Tag Archives: Student

Combining Chemicals And Students Safely

Chemistry lab. Image supplied by National Laboratory Sales
Image supplied by National Laboratory Sales

In science education, chemistry is one of the disciplines that involves regular hands-on work in a laboratory. While teaching students the intricacies of chemistry presents no exceptional risk, the very real dangers posed by many chemicals demand a higher level of safety consciousness and preparedness. This general overview outlines sensible security precautions for high school and college chemistry labs.

The Importance Of Documentation

Fortunately, in a classroom setting, all of the chemicals being used will be well understood. This means information on their potential risks is widely available. This information must be used to ensure that each substance used is treated with the proper respect for the dangers it poses.

The first source of information for any chemical is the label it carries. These always describe their hazards, but labeling may be incomplete. A more authoritative source for hazard information is the material safety data sheet (usually referred to as an MSDS) for the substance. A comprehensive reference collection of MSDSs is an integral part of every laboratory, and this collection needs to be freely available to all teachers using the classroom’s chemical supply.

Equipment And Facilities

At the high school or college level, chemistry experiments demand their own dedicated laboratory spaces. These labs should meet all state and national safety requirements and cannot be used for teaching other subjects. Even the scheduling of laboratory use must be geared towards safety. Adequate free periods must be included every day for cleaning the lab and disposing of chemicals.

Chemicals need a dedicated, lockable storage room equipped to contain them safely. A prep room is also required for teachers to use. This needs equipment similar to the lab room albeit on a smaller scale. For all three of these spaces, ventilation is a critical concern. Ventilation hoods should be used in the lab itself and all of the air removed from the lab must be vented outside.

Full safety equipment needs to be available for everyone in the laboratory while chemicals are in use. This includes both permanent safety facilities (e.g. eyewash stations, first aid kits, etc.) and personal protective equipment (PPE), including goggles. Goggles for use in chemistry labs must conform to stricter standards than other forms of eye protection to ensure that they protect against both flying debris and liquid splashes.

Planning And Preparing

Every chemistry lab needs thorough safety plans for both general and specific chemical risks. While standardized materials including the safety documentation discussed above can be used to prepare safety plans, each teacher responsible for leading classes in the lab has a responsibility to set out his or her own safety measures.

Customized safety preparations should take the specifics of the facility and the coursework into consideration. Methods for calling for help, evacuating the lab, and documenting incidents will vary based on the layout of the facility and its resources. By designing their own safety plans, teachers will be better prepared to enact them in the event of an accident.

The Teacher’s Role

A chemistry teacher has many responsibilities beyond instruction and safety planning. One of the most important of these responsibilities is teaching his or her students to share a healthy respect for the hazards posed by chemicals. Teaching and testing them on basic safety precautions and lab-specific emergency procedures is just a start.

Students should learn to understand the intricacies of chemical labeling before working with hazardous chemicals. (For example, the terms danger, warning, and caution are each distinct, indicating decreasing levels of risk.) At the college level, where students may be working independently and designing their own experiments, teaching them to read the MSDS is strongly recommended. For younger students teachers can often make use of intermediate-level warning documentation (e.g. CLIPs, Chemistry Laboratory Information Profiles) to give them adequate chemical reference materials.

Keeping students safe in the laboratory is not a difficult job. It requires a heightened sense of awareness and an amount of preparation commensurate with the hazards posed by the chemicals involved. When preparedness is combined with proper facilities, equipment, and training, schools labs can be safe places to learn through direct experimentation with all but the most dangerous of chemicals.

Whether you’re building a new Lab or upgrading your existing one, you will find a remarkable selection of Casework, Workstations, Fume Hoods and related lab products at National Laboratory Sales.

Last-Minute Tips for the VCE Chemistry Exam

You’ll be sitting here tomorrow.

Only positively-charged fragments from mass spectrometers produce a peak on the spectrum. Uncharged free radical fragments are not detected because they lack a positive charge.

Weak acids with a lower Ka value are the weakest… this means that they ionise to a lesser extent when in aqueous solution, giving rise to a lower concentration of available H3O+(aq) and a higher pH.

The conversion of triglycerides (a type of ester) into biodiesel (another type of ester) is called transesterification.

The covalent bonds between deoxyribose and phosphate groups in DNA form a group of atoms called a phosphodiester group.

Ether bonds and glycosidc bonds are not the same. Ether bonds are C-O-C. Glycosidic bonds are a type of covalent bond that joins a carbohydrate (sugar) molecule to another group, which may or may not be another carbohydrate.

Amide groups and peptide groups are not the same, either. Amide groups are CONH. Peptide groups are CONH between amino acid residues in a polypeptide chain. Nylon, for example, has amide groups (CONH) which aren’t called peptide groups.

Ether: C-O-C
Ester: COO
Amine: NH2
Amide: CONH

The molar mass of any amino acid without its Z-group is 74 gmol-1.

The molar mass of glucose, fructose and galactose (all monosaccharides) is 180 gmol-1. By coincidence, aspirin is also 180 gmol-1.

The molar mass of sucrose is 342 gmol-1 because (180*2)-18=342.

In general, energy is required to break bonds. Energy is released when bonds are formed.

Use the formula C-(H/2) to find how many C=C are present in a fatty acid (only works for fatty acids).

Use the shortcut formula (Ka/[acid])^0.5 to find % ionisation of a weak acid.

Use -log(Ka) to find the exact pH at the end point of an indicator.

Use the quick titration formula for rapid multi-choice titration questions: c1v1/ratio1 = c2v2/ratio2

A hydrogen bond is an intermolecular bond that forms between O-H groups. The covalent bond between the O and the H is not a hydrogen bond.

Can you write the half-equation for the reaction occurring at the anode in an ethanol-oxygen fuel cell with an alkaline electrolyte? Tip: start by writing the known reactants and products then use KOHES(OH) to balance your equation.

The products of a titration determine the pH at the equivalence point. For example, the the pH at the equivalence point in a titration between CH3COOH(aq) and NaOH(aq) is around 8.5 because at equivalence point, only products are present: Na+(aq) and CH3COO(aq). The ethanoate ion (CH3COO(aq)) is a weak base, which makes the solution produced slightly basic.

If you have absolutely no clue in the multiple choice sections, pick C. In the last 4 years of VCE Chemistry examinations, C has been correct 50% more of the time than B.

The multiple choice questions really do get harder towards the end. I’ve done the statistics.

Use your reading time wisely. During reading time, read all the questions with the following idea in mind: “how would I do this question?” without actually doing the question.

Bring sharp pencils.

Sleep early tonight (before 9pm). At this stage, getting enough sleep is far more important than revising those tiny details that may or may not come up in the examination.

All the best tomorrow.

The 2 Ingredients of Excellent Exam Revision

Source: Christian P Walker

If you’re in high school, you should spend about two thirds of each day studying for six days each week for several months before your important exams. But apart from doing the required homework, what else should you be doing in that time?

Answer: Just 2 things.

(1) Make great notes.

Make them, re-make them and then make them again. Make them clearer and more beautiful every time. Organise them according to the official study design (or “syllabus”) for your course. Put your notes on the wall of your bedroom or study. Take some of them down temporarily and see if you can recall them by heart.

You can buy books of theory notes online, but the process of making your own notes is when most of the theory learning actually takes place. Use those purchased books for inspiration only. It’s okay to use a computer to make notes, but do at least one hand-written version as well. Become a pro at hand-writing explanations and sketching diagrams with a pen. This experience will save you time in the exam.

(2) Do lots of practice questions.

Get practice questions from as many sources as you can. Use real past papers, use past-paper-style questions from companies, and if you need more, do questions from the textbooks your school isn’t using. Complete these questions first without answers, then refer to your theory notes if you get stuck. When done (or if completely stuck), check the answer key or send an email to your teacher. Do all of this in one study session.

That’s almost all there is to it! I’ll post more about each of these two instructions in the next two weeks. Making great notes and doing lots of practice questions are the two most important parts of exam revision.

Questions? Contact me. Need VCE theory notes? Go to VCEasy.org.

Book: Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

I’ve been saying this for years.
300 pages, ★★★

The book’s opening quote:

Colleges and universities, for all the benefits they bring, accomplish far less for their students than they should. Many students graduate without being able to write well enough to satisfy their employers… reason clearly or perform competently in analyzing complex, non-technical problems.

The book then demonstrates, somewhat repetitively (because each chapter was written by a different author) that students aren’t learning anything in university. They’re studying less than 40 years ago, putting less effort in, and preferentially choosing the easiest classes, but at the same time expecting much more: an amazing job, a salary high enough to repay their giant student loan, and lots of prestige to bask in after graduation. Invariably, they will get none of the above.

This book blames universities, not just students, for post-graduation disappointment and the looming student debt crisis that’s intertwined with it. According to this book, while universities are waxing lyrical about the “critical thinking skills” and “good writing skills” that are supposedly important to “success”, university courses do very little to train the critical thinking skills and writing skills of their students. Reading lists are short and optional (most students don’t read); writing assignments are few and not taken seriously (plagiarism largely goes unnoticed, and the plagiarising student receives a grade anyway); and students make very little progress in their three years of study (at a huge cost).

I saw a lot of these troubles while I was doing my undergraduate degree in Britain. Much of this is true there, too: students are lazy, spoiled and expect fantastic jobs despite being completely incompetent. Writing essays isn’t important and nobody notices plagiarism. (The list goes on…)

Two key findings stand out from this book:

(1) Education starts at home. Most of the variation in high-school test scores in the US can be explained by gender, race, education level of parents, number of parents in the household, and occupation of parents. Your parents are your biggest teachers.

(2) Test scores of people who drop out of high school, on average, improve at a faster rate post-dropout than the scores of students who go to college. This is shown in the graph on page 56. Amazing!

I didn’t learn anything new here, but I did feel comforted that I’ve been right all along. Some university students are lazy, spoiled and have an unjustified sense of aggrandisement. They expect too much after graduation and, especially in the current economic climate in the US and Europe, will ultimately be very disappointed.

I saw no evidence of any of these problems in Australia, though 🙂 ★★★


Book: Mindful Learning

Mindful Learning by David B. Strahan

Obvious, practical advice.
212 pages, ★★★★

Mindful Learning is exactly what you’d expect from looking at its title. It combines the results of four years’ collaborative research by teachers and students into how best to engage students in the learning process at school. Most of the book’s solutions are either well-established theories or are common sense. I’ve summarised four of my favourite snippets below.

First, most interesting was the “learning and face” section. Peer pressure and teacher pressure are often contradictory. Some students also feel pressured into “acting Black” or “acting Latino”, which often contradicts the wishes of their parents and teachers. Students hold the misconception that “being smart” is a “gift from birth”, and isn’t the result of tenacious practice. School students want success to be seen as effortless (“I didn’t practice for this test at all”), and failures to be seen either as inadvertent or someone else’s fault (“I forgot my homework/sports kit”).

Second, all our actions are efforts to fulfil five basic needs: security, belonging, power, freedom and fun. While this theory is by no means perfect, it’s a simple way for some students to develop more empathy. This theory comes from Glasser (1993).

Third, teaching and learning should be integrated with life; i.e. school curricula should be relevant! This is common sense, but is seldom carried out.

Finally, in a verbatim classroom transcript on page 29, a teacher asks a class how to calculate the volume of a fish. I tried it out with great success—it’s the best question I’ve ever set in a maths class. More on this later.

This book is more of a blend (like PEEL) than a brand (like UbD). It’s a collection of common sense teaching practices, and for that reason, I give it a positive review. I recommend this as a light, supplementary reading for existing professional teachers. ★★★★

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.

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. ★★★★★

Book: Getting Ahead as an International Student

Getting Ahead as an International Student

Gives you no advice. Just makes you think, like counselling.
205 pages, ★★★

I’m about to become an international student! I have been accepted to study Education at a major university in Australia, after which, I will be able to register as a secondary school science teacher. Finally, it looks like I have a long-term career!

In preparation for one year of study, I got this book from the library.

This book doesn’t actually tell me anything. It instead uses counselling techniques to ask “what are your expectations?”, “why?” and “it might not be like that, which is okay”. It asked me to write my thoughts on preferred teaching styles and the role of lecturers in education, then quoted me four largely conflicting opinions of students from different international backgrounds. (It’s easy to see, then, how each of these students will be disappointed by at least one aspect of their university experience.) By opening your mind, Getting Ahead prevents the disappointment that arises when expectations differ from reality (the sole root of disappointment, actually).

Getting Ahead didn’t give me any information but it did help—CBT-style. So I’m going to university next year with no assumptions about what it should be like, and hopefully, I won’t be disappointed. ★★★