Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Low Stress Chemistry with "Hands-On" Stoichiometry

Here is an accurate visual for representing how the word "stoichiometry" makes most people feel. 

The purpose of this blog is to help other teachers reduce the stress in their lives and to allow me to reflect and continue my own personal growth. In that vein, any chemistry teacher can tell you that stoichiometry is easily one of the most frustrating topics to instruct, so I wanted to share a strategy I created that has been well-received by both my students and fellow educators. 

In addition to making our jobs easier, I also think it is critical to reduce rote learning via the use of algorithmic flowcharts that do not foster conceptual understanding and may lead to confusion if not used properly.  

After seeing my lowest students internalize molar conversions kinesthetically, even after the marker ink on their hands has washed away, I will never go back. As I mentioned in the condensed video below, the parts of our brains that process numerical representation also control our finger movement. So, a literal hands-on approach is a great way to help students that struggle in math be successful in stoichiometry. I invite you to try it yourself; the ten minutes you are about to invest will be returned with fewer paper corrections and tutoring sessions. I promise!

Here are some quick tips for pulling this off from my experience and other teachers' feedback:

1. Students with sensory processing issues may find the marker on their skin unbearable. In this situation, you can give them the handout I used in the video. If a students' parents would prefer they not write on their hands, disposable gloves can also be used (and reused for the duration of the unit).

2. It is best not to have students fold their fingers down while converting lest birds be shot in your classroom. Kids will be kids, and we have enough behavior issues to handle already.

3. Each lesson, add a new type of conversion instead of starting with all three fingers labeled at the beginning. The first day, for example, students may only have particles (formula units, atoms, and molecules) and moles on their hand. The next day, grams can be written and utilized. 

4. Fine-tipped washable markers work well for this activity because they are the least permanent and the kids enjoy the colors available. Plus, they are less likely to vanish from your room than Sharpies. 

If you are looking for the worksheet link to the practice problems I used, look no more.

I wish you the best of luck and a mole of A's on your next stoich test. Cheers,