Tag Archives: classroom

Let’s add beryllium powder

elements110004
‘Beryllium’ page from Theodore Gray’s book, The Elements

Initial condition

  • H2(g): 0.70 mol
  • He(g): 1.00 mol
  • Li(s): 0.40 mol (still solid: it melts at 180.5 degrees)
  • LiH(s): 0.60 mol
  • Pressure = 525.5 kPa
  • Temperature = 99°C

No reactions!

Beryllium doesn’t react with any of the things in the vessel: H2(g), He(g), Li(s) or LiH(s). My one mole of beryllium powder (which would cost me over $70) would just sit at the bottom of the vessel doing nothing.

With not much else to write about in the Periodic Table Smoothie this week, it might be a good idea to calculate how much this Periodic Table Smoothie would have cost in real life.

Element Cost per kg[1]  Molar mass  Cost per mole
H2  $              4.00 2  $       0.008
He  $            52.00 4  $       0.21
Li  $          270.00 6.941  $       1.87
Be  $      7,840.00 9.01  $    70.64
B (next week)  $    11,140.00 10.811  $  120.43
TOTAL cost of 1.00 mol of each of the first five elements  $        193.16

Conclusion

The addition of beryllium was highly uneventful. The vessel still contains the following:

  • H2(g): 0.70 mol
  • He(g): 1.00 mol
  • Li(s): 0.40 mol (still solid: it melts at 180.5 degrees)
  • LiH(s): 0.60 mol
  • Pressure = 525.5 kPa
  • Temperature = 99°C

We’ll add boron next week and see what happens.

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Let’s add lithium powder

Lithium: a page from Theodore Gray's book The Elements
Lithium: a page from Theodore Gray’s book The Elements

Initial condition

  • Hydrogen gas, H2(g): 1.00 mol
  • Helium gas, He(g): 1.00 mol

Last week, our vessel contained a mixture of hydrogen and helium gases. No chemical reactions have occurred so far, but that is about to change. Today, we’ll add 1.00 mole of lithium powder to the mixture and observe our first chemical reaction.

What does lithium look like?

Lithium is a soft, silvery metal with the consistency of Parmesan cheese. Lumps of lithium can be cut with a knife and it’s so light that it floats on oil. It would float on water as well if it weren’t for the violent reaction that would take place. Lithium is very well-known by science students for its ability to react with water, producing hydrogen gas and an alkaline solution of lithium hydroxide.

image022.png

There’s no water in our vessel so the above reaction won’t actually take place. We’ve only got hydrogen gas and helium gas inside. Let’s see if our powdered lithium reacts with either of those gases.

Will the lithium powder react in our vessel?

Yes! Lithium reacts with hydrogen gas very slowly. One paper by NASA cited a reaction occurring at 29°C but the yield and rate were both very low. Because I want to initiate as many reactions as possible in this experiment, I’m going to heat my vessel to 99°C by immersing it in a bath of hot water. According to the NASA paper, this temperature would give my reaction a 60% yield after two hours.

image013.png

Lithium hydride is beginning to collect in the bottom of my 10-litre vessel. It’s a grey-to-colourless solid with a high melting point.

How much of each substance do we now have in the vessel?

First, we need to know which reagent is limiting. We can calculate this by using the following rule:

image023.png

Let’s substitute the values into the expression for all the reactants in this reaction: Li(s) and H2(g).

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If the yield was 100% (i.e. a complete reaction), I’d expect to make 1.00 mole of lithium hydride. However, we’re only going to get 0.60 moles because according to the NASA paper, the yield of this reaction is only 60% at my chosen temperature.

Let’s do an ‘ice’ table to find out how much of each reactant reacts, and hence how much of each substance we have left in our reactor vessel.

units are mol 2Li H2 2LiH
I (initial) 1.00 1.00 0
C (change) -0.60 -0.30 +0.60
E (equilibrium) 0.40 0.70 0.60

By the end of our reaction, we’d have:

  • H2(g): 0.70 mol
  • He(g): 1.00 mol
  • Li(s): 0.40 mol (still solid: it melts at 180.5 degrees)
  • LiH(s): 0.60 mol

What does 0.60 mol LiH look like?

Let’s use the density formula to try find out how many spoonfuls of LiH we’ve created.

image035
image037
image039
image041
image043

We’ve made 6.11 millilitres of lithium hydride powder! That’s a heaped teaspoon of LiH.

What’s the resulting pressure in the vessel?

Our elevated temperature of 99°C will have caused a considerable pressure increase inside the vessel.

image002
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image016

That’s 5.2 atmospheres (atm) of pressure, which is quite high. A typical car tyre is about 2 atm for comparison.

What if the vessel exploded?

BANG. The contents of the vessel, after they’ve rained down on an unsuspecting crowd, would react explosively with the water and other compounds in our bodies to produce caustic lithium hydroxide and toxic lithium salts. I recommend stepping away from the vessel and behind a thick safety screen at this point. Even though our imaginary vessel is quite strong, we better put on a lab coat and safety glasses as well—just in case.

Conclusion after adding lithium powder

  • H2(g): 0.70 mol
  • He(g): 1.00 mol
  • Li(s): 0.40 mol (still solid: it melts at 180.5 degrees)
  • LiH(s): 0.60 mol
  • Pressure = 525.5 kPa
  • Temperature = 99°C

Next week, we’ll add 1.00 mole of beryllium to the vessel and see what happens.

Reference: Smith, R. L.; Miser, J. W. (1963). Compilation of the properties of lithium hydride. NASA

How to ask your teacher for help: sample phrases

hands up
Proven: students who ask more questions in class achieve higher grades

Asking for help can sometimes be a daunting task. Half of students aren’t in the habit of asking questions to their teacher when they need help – and it’s those students who get lower grades. Sending an email is a particularly good way to pose questions to your teacher because the teacher will respond when they have time. This means you might get a better-researched, more informative answer than if you asked them during the lesson.

But what should you write? If you want Chemistry help, try emailing your teacher with some of these phrases. Adjust each one to fit your specific situation.

When you want to arrange a time to meet

  • “Mr Kennedy, are you free period 7 tomorrow to go over Hess’ Law calculations?”
  • “Dear Sir, I’ve read through the textbook chapter and it still doesn’t make sense to me. Could you please explain it to me during a free period some time this week? Thank you!”
  • “Dear Miss, I’ve attempted some of the homework questions and I just don’t know where to start. Could I meet up with you this week so you can explain it to me? I’ve been reading the textbook chapter and it still doesn’t make sense to me! Thank you”

When you want your work marked

  • “Dear Sir, I’ve finished worksheets 3-6 on titrations. Could you please check my answers? They’re attached. Thanks!”
  • “Dear Miss, Do you have answers to questions 1-25 that we did on Friday? Or, even better, if I give you my answers next lesson, could you correct them for me? Thanks!”

When you want to learn a particular topic

  • “Dear Mr Kennedy, Could we please go over benzene rings in class? I’m not sure I understand them. Thanks”
  • “Dear Miss, Can we please do a summary of bonding next lesson? I think I need to learn this again before the test. Thanks!”

When you want more practice materials

  • “Sir, Do you have any more Unit 1 practice papers? I’ve finished the two you already gave us in class. Thanks”
  • “Dear Mr Kennedy, Do you have any practice questions on buffer solutions? There seems to be only one question on this in the Heinemann Chemistry textbook. Thanks”

When you think the textbook or teacher is wrong

  • “Dear Teacher, When we went through worksheet 7 in class, you wrote the relative molar mass of sodium thiosulfate to be 135.1. Isn’t it actually 158.1, which means the answer would actually be 0.309 M?”
  • “Dear Mr Kennedy, On page 185, the textbook has the structural formula for sucrose without a hydroxyl group on the sixth carbon atom. Could you please check it? Is the book correct? Thanks!”

When you’re absent from class

  • “Dear Mr K, Sorry I missed Thursday’s lesson. I was ill at home and missed two days of school. Could you please send me any work that I missed? Thank you”
  • Dear Miss K, I have a Biology excursion on Monday and therefore won’t be able to do the SAC. Can I please reschedule it for another time next week? Thank you”

Finally… when you want some specific Chemistry help

  • When asking questions to your teacher, it’s important that you number each question in the email. This makes it much easier for your teacher to refer to them in their response.
  • Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about asking for Chemistry help. Just send the email or knock on your teacher’s door. Don’t apologise for asking your teacher questions! It’s your teacher’s responsibility to help students: they enjoy doing this, and this is why they chose to teach!
  • An example “help” email is shown below.

“Dear Mr Kennedy, I have some questions about titrations:

(1) Why do titrations using 0.10 M ethanoic acid and 0.10 M hydrochloric acid require the same titre volume even though one is strong and one is weak?

(2) What’s the “pH range” referring to in the indicators section of the data booklet?

(3) I think I got question 4 wrong. Could you please check it for me?

(4) What’s the difference between benzene and cyclohexene?

(5) What are three different definitions of oxidation and reduction? I can only think of OIL RIG!

Thanks!”

Which Chapters of Heinemann Chemistry 2 do we need to learn for the examination?

Chapters for Heinemann Chemistry 2
Click to download PDF

My favourite VCE Chemistry textbook contains some extra information that isn’t part of the VCE Chemistry Study Design, which almost certainly won’t be on the end of year examination. Use this chart to help you find your way through Heinemann Chemistry 2:

  • Skip the sections in red;
  • Read the sections in yellow and make careful annotations;
  • Study the sections in green meticulously and make concise notes on all of their contents.
  • Chapters 19 to 22 (in blue) explain the “detailed studies”, and students need to study just one chapter out of these four. Many schools choose the chapters on ammonia or sulfuric acid.

Five most important things in any classroom

Students raise their hands in a classroom
Students raise their hands in a classroom

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.

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:

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:

Best Chemistry Revision Resources

I teach VCE Chemistry at an awesome high-school in Australia. VCE Chemistry can be a difficult subject to learn, and the more help students get from different locations, the better they’ll do in an exam.

Here’s my list of the best Chemistry revision resources on the Internet:

1. Richard Thornley IB Chemistry (tutorial videos)

Richard Thornley IB Chemistry

My all-time favourite Chemistry tutor on YouTube. He’s accurate, succinct, and has a great sense of humour. He’s really easy to understand, even when he’s explaining advanced concepts. Great use of customised video gaming to simulate chemical concepts, too. 🙂

Richard Thornley’s YouTube Channel

2. Khan Academy (tutorial videos)

World-class tutorial videos from the legendary Sal Khan. Sal teaches you Chemistry right through to university level, so if you’re still in high-school, you’ll need to select the videos that are right for you. Easy to follow and the website is constantly being updated. Great community of Khan academy users are available in the comments sections to answer your questions 🙂

Khan Academy Chemistry Website
Twitter: @KhanAcademy

3. CrashCourse Chemistry (tutorial videos)

Crash Course Chemistry

Fast-paced revision videos that remind you of chemical concepts you’ve already learned. Probably too rapid for learning new content, but they make for very entertaining revision. Excellent graphics & excellent production.

Crash Course Chemistry YouTube Playlist
Twitter: @TheCrashCourse

4. Chemguide (revision notes)

Classic revision notes for the UK Chemistry syllabus. Covers every topic in depth, and with a really simple website layout. Timeless, comprehensive resource for all students and teachers.

Chemguide Revision Notes

5. Compound Interest (posters)

A brand-new Chemistry blog that explores the everyday relevance of chemical compounds. Their food poster series and “Chemistry of Colour” posters have gone viral, and they’ve even been selling Chemistry-themed spice-jar labels! Compound Chem produce high-quality graphics that stimulate more interest in Chemistry.

Compound Interest Website
Twitter: @CompoundChem

6. Chemisode (tutorial videos)

Jason Goudie guides you through VCE Chemistry with these video tutorials covering Units 1–4. He narrates over Keynote slides, and does practice questions with a camera over a pen & paper. The playlist takes a long time to finish, but it’ll teach you everything you need to know for high school. Designed for VCE Chemistry in Australia.

Chemisode YouTube Channel

7. Daria Kohls’ Chemistry Dropbox (Revision Cards)

Daria Kohls' Chemistry Dropbox

Awesome revision cards for A-level Chemistry. With one card for each Chemistry concept, this treasure trove of revision resources is a bit like VCEasy for A-level 🙂 Get the whole set from Daria’s Dropbox folder using the link below.

Daria Kohls’ Chemistry Dropbox
Twitter: @DaK_74

8. TED-Ed (mini-lessons)

Short, animated films explain Chemical concepts very well. Unfortunately, only about 10% of our high school course has been covered by TED-Ed’s lessons. In a few years’ time, this could become the best Chemistry resource on the web. Search for the topics you need.

TED-Ed Website

9. Fuse School (tutorial videos)

Absolutely awesome animated videos that explain chemical concepts. Covers about one-third of our high-school curriculum. Explained really clearly in a beautiful British accent, each video contains a couple of quiz questions.

Fuse School YouTube Channel
Twitter: @FuseSchool

10. Tyler DeWitt (fun tutorial videos)

Tyler DeWitt teaches by telling stories. He anthropomorphises cells and molecules, and gives them feelings as they collide, transform and form products. His classic TED talk (here) is indicative of his unique teaching style. Excellent material for Grades 9-11.

Tyler DeWitt’s YouTube Channel
Twitter: @tyleradewitt

11. chemistNATE (tutorial videos)

More great Chemistry videos from a popular teacher on YouTube.

chemistNATE’s YouTube Channel
chemistNATE’s Lessons & Worksheets Website

12. Brightstorm (tutorial videos)

Brightstorm produces very high-quality Chemistry videos using a whiteboard. Excellent scripting & production, and excellent teaching. Great website, too!

Brightstorm Chemistry Website

13. IsaacsTEACH (tutorial videos)

IsaacsTEACH

Produces tutorials rather like Khan Academy, except that you can see the teacher on the screen. Very clear explanations.

IsaacsTEACH YouTube Channel

14. Bozeman Science (tutorial videos)

Bozeman Science

Great video tutorials. Use the search box to find the topics you want to learn about.

Bozeman Science YouTube Channel

15. Talkboard (tutorial videos)

Talkboard

Very neat videos that explain a huge number of Chemistry topics. Very comprehensive; a valuable resource.

Talkboard Chemistry Website

Your suggestions…?

Have I left any out? Email your suggestions to jameskennedymonash@gmail.com or add your ideas to the comments form below.

—James 🙂

3D Periodic Table with a G-Block (beta)

Here’s something you should all have in your Chemistry classrooms.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This project was a mashup of two existing ones.

In 1969, Roy Alexander in the United States invented a helical periodic table with pop-out loops for the d-block and the f-block. It was by far the best way to visualise the periodic table at the time. His brilliant 1969 design patent is online here.

Then in 2010, Pekka Pyykkö in Finland created a periodic table that can accommodate elements up to Z=172, far beyond the range of elements that scientists can currently synthesise (currently Z=118 at best estimates). Pyykkö calculated the bizarre electron configurations of the g-block, and added these yet-to-be-discovered elements underneath the existing periodic table.

I blended these two ideas together and created a 3-dimensional periodic table with a g-block: Pyykkö’s elements in Alexander’s shape. The whole thing is about 30 cm high. I coloured all the elements by their electronegativities (where known).

Geography has globes, Biology has those limbless mannequins with their organs showing, and now Chemistry has this. It’s by far the most superior way to visualise the periodic table and electron configurations in 3D. It’s the only periodic table that puts all the elements in the right order without any gaps. It’s future-proof, fool-proof and waterproof.

Email me if you want to get your hands on one. Enjoy 🙂

A 3-dimensional periodic table with a g-block (front)
A 3-dimensional periodic table with a g-block (front)

Book: Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms

Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms

Tells incompetent teachers in dire classroom settings to “hang in there”.
160 pages, ★★

I’m so happy I’m not in a position where I need this book.

Paul Blum’s hard-hitting, “blunt, truthful account” of the UK’s most troubled schools delves into territory I didn’t know was allowed in the field of education. Contrary to the other books and articles I’ve been reading, he calls students “nutters” and “angels” on page 15. Even more extreme, on page 27, he says, “the really crazy ones will climb out of windows [to avoid detention]”.

He describes some atrocious situations: students who tell teachers to “fuck off”, parents who can’t afford phones, families who live in “poverty and squalor”, and classes with unexplained 20% absence rates. Gangs enter the school premises to attack a student towards the end of this book, and he advises his readers that “the police are probably required immediately”.

Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms is more of a rant than a book. It alarms you to the most extreme scenarios that some teachers dig themselves into, and makes you wonder how they got there. Even though the book blames school chaos on poverty alone, I’m young and optimistic enough to believe that teachers can do something more than tolerate it, or just “hang in there”, as this book tells them to do. I think we can sabotage the fizzy drinks machine, make students more physically active during class, study pop music in English class and make everything active and relevant. We can give kids the respect they don’t get at home—even when they tell us to “fuck off”.

My favourite quote is on page 75, The Don’t’s:

10. Don’t waste too much time preparing copious written lesson plans.

There’s not much I agree with in this book, but on that line, I agree 100%.

The cover really doesn’t match the writing style. On the outside, this book is a $36.00 work of academic literature. On the inside, however, it’s a colloquial, 2-for-$5 self-help book that fails to motivate… and there are no references.

The author might like you to give this book to any teachers you know who are struggling in terrible schools. However, by offering no solutions to turn these schools around, the author’s effectively telling his readers to give up hope. If this book resonates with you, then it’s time to consider a career change. ★★

Book: Developing and Using Classroom Assessments

I just put my résumé online. Take a look (there’s a link in the menu bar).

Here’s another education book: a testing bible.

Oosterhof
There’s more science to classroom assessments than students think!

Makes designing professional-looking tests a whole lot easier!
304 pages, ★

Teachers spend 25% of their time on designing, invigilating and marking written assessments. For the other 75% of the time, they’re doing what’s called ‘informal assessment’—observing all the tiny cues in the classroom that they pretend not to notice: the cellphone, the yawn, the shy know-it-all, the one who’s not concentrating, the eager hand-raiser who really loves your class… all these observations end up in a secret notebook (or in the teacher’s head).

Developing and Using Classroom Assessments tells you step-by-step how to design all kinds of classroom assessments. Assessments can be:

  • Formal/informal (informal assessments are daily observations)
  • Diagnostic/Formative/Summative (and preliminary)
  • Internal/External (we will only deal with internal)
  • Curriculum-based/Portfolio-based (students love portfolios: they boost confidence and self-esteem, and allow students to discover their strengths; but portfolios are time-consuming for students to create and for teachers to read)

When designing tests, pay attention to:

  • Purpose: tell the students how you’re going to use the information gained from the test.
  • Specifications: design the test carefully
  • Validity: test everything you taught in the right proportions
  • Consistency: different skills tested together hides a student’s true ability. Give separate grades for each skill used (argument, handwriting, spelling, style).

Score your tests according to:

  • Ability: self vs. best ever self
  • Growth: self vs. previous self
  • Norm: self vs class
  • Criterion: pass/fail grading for each question.

Always put grades into context. “Henry scored 90% in geography” is useless information. Say, “Henry understands our plate tectonics class very well” or “Henry’s score on the plate tectonics test was the second-highest in year 9 in our school”.

Test by:

  • Computer: students prefer this method and get higher scores on computers than on paper. It’s also more convenient for both teachers and students, and closely resembles any job in the ‘real world’.
  • Pen & paper: while some schools are emphasizing pen and paper tasks, the main reason for this was “it will help the students get used to paper examinations”. In my opinion, this is not a good reason.

Never use grades to discipline students.

Always give students feedback and a chance to improve their grade. Usually, they will in the ‘real world’, too.

When analyzing grades, use these statistical methods:

  • Percentiles
  • Quartiles
  • Standard deviations
  • Year-group-equivalent scores (use median of each year-group to make a standard curve, then find the year-group-equivalent of each student, e.g. “Johnny attained year 6.7 level”).

You don’t always need to show these grades to the students. Keep some on paper, and some in your head, and be mindful of how your students will react to a bad grade (will they give up?)

I love the balance of theory, pracrice and examples in this book. Let this book guide you step-by-step to design innovative, varied, valid and reliable tests time after time.

Like Marsh’s Becoming a Teacher, this is one of those books I’ll be referring to repeatedly at the start of my teaching career. Buy a copy, and it’ll make designing good-looking tests so much quicker and easier. 

Book: Teaching for Effective Learning: The complete book of PEEL teaching procedures

Teaching for effective learning: The complete book of PEEL teaching procedures
Keep this on your teacher’s desk.

Directory of best teaching methods. A logical, concise teacher’s bible.
250 pages,
★★★★★

The Project for Enhancing Effective Learning (PEEL) was founded in 1985 by a group of teachers and academics who shared concerns about the prevalence of passive, unreflective, dependent student learning, even in apparently successful lessons. They set out to research classroom approaches that would stimulate and support student learning that was more informed, purposeful, intellectually active, independent and metacognitive. The project was unfunded and not a result of any system or institution-level initiative. PEEL teachers agree to meet on a regular basis, in their own time, to share and analyse experiences, ideas and new practices.

PEEL has evolved into a global education reform movement with supporters in most developed countries. Its creed, pooled from teachers (not theorists or politicians), has been expanded into an abundance of numbered lists: “the 6 PEEL goals”, “the 10 journeys of change” and “the 12 PEEL teaching practices”.

Fortunately, their main text, Teaching for Effective Learning, is still a practical teaching guide with maximal classroom significance. I’ve already used many of the methods in this book in my own classes, and decided to give my own views here on how effective they all are.

From my 3 years’ teaching experience, here’s my list of favourites (with star ratings)…

A1: Concept mapping (basically character mapping). I love this method and use it myself. Interestingly, PEEL tells you to extend it by including characters, themes and objects in the map (which would be very complicated). ★★★★★

A2: Concept grids (basically tables). Seldom applicable, but useful when they are. ★★★★

A3: What’s my rule? This works better the other way around. Put two headings no the board and ask for differences and similarities from the class to stimulate discussion. Also a form of diagnostic (preliminary) testing. ★★★★

A7, A8, A9 and A10 (and to some extent A26) are ‘translation’ activities, in which your subject of instruction (e.g. Chemistry) is translated into another (English, Drama, Art and Media, respectively). “Write a story about an apple being digested…/ Make a poster that advertises a plant of your choice”. These are time-consuming because students generally aren’t used to linking subjects together, but are fun and students learn a lot from sharing their work in front of the whole class. ★★★★★

A12: Brainstorming. Small groups (individuals or pairs) results in greater participation per student. Ask open questions, let students brainstorm the answers. ★★★★★

A16: Cloze exercises. Choose a new text and use software to automatically replace every (usually 7th) word with a blank space. Ask the students to fill in the blanks. Research shows that cloze exercises are a reliable (formative) test for reading comprehension level. ★★★★

A18 and A29 combine to form a “Reading Process”, or a form of active reading. Highlighting characters, underlining new words, and summarizing each paragraph are standard practices for improving reading comprehension. (They are scaffold techniques, which can be mostly abandoned later, or evolved into more natural forms of note taking). ★★★★★ (as a “Reading Process”)

A25: Silent class. Do this sometimes! Tell the students they’re going to spend the entire class reading in silence. When you read attentively and visibly and silently, making notes, the students will start to imitate you. You can’t do this often, but done occasionally, it improves discipline and independent study habits. ★★★★★

A34: Whole-class simulations. Works well for enacting historical events, which are relevant in almost all subjects. Memorable, but can’t be done too often. Requires planning. ★★★★★

B1: Predict-Observe-Explain. Central to science education. ★★★★★

B3 and B7 are types of assisted discussions. This should be standard practice in all classes where group discussion is allowed. Always facilitate and mediate students’ discussions by walking around the room and talking to all the groups. Scope for group-work is limited in Chemistry, though. Pairs work best. ★★★★★

B8: Probe prior views. Diagnostic testing (a.k.a. preliminary testing) should always be done before a unit is taught. Use A3, A12 or simple question-and-answer as a whole class to probe prior views. ★★★★

B19: Complete statements from a stem. “A paragraph is…” makes both a good start-of-class quiz, and a good summative testing technique. ★★★★★

B28: Buzan® mind mapping should be compulsory education. ★★★★★

I excluded three types of PEEL techniques:

First, I’m not a fan of gimmicks. The ‘Y-chart’, the ‘thought balloon’, and the ‘postbox’ method (a bizarre secret-ballot-brainstorm combination) were among the ‘gimmicks’ that I omitted from the list.

Second, I’m also not a fan of non-educational classroom games. “the 5/3 method”, “brainstorm bingo” and “circuses” might make kids happy but won’t teach them enough to justify the commotion.

Finally, some quality PEEL methods were only suitable for primary schools. ‘Mingle/match/mate”, “guess the picture”, A19 and A20 were some of those.

The ones in this list are the best of the rest—the ones I’ll use as a secondary school chemistry teacher.

This book is relevant for every teacher: primary and secondary, sciences and arts, both high and low ability streams. I’ll be referring to this bible when planning my own lessons as a constant reminder to diversify my teaching style and keep my classes interesting. ★★★★★

Book: Becoming a Teacher: Knowledge, Skills and Issues

My teacher training classes begin at 10 am this morning, so I spent the weekend reading the first book on the reading list: Becoming a Teacher (5th ed.) by Colin Marsh.

Becoming a Teacher: Knowledge, Skills and Issues
One of the key texts in my teacher training

Stylistically, it’s like drinking honey: viscous and sweet. An excellent, comprehensive starting point for all new teachers.
497 pages, ★★★★★

Becoming a Teacher (5th ed.) covers every aspect of education imaginable. There’s half a page on the ideal temperature of the classroom, and 1½ pages on the ideal colour for the classroom walls. There’s several pages on how the ambience of the classroom doesn’t influence the students’ grades, but does influence the students’ behaviour and happiness, to all of which, scientific studies are cited. Abundant references attribute published, peer-reviewed papers to every facet of classroom management, including teaching styles, curriculum content, examination methods, and modes of school governance. Not one aspect of education is left to opinion. The whole book is written in lucid prose with no interrupting fact-boxes or other distractions—tables and figures are inset, though, where they’re necessary.

Two facts stand out. First, the 2 × 10 strategy (Smith & Lambert, 2008), in which teachers engage problem students in a 2-minute conversation for 10 consecutive school days, has been proven an effective way to improve students’ wellbeing (and their manners in class). Second, you can use a the results of an innocuous quiz to create a sociogram (which is basically a character map), to create visualise friendship networks in the classroom. The resulting data can be used to foster social cohesion, improve group work, assist seating arrangements, and even break up gangs.

I was most surprised to learn how child psychology underpins basically everything that teachers do:

  • Kohlberg’s 3 stages of moral development
  • Erikson’s 5+3 childhood stages
  • Vygosky’s 4 stages of the development of thought
  • Piaget’s 4 stages of growth, and 2 stages of morality
  • Borich & Tombari’s 2 types of student motivation
  • Bloom’s taxonomy
  • Gardner’s multiple intelligences
  • …and, of course, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Tests, curricula and teaching styles are engineered to cater to every stage that your students might be in. Teaching is clearly a science—yet I used to think it was an art!

I made seven pages of notes while reading this book (I usually make one or two) so there’s a lot to take in: don’t talk too much… you don’t need to shout… give students 5 seconds to answer questions… there are 3 types of test… be fair to all students… don’t just call on boys to answer questions… there’s much more. My internship in April will help me put this wealth of theory into practice.

Becoming a Teacher (5th ed.) is an excellent starting point for teachers-in-training. I loved reading this book. ★★★★★