Cheap and easy chirality practical

Most of the information is in the video so I am not going to type it all out.  But just to add that this was my own idea but maybe someone has already done it – I apologise if you have.  You only need about 50g sugar per experiment but the more you can use the better.  If you want to start taking it to the next level you can use a known concentration and measure the path length etc, but really as a nice simple introduction it just isn’t worth it.

Hope someone finds it useful!


The A Level Physics project

So here the thing… as teachers we are always telling our students how best to answer exam questions and how to answer to get full marks.  I must tell a student at least once a week not to waffle and to structure their answers better.
In order to find out why the students do this and how best to help students I have set myself a challenge – I am taking AS Physics exams (and practical) this summer (I didn’t do this in school).  I’m not sure how this will work but it has already impacted on my teaching, and significantly more quickly than I thought.
Firstly, the students are interested in what I am doing and why, and have seemed more responsive to revision ideas when they know I have been doing mine.  Not a massive change, but maybe a little bit.
Secondly, and this is what surprised me the most, I answered questions in my practical work by waffling and writing really unstructured answers.  It was strangely difficult to not know what the mark scheme might be like.  Having seen so many in chemistry I don’t need to have one to know what it would look like. But students don’t have that luxury and it hit me hard how much more difficult it is when you don’t.  I actually apologised to my teaching groups, I felt so bad for how often I had a go at them about this.
So where do I go from here, how do I actually make sure the students (and me) don’t throw away marks in the exam?  Well, I haven’t worked that out yet!  I will update as I get closer to the exam and when I have some ideas. I only have one so far – try it yourself, and not just in your own time, in real exam conditions when it means something. It  harder than you think!


Firstly I would like to thank @bio_Joe and @ViciaScience for their help with getting this started.

Secondly, I will update this blog post as time goes by to keep people up to date with what’s happening and what works etc.  Bug me if you are interested and I haven’t done anything for a while.

Ok, so I was wondering how I can get more revision out of my students and have come to the conclusion that social media is a good opportunity for this.  It is something that the students have already intergrated into their lives so it won’t be a hassle for them to use, or something they have to go out of their way to achieve.  So how to use it?

Recently, I started using twitter and my students found out because my name (@stanothermic) is something that I talk about in lessons (explaining why will be a whole other post!).  They were strangely interested bearing in mind I only talk about work and a number of them followed me.  They clearly use twitter regularly and more importantly from their phones so they are always online with it – this was the way to get them to revise without knowing it!

Anyway (and here is where this post gets good) I created the user @chemrevision101 and have started to write tweets that cover the topics that my students need to revise.  I am also going to use the hashtags #F321, #F322 etc to designate the bit that it relates to and to allow students to search these out.  An example tweet I will be using:
#F321 Ionisation energies are controlled by three factors: Atomic radii, nuclear charge and electron shielding.
You get the idea – I think getting the language right and the information short enough will be the key.
I also intend to get the students involved by using lesson time for them to write summary tweets of different topics that I can then use.  This is a high order skill due to the length available in a tweet and they can get a mention if they want it although I suspect they may not want to look uncool.
@Bio_Joe has also created another account @biorevision101 so we are going to be using a two pronged attack on this one once we return after Easter.
I will let you know how it goes!

My PPT Template

So, I have had this highlighted as a strength in the past during lesson obs. and thought I would share:

This is the template that I use for my powerpoint presentations during lessons.  I know that the overuse of powerpoint can get a bit much for the students, but then I fail to see a better way to have the key information from the lesson displayed to the students.  Having said that I never (and that is actually never) read from a slide – they are there to reinforce what I am saying and doing, they are not there to be copied religiously by the students.

Anyway, here it is:

It is made up of two parts that are cycled throughout the lesson.  One part puts learning objectives nice and simply, nothing fancy there.  But I have added a section to explain why this bit of the course is relevant.  I try to include a bit of information about an application of the knowledge or some interesting anecdote.  This area is also good for lesson continuity – I write what the topic relates to past and future in this section (It can get a bit crowded!).  I normally show it at the beginning and then end obviously – but you can use it remind students what is going on in the middle too.


The other part of the template has a section for your lesson activities and represents the main bulk of my slides.  I have included a date and title, and the students learn where to look so you limit the number that ask for these every lesson!  Note that powerpoint allows an automatic date that means you don’t have to adjust if you write the lesson on a different day (or use the same lesson again the following year!).  There is a section for keywords that allows the weaker students to be using the correct language during answers – and you can use it as a prompt if a student is struggling.

There is also a section a the bottom for you to include the current learning objective – I added this due to students missing the point during practicals but it is useful all the time.  Students can at any point check why they are doing the current activity – hopefully this will mean that they get more out of it.  And secondly, if leadership (or Ofsted?!) walk in and ask the students what they are learning, you don’t have to suffer the embarrassment of them never knowing no matter what you do – they can just read it out!


I have attached the powerpoint below if you want to download it, but I would appreciate a comment or a like if you do so that I know people are interested!

Template is here

Startenaries: Exam Questions

Today I am going to suggest some startenaries (see my previous post) that are based around exam questions. I must preface this by saying that they strategies are for lessons that flow together rather than happen to be next to each other – students may struggle with them if the overlap for the lessons is too small. Example topics in Chemistry might be you have taught intermolecular forces but not Hydrogen bonding, or you have demonstrated the mechanism for nucleophilic addition of HCl but not H2O – you get the idea!

1: The Learning Objective Guess
In this example the students need not know that they are guessing the learning objectives but it is an interesting twist for them to actually control the direction of the lesson. Anyway, the students are given some exam question(s) that encompass the knowledge from the last lesson and the lesson that are about to face (other stimuli than exam questions can be used such as a passage from a text). The students job is to write down a list of things they already know that would enable them to answer the question(s), “List A”, and another list of knowledge they would need to gain in order to complete the rest of the question(s), “List B”. In theory List A should be the learning objectives from last lesson, and List B should be the learning objectives for that lesson – if they are not then either it was the wrong question or the student didn’t know what they should!

2: The Mark Scheme Constructor (Thanks to @Bio_Joe for this one)
The students are given a question relating to last lesson and one or more for the lesson they are about to face (as before but works best with lots of short answer questions). This time however the students are given sentences from the mark scheme for these questions and they need to put them with the right question to create the perfect answer scheme. This gives them some sentences to use in the lesson they are about to face – perfect for weaker students but also giving more able students a quick leg-up to the extension material of longer mark questions.

3: The application dissector
This requires a bit more work for the teacher and only works in certain situations. The students are provided with an exam question that provides an application of the material from the last lesson (and preferably something from the new lesson). Their job is to work out why the application applies to their previous lesson and the bits they can’t explain that must relate to this lesson. This is probably best done with material that is not exam questions, but as I have used specific examples of exam questions relating to titrations I thought I would include it here. This example opens up the best opportunity to talk about something of interest that will get the students interested. I have used this when moving from a lesson about titration calculation to a lesson with a titration practical in. Another example might be something like “How does a gecko stay on the wall, and how does it lift its feet up” – students know about bonding but they might not know the specifics yet so they won’t be able to answer the second part of the question.

I have not worked out yet how to include PDFs into a blog post but when I do I will edit this to include example exam questions for each section. Hope it was useful, more suggestions to follow.


So, here is a random thought I have been toying with for a while…

I teach a lot of A level and it seems that a large amount of the lessons actually flow together into a series of lessons.  Not a particularly new observation but bear with me.  I also noticed that I see the same students on a regular basis, it works out as four times a week like most A level courses.  So, anyway, what this basically means is that I will often continue a lesson where I finished the previous one – a situation that I no doubt share with a lot of KS4 and 5 teachers everywhere.

Now, and this is hopefully where this post gets good, I seem to spend my time split between wishing that students would have at least thought about last lesson (when they clearly haven’t) and wishing that they would be more interested in the lesson we are about to do.  This basically divides my lesson starters into 50% summarising or questioning from last lesson, and 50% giving a hook of some sort for that lesson.  Then I had an idea for something that I will be trying over the coming months – a startenary.

My theory is that if I can combine summary and hook at the beginning (or end in fact – which is why the name is so good) of a lesson, then I can benefit from both revisiting and interest.  The holy grail of a good lesson series!

Now, my only job is to come up with some activities that fulfil this criteria, the more generic and useful the better.  By no means an easy task, but I have a few ideas already and hope to spend some time digging through my trusty stack of books and papers to find some more I can adapt.  In the meantime however I would be interested in whether you think this is even workable…

Best Practice

I have a huge bugbear at work at the moment. It bugs me they keep going on about sharing best practice and identifying best practice… argh!
Now don’t get me wrong, communication is the key to a great department. But how do we know the best practice? Not to mention how someone can claim to know it having seen you teach for only a few minutes. Surely the best bit of your practice is different for every teacher in your department based on their own teaching.
So I suggest this should actually just be called sharing practice. And everything or anything is fair game. Even bad practice should be shared as a cautionary tale, I have benefited from someone’s useless lesson many times! Now that all sounds like hard work, and it would be of we didn’t all do it during every ppa lesson and lunch break anyway.
So leadership team; stop trying to funnel this into one hour a week and claim it is helping. Start allowing teachers to communicate freely without fear of reprimand. And also, it starts at home; all the best leaders I have had discussed there lessons (however few they teach) both good and bad. And when I am a leader (or should I say if) I will aim to do the same and hope that my staff do it with me.
Oh, and today I taught two okay lessons, not great just okay. Would they have been better if I had discussed it with my colleagues? Definitely. Did I? No. And the reason was I didn’t have time: I had to attend a meeting on sharing best practice, psh.

Glow sticks!

So, further to some people showing interest in my somewhat flippant tweet….
How to use glow sticks to teach rates (and make your lesson into a rave).

The basis for this practical is simple… the decomposition in glow sticks will be faster if they are submerged in hot water for the same reasons as any other reaction (that is that there are more collisions and more energy involved in each collision).
Now, this makes an amazing demo as in the dark it is really emphatic the difference you can see just using water from a hot tap. And unlike most rate practicals you don’t just run it to completion so it allows you to communicate ideas while the students are watching it.  Switching the glow sticks also demonstrates that the rate of a reaction can vary during the reaction i.e. exothermic reactions will get faster etc.
Hopefully you now have a reasonable little demo going.. so now lets make some activities out of it.  First you need some good questions (as open as possible obviously)
– which glow stick will run out of glow first?
– sketch a graph of brightness vs. Length of glow
– why would this graph be important to a diver who was using the glow stick for light?
– when might the manufacturer increase the concentration of the chemicals in a glow stick?
– what would happen if the glow stick cracked and water got in while a diver was working?
– how could we measure the brightness so we don’t have to compare two glow sticks.

Hopefully that gives you an idea of the context I have used for this lesson before. Now you have a nice demo and some decent enough questions to keep your students going.  All you need to make it a good lesson is some student orientated activities. Feel free to use your favourite rates practical, I would. But you might also try:

Get students to design their own experiment to test the length of the glow.  Get them to bear in mind it might be hours or even days so watching it might be difficult!  They come up with strange answers but a solar powered analogue clock is the really interesting solution. It probably wouldn’t actually work but that’s a bit too much physics for me!
Get students to write an article or advert for a diving magazine discussing the need to use the correct glow stick for the temperature of water you are diving in.  The aim here is to pitch the science in a way that gets the warning across knowledgably without being too difficult for readers to understand.

I made a video showing the effect, unfortunately the auto brightness on the camera ruins it a bit – but try first and the darker you can get the room the better!