Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Link to my CSTA Presentation

California Science Teachers Association Sacramento October 2015

Link to PDF of CSTA Presentation

Link to PowerPoint of CSTA Presentation

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Limitations of iPads: Practice Still Makes Perfect

Is "Mere Understanding" Enough?

I have been writing about how my hope and expectation is that the  iPad will bring "deeper understanding."  I think that it does.  I have seen it.  I tell my students, "If you cannot explain it then you don't understand it."  I still agree with this.  I have seen the products of the student created screencasts.  They marvelously explain difficult concepts like VSEPR theory. Yesterday we used iPads to create a screencast of three net ionic equations. When I asked my students if using the iPad helped them better understand the concepts they overwhelmingly say "Yes!"   Only one student in my 1st semester General Chemistry class said no.  When I asked them if they think that the iPad experience will help them on the next exam two said "I don't know" and the rest said "Yes."  This is out of a total of 22 students.  In my preparatory chemistry class we used iPads to create screencasts of students performing mole calculations and drawing a Lewis dot structure of an assigned molecule.  I asked them if using the iPad helped them understand the chemistry better.  Here are some of the students' comments:

"When you can explain something you learn it better."

"I was able to hear myself do equations step by step. "

"I'm a visual learner so seeing step by step of something really helps."

"This taught me that I must have all units and watch what I do. The slightest error can ruin the entire problem."

Even a student that was unsure if it helped commented:

"It wasn't that helpful to learn chemistry better, but on the other hand was helpful to learn how to explain my work"

And of course explaining the work was the point. In that class 23 out of 24 students completed their assigned screencast.  When I asked them if it helped them learn chemistry better 12 said yes, 7 said they were not sure and 2 said no.  The two that said no were two of the last students to complete their work in the three hour time given (actually they went over by a half hour).  I think they were struggling with the technology as much as the chemistry.

But I think the data and comments overwhelmingly show that the students felt the iPad helps them understand better.


But this just does not seem to be reflected in exam scores in the lower classes.  In my higher level class, 2nd semester General Chemistry, I do think that the students understand VSEPR and Valence Bond Theory better after using the iPads and it does translate into better exam scores.  But this just does not seem to be the case in lower level classes.

So here is my hypothesis.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pen Display Helps to Make Chemistry Videos for Posting or for Flipping

Using the Wacom 2241 Pen Display in the Chemistry Classroom

One of the main things the attracted me to the iPad in the first place was the way it is a tool for creating short videos demonstrating chemistry problems to be posted online for student viewing and reviewing.  One of the first tasks I completed when I got my first iPad back in 2010 was create a screencast using the ShowMe app that I posted to help my students review Lewis dot structures.  The last time I checked it had over 11,500 views!  (That's a lot for me.)

I started creating chemistry videos back in the early 2000's using an HP tablet.  It took forever.  The software was slow and then the video had to be "rendered" in an appropriate "codec" which could then be posted online as a Quicktime video or Windows Media Player video.  Here are some of my earliest examples that I called Chemistry mini web lectures.  I still use them today and many students have commented that the short videos have helped them understand problem solving.


Movie production just got a lot easier and quicker for me!  My department acquired 3 Wacom 2241 pen displays.

The pen display is a large tablet or (22")  extra monitor that can be written on with a special pen.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Chemistry App Nicely Helps Students See VSEPR Theory

Odyssey VSEPR (Valence Shell Electron Pair Repulsion) app shows molecular shapes

In my General Chemistry class this week we were learning about molecular shapes and VSEPR theory.  The whole point of VSEPR theory is to help us understand the 3-dimensional structure of molecules.  First we learn Lewis dot structures.  Lewis is a helpful theory but we soon see that Lewis structures have many exceptions and they don't really predict shapes.  VSEPR theory is an improvement on Lewis theory in that it does predict 3-D shapes.  The problem is that we then draw these shapes on 2-dimensional paper and the students don't really get a true picture of the 3 dimensions.  The Odyssey folks have created a neat little app that lets us get real close to the 3-D structures on the iPad.  Here is a picture of the app icon:

I have tried other apps that I really like and reviewed in earlier posts.  What is missing from the other apps is a depiction of the unshared or nonbonding electrons that are so important in influencing the shape of the molecule.  In this  Odyssey app the unshared electrons are shown:

In other apps I have used the shape of this bent molecule was clear but Odyssey VSEPR is the only app I have found that shows those two nonbonding pairs of electrons that cause this molecule to be bent.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Welcome to the iPad

Have students create introductory videos as a first use of iPads in your class

In my Organic Chemistry lab class about one third of the students have their own iPad.  Probably about half have used them in other classes leaving about half that have had little to no experience with iPads in an educational setting.  I have noticed that when students create a digital lab report in my class many of them have frustrating problems which arise.  Some of these problems are good as they cause the students to problem-solve.  This is a good skill.  But sometimes the frustration level is too high and it distracts from the real purpose of the iPad in that particular assignment.  The purpose is to utilize the technology as a tool to develop and express creativity as the students better articulate the difficult chemistry concepts they learned in a format other than purely written.  

Yesterday was the first time I took out the iPads in my Fall 2014 Organic lab.  I am starting out a little differently from previous semesters.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mixed Experience with Net Ionic Equations

Generally, my thinking is that iPads will reinforce a skill but in a much deeper way than just practicing the skill on a homework assignment.  This did not turn out to be the case when I had students create screencasts of "net ionic equations."

I think that writing a net ionic equation really synthesizes many different skills and concepts learned in a chemistry class.  The students have to demonstrate that they know how to write symbols and formulas, balance equations, predict products, know the solubility rules, distinguish between strong and weak acids.  In other words net ionic equations are one of those things that "ties it all together."  So what a perfect type of skill to demonstrate on a screencast.  I assigned my students each a different equation.  They had to write the "molecular", "total ionic" and "net ionic" equations.  As they wrote they had to audibly explain what they were writing.  This is no different from other screencast assignments.  My thinking was that the assignment would make them learn the skill so deeply that they would all "ace" the exam.  This did not happen at all.  Here is a typical problem:

"Hydrochloric acid is added to sodium fluoride."  Here is a screencast of a student performing this skill.

This is the type of problem that gives students fits because you are given a strong acid HCl and it produces a weak acid HF.  In the total ionic equation H + (aq) and Cl- (aq) are written separately because HCl completely ionizes in aqueous solution.  Conversely HF(aq) is written in its molecular form because it mostly stays unionized as molecules.  Students have a difficult time with this.

Here is another example screencast of net ionic equations.  In that example a precipitate is formed.

Friday, August 15, 2014

iPads from a Parent's Viewpoint

A Small Revolution is Happening

I have been writing about the use of iPads in the college chemistry class.  But I am also a parent of three kids.  Two are now in college and my youngest, Sam, is just entering Junior High.  I think my youngest child's education will end up being very different from that of my oldest two.  For my oldest two they did not use iPads at all.  But  iPads were used quite a lot in my youngest's last year of elementary school and now they are taking over the educational process at his junior high.   I would like to write about my initial thoughts as a parent observing the use of iPads in my child's schools.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Use of iPads in Chemistry Varies from Level to Level

Mole Calculations and Lewis Dot Structures in a First Level Chemistry Class

Up to this point I have tried to use the iPad in Organic Chemistry lab and 2nd semester General Chemistry Lecture and Lab.  My colleague Cheryl Shimazu has used the iPads in 1st semester General Chemistry.  This semester I decided to use them in my Preparatory Chemistry class.  I wanted to see how students in their first semester of chemistry, and some in their first year of college, would work with the iPads.  My plan was to reinforce mole calculations during lab time.  We have a lab in this class that we have been thinking about replacing for some time so I took the liberty of doing a different kind of "hands-on" experience.

Moles are one of the cornerstones of chemistry.  Up to this point in the semester students have mastered dimensional analysis with mostly familiar units.  But using the mole takes dimensional analysis to a whole new level.  If students can master moles then they will have a very high chance of succeeding in the rest of the calculations of chemistry.  But often students get stuck in the "mole hole."

I really want them to "master" the concept of moles and how to perform gram to mole and mole to mole and particle to mole calculations.  I think that if they are required to explain the concept they will have a chance for it to sink in deep.  So as I have many times I turned to the iPads and the app "Educreations" to give the students a chance to teach the world. Here are some links to their productions and then I will make some observations:

Student demonstration of mole calculation #1

Student demonstration of mole calculations #2

What I found was

Friday, April 4, 2014

Creating "90 Second Documentaries" on the iPad

Steam distillation is a very common experiment done in organic chemistry labs everywhere.  I like this experiment.  We start with ground cloves and take out the essential oil eugenol.  The room begins to smell of this wonderful molecule and it reminds me of pumpkin pie and all of those delightful smells of thanksgiving!  Here is the structure of this molecule that can be found on the iPad app called "Nice Molecules":

I took a screenshot of the molecule and saved the image as a jpeg on my desktop iMac.  I just marvel at the way molecules are put together and the way their structure produces their function.  My students like that fact that we are not just performing steam distillation on any old molecule.  Eugenol is something that is used every day and it allows me to demonstrate the relevance of chemistry to our whole life.  The big challenge of using iPads in my organic chemistry class to produce digital lab reports has been time.  It takes a lot of time for the students to learn the technology of an app like Explain Everything.  It takes a lot of time to produce the video from their pictures and voice and all of the cool tools you have with this screen casting app.  I had the students produce videos for simple and fractional distillation and one of the screencasts was almost 18 minutes long!  I think they should be limited to about 7 minutes or so.  

For steam distillation I decided to go a different direction.  I just attended the CUE conference in Palm Springs and heard about the idea of using iMovie to make trailers.  In this app there are templates that make it very easy to create these short, information-packed movies.  I wanted to have my students be familiar with the technology of this app before they came to class so I assigned them to watch two YouTube videos on making trailers with the iPad app iMovie.  They had to send me their evaluations of these "How to" videos via a google form.  When they came to class the next day I told them that their quiz on the steam distillation lab was to create a short "documentary" or trailer using iMovie.  Their creation had to describe the purpose, process and product of steam distillation of eugenol.  The first movie is a trailer using the iMovie template.  Be careful the music makes it very dramatic!


The second movie is not a trailer. The students simply used iMovie to make a quick video describing steam distillation in 90 seconds.  Here it is: