12 March 2013

Content vs Skills: refocusing our attention

When I started teaching, my philosophy was to cover, at least in some part, all of the topics taught at the college level of a freshmen chemistry class.  If I am truly teaching a college-prep course, this idea makes sense.  But, this year between the loss of time moving to block scheduling, time lost due to Hurricane Sandy, and refocusing my attention on teaching to a final exam I didn't create, I have really had to cut out what I feel is important content that is taught in college in order to get my students better prepared for the end of the year examination.  When doing all of this, I keep saying "when will my students ever need this?"  It is kind of bizarre hearing that phrase said in your own head instead of coming out of a teenager.

I have been trying to make class more focused on the activities and less on the videos.  This has occurred partially through guided inquiry and guided PBL activities.  But, as is the case with most science classes, the activities still just reinforced the content that they had to learn through the videos instead of the activities driving the learning.

I decided to make a change.  Starting in the unit on Solutions, I gave a starter activity that walked them through the process of making a solution and then walked them through calculations that are required for calculating the concentration.  Once they have the foundation, then they watch the video related to the topic. After watching the videos, the students would then come back to the lab to complete an extension to the original activity.  Here is a link to the document.

It is very much a work in progress, but I am hoping it will shift the students away from relying on the videos and myself to give them the content they need.  It also makes the class time more about DOING chemistry and the videos more about preparing for the tests and exams.

Now that I think about it, maybe part of the shift needs to be more like the structure of chemistry labs in college:  a "recitation" that is just strictly content based and a lab that actually has the students using the content.

I have to think more on this.  Your thoughts?