bar and click Runtime > Run all.

Then wait for around 20 minutes while this script scrapes data from the VCAA and generates an interactive scatterplot for you. When it’s done, there will be some interesting data files available for download from the file explorer on the left of the screen.

You’ll notice some interesting findings in the scatterplot, including the fact that boys outperform girls in biology, and girls outperform girls in physics! Girls outperform boys in 15 of the 20 most popular VCE subjects with the only exceptions being Chemistry, Biology (only slightly) and all three mathematics subjects.

Feel free to modify this code and repost it. There are some other interesting insights you could glean from the dataset. Enjoy!

What percentage of the highest achievers in each VCE subject have an Asian (Chinese) surname?

Data from VCE high achievers list 2018-2020 and the top 100 Asian surnames according to Wikipedia

This chart shows the percentage of students with a top 100 Asian surname among high-achieving VCE students (≥2 study scores ≥40) by subject with EAL students excluded from the analysis.

The proportion of high-achievers with Asian surnames was highest in the following subjects: Specialist Maths, Maths Methods, Physics, Chemistry, Accounting and English Language. Conversely, the least Asian subjects among high-achievers were Drama, Sociology and Theatre Studies.

All spelling variations of the top 100 Asian surnames listed on Wikipedia were included in the analysis, for example Li as well as Lee.

High-achieving VCE students are more likely to have chosen Specialist Maths, Latin, Chemistry, Global Politics, Physics and Literature

Data from VCE high achievers list 2018-2020

In this analysis, I defined “high-achieving students” as those who achieve at least 2 study scores ≥40. I then compared this with enrolment data to see how their subject choices differed from that of all students (from VCAA statistics).

Choosing these subjects doesn’t guarantee you a high grade. But it does provide some interesting insight into the patterns of high-achieving students, who are more likely to have chosen Specialist Maths, Latin, Chemistry, Global Politics, Physics and Literature.

All-new Annotated VCE Chemistry Data Book for 2021 Chemistry Course

The data book contains a wealth of information that’s hidden in plain sight. If you know how to read the data book properly, you can:

  • Never lose marks again for not knowing the states of fuels or combustion products
  • Know how to substitute metric prefixes in calculations
  • Learn that amino acids with primary amide side chains (–CONH2) are polar and not basic!
  • and much more…
Slide to preview the annotated VCE Chemistry Data Book

VCE Chemistry Study Group starts Saturday May 9th 2020 via Zoom

With schools closed due to COVID-19, it can be difficult to stay on track with your VCE studies.

That’s why I’m hosting my first VCE Chemistry study group for Year 11 students on Zoom this Saturday. We’ll work through a selected set of practice questions for VCE Chemistry Unit 1 until we finish them all, which should take around 55 minutes.

By signing up using the link below, you’ll receive a set of questions you need to complete in advance. This will form Part A of our stimulus material. Part B will be revealed during the Study Group on Saturday.

I’m James Kennedy, a VCE Chemistry teacher with 9 years’ experience, and plenty of experience teaching online. (You may have also seen one of my YouTube channels, books or appearances at chemistry conferences before.)

Many students are already using my Annotated VCE Chemistry data book.

Screenshots from real classes are shown below.

Join for just $9.95 by clicking the button below.

Anxious? Sanvello is giving all its users Premium access free of charge

Get free access to Sanvello Premium during COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 is having an immense impact on stress and anxiety levels: Mentions of the virus were up 605% in Sanvello last week, and we’re seeing nearly a third more user sign-ups this quarter than last. 

There are over 3 million users of Sanvello, the #1 app for stress and anxiety, but there are so many more that could use our help right now. So, we’re cutting our subscription fees down to zero. 

Premium access to Sanvello is now completely free to everyone, effectively immediately for the duration of the crisis. 

This means all of our clinically validated techniques, coping tools, and peer support are available to everyone to help people find calm, gain insight and feel more socially connected from the comfort and safety of their own home. 

Earth: The first travel guide written entirely by a machine

Writing is hard. That’s why I enlisted the help of GPT-2, the world-famous writing robot, to write this travel guide to our beautiful planet.

To create this masterpiece, I first asked GPT-2 to list its favourite places on Earth. It listed 20 locations (and numbered them from 1 to 21 because it omitted number 13), most of which were real places. I then fed the list of places back into the writing machine one by one to generate each of the chapters.

Interestingly, it invented a few fictional places including one called “El Gringo del Diablo” (which is every bit as diabolical as the name suggests) and you can read about it in chapter 2. GPT-2 went off topic several times (something I’m still working on) and included recipes, interviews, news articles and stories in this travel guide as well.

This book is a sequel to Humanity, which GPT-2 wrote earlier the same week and is also available on Amazon.com.

Humanity: the first self-help book written entirely by a machine

Humanity is available for Kindle on Amazon.com

Writing is hard. That’s why I enlisted GPT-2, the world-famous AI-powered writing robot, to write me a book overnight while I slept. After being trained by reading millions of real English-language articles on the internet spanning a wide range of genres, I left the machine running overnight to write me a book.

I didn’t ask it to write a self-help book. It decided that by itself. (In fact, in the test run, it wrote a very detailed news report about a bombing in Afghanistan… entirely fictional, of course.)

The machine occasionally got stuck. Sometimes, it would get caught in endless loops and write the same thing over and over again until I intervened. On more than one occasion, it would write “Yours sincerely,” or simply “THE END” and refuse to write any more. These trials were discarded until a coherent book emerged.

To create this masterpiece, I allowed GPT-2 to write whatever it wanted (with creativity set to “high”) without any input prompt. Fortunately, it wrote a numbered list… so I fed each of those list items successively back into GPT-2 (with “moderate” creativity this time) to create each of the chapters.

What emerged is this book, titled Humanity, which is a subjective reflection of human nature as we like to portray ourselves on the internet. It’s dark at times, uplifting at others, and there’s even a realistic (but fake) interview with Donald J. Trump.

Before we blame GPT-2 for writing things we find disagreeable, please remember that humans, collectively, taught GPT-2 literally everything it knows.

VCE Chemistry written examination paper analysis of marks allocated per chapter

Examination reports are very useful but most students don’t read them. I’ve scoured the examination reports from 2017, 2018 and 2019 and analysed how many marks were awarded for each topic of the VCE Chemistry course, and recorded what percentage of students got these right. As usual, this revealed that VCAA asks more questions on topics that students frequently get wrong.

Tip for students: focus more of your attention on the red topics in the chart above.

Chapter numbers refer to those used in the Heinemann Chemistry 2 textbook.

Focus on perfecting your written responses in VCE Chemistry… because that’s where most of the marks are awarded.

Students obsess over significant figures and mole calculations… but these are only worth 1 and 16 marks, respectively in the final written examination. Over two-thirds of the marks in the VCE Chemistry written examination are awarded for written responses where calculations are not necessary.

Tip for students: focus on perfecting your written responses such as explanations of bonding, chromatography, protein structures, and, most importantly, critiquing experimental designs.

Race to the top: the higher your ATAR, the more difficult it is to increase your ATAR

Plotting a graph of ΔATAR/study score vs ATAR gives an interesting curve: students whose ATARs are around 50 have the most to gain from an additional study score point. Above about 90, the incremental ATAR gain from a single extra study point is probably below the margin of error given the way in which ATARs are calculated.

Tip for students: check the entry requirements for your course and make sure you meet those first. If your requires, for example, a particular score in the UMAT or in English, make sure you get that score. If your course requires a particular ATAR, make sure you get that, too. Remember that these scores are just entry requirements for undergraduate courses; not indicators of self-worth.

I revamped this classic for the VCE Chemistry study design. Download it now: We Lied to You (2019 edition)

we lied to you cover 3d

This book is a collection of lies we taught to our Year 12 Chemistry students in their graduation year.

The lies include well-meaning simplifications of the truth, mistakes in the textbook, and, in a few extreme cases, blatant falsehoods.

This book isn’t a criticism of the VCE Chemistry course at all. In fact, I wrote this book to demonstrate the overwhelming complexity of Chemistry and the consequential need to make appropriate omissions and generalisations during our teaching as we tailor our lessons to the appropriate year level of students.

Rules taught as true usually work 90% of the time in this subject. Chemistry has rules, exceptions, exceptions to exceptions and so on. You’ll peel pack these layers of rules and exceptions like an onion until you reach the core, where you’ll find physics and specialist maths.

Click here to download We Lied to You (2019 edition).