Do your students look at you like you’re speaking gibberish when explaining a new topic in chemistry?
Do you get no response when you say, “Any questions?” at the end of class? If is your classroom some days, it’s time to grab your uninterested student’s attention.
It is so frustrating when you have spent 50 minutes explaining a topic and get crickets. I know.
You think, “Did I explain it right? Did they just not listen? Should I have done more practice problems?”
No, they are bored.
Have you thought about how far out of their world some topics in chemistry are? For some students, we might as well be explaining rocket science.
Rock their world by trying one of these fun tactics and see your students become sponges in your classroom.
Yes, you may have occasional rowdiness (especially with #7), but they will be engaged.
And that involvement is what we all dream of seeing in our classrooms.
1. Use candy chemistry to teach macromolecules and crystallization
Edible chemistry is super engaging. Students know that in an edible lab, they get to eat something and will engage with you for that reason.
Using fudge, you can teach macromolecules based on the raw ingredients. Then, once you get cooking, you can talk about crystallization.
The sky is the limit with candy chemistry. Use flavors to talk about aromatic compounds. Use rock candy to talk about crystal lattice structures. Use marshmallows to talk about denaturing proteins.
2. Teach the periodic table through coloring
Your science nerds are already interested in science. But your art and English lovers need to see how to use color and vivid descriptions to learn chemistry.
After all, color triggers memory. Why not use this to your student’s advantage and have students color code the periodic table.
Not only will it make the periodic table easier to learn, but it will be super easy for you to grade. All you have to do is glance down and see if it matches your key.
3. Turn cell phones against students
Cell phone use is a controversial topic, but I like to use them as tools. Create a poll through PollEV.com and get instant feedback during a lesson.
If students are working on a group chemistry project, they can also use a Google Doc to peer edit through their cell phones.
The best part about this is when the activity is done you say, “Okay, now put your phones away under your desk.” Then, everyone knows phones are no longer allowed.
4. Smash Through Difficult Topics with a Flipped Classroom
Flipped classrooms give information at home, often with a video. This allows a student to get a quick hit of new information and let it sink in before using it at school.
The next morning students will have a general idea of what they are learning, but fuzzy on the details.
Since students are unsure, they will be ready to work with you on practice problems. You will be able to walk around the classroom and explain more one-on-one with each student.
5. Let Them Doodle Their Way Through Chemistry
Doodle Notes have brain-based learning techniques to help students with recall. They’re not graphic organizers. They can be used to illustrate concepts, to break down steps, to examine cycles, and much more.
Use them to illustrate solubility rules. Use them to show the steps to calculating molar mass. Use them to introduce a theme in your class such as all positive chemistry "things" being yellow all year long.
Bring your artistic and verbally inclined students into the fold with this visual technique.
*Doodle Notes is a trademarked term used by permission. For more information, please visit doodlenotes.org.
6. Avoid PowerPointing Your Students to Sleep
I’ve never seen a PowerPoint good enough to teach chemistry. I’m including my own work in that. If slides are your norm, draw your notes instead.
Drawing your notes slows you down. This will help students feel more comfortable because they will have more opportunities to ask questions.
Chemistry teaching requires action (drawing figures, using models, showing demonstrations, etc.) and PowerPoints aren’t made for action.
PowerPoints are for sleeping though and reviewing later.
7. Use a Water Gun to Teach Solubility Rules
You didn’t see that coming, did you? Grab test tubes and put them in lab stations with traditional solubility test powders.
Grab those tiny dollar store water guns and hand them out after going over ground rules. (We all know how this is going to end, but let’s keep it at semi-ordered chaos, okay?)
Have them use the water guns to make solutions in the test tubes. Then have students report the solubility of each powder to you.
Using These Tactics in Your Classroom
Imagine your classroom full of students who are staring at you with interest and not with bewilderment.
Imagine how much easier your job will be when your students are engaged and learning in your classroom.
A single change in tactics will change your classroom. If you always teach in slides, handwrite their notes (#6) and watch the change in the engagement. If you are a science nerd like me and want to quantify student engagement, throw in a poll (#3) at the end of class to see if they like your new style.
Pick one tactic to try in your classroom. Everyone teaches differently. Each of these tactics will work really well in the right classroom.
Don’t go too far out of your comfort zone. Small changes can yield big results.
Hi! I'm CoScine Creative. I have developed and run a tutoring center at a small college. I also teach some of their algebra and chemistry courses. And I will neither confirm nor deny pranking my students by pretending to be one.