Tag Archives: Chemistry

Augmented Reality: Exploring the Gold-Foil Experiment

This summer I stepped up the Augmented Reality aspect of my classroom by making a few more models that I thought would help with understanding Chemistry. One of these models I haven’t written about but may be my most fun yet is my model of the Rutherford Gold Foil experiment. Here’s a link to the model, and the slow-motion version of the model.

Below is an image which acts as a marker AND the item you can scan to get the model (pretty awesome, if you ask me!). I tried to make one for the slow-motion version, but it wasn’t distinct enough, so I’m going to have to work on that if I still want to use the slow-mo version.


To use this tool, just download the augment app (iOS or Android), click “scan”, and view the image above.

My gut reaction was to show the cool model and have students figure out what the model meant. But that would be too open-ended and would focus too much on the model, which shouldn’t be the point of the lesson. On the opposite end is the lame idea of explaining everything and then showing the model as an afterthought.

The best would be to use the model at the appropriate time and present it as the experiment. (“What do you expect to happen according to the last model?” and “What do you notice happening to some of the protons as they collide with the gold foil?” and “What could explain why this is happening?”) The tough thing will be making it so it doesn’t take too long.

I haven’t videotaped myself viewing this model (hope to get some footage of students soon), so I’ll just include the rendered video from Blender below (this is the slow-motion video).

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My Weekly Class Schedule

I was trained as a math teacher: majored in math, got a masters in math, and then got a masters in math education. So 3 years ago when we moved out here to NM, it was with trepidation that I approached my Chemistry & Physics classes (don’t worry, they let me teach Precalculus for two periods).

I’ve really enjoyed them and I’ve grown as a teacher[1]. However, I have decided this year to stick to a very strict schedule in Chemistry, based on my standards. I’ll explain the schedule, and then I’ll give you the pro’s and con’s of this type of schedule. I hope you’ll help me out by giving me other pro’s and con’s that I missed.

The Schedule

First, our school uses a semi-block schedule. That means for Chemistry, I see students 45 minutes on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, and an hour and 35 minutes on Thursday. Here’s the schedule.

Monday: Start with a small timed prequiz (5 min, 6-10 questions, multiple choice) that doesn’t count for their grade [2], and write their answers on a Gradecam bubble sheet. When students finish, they scan their bubble sheet and receive immediate feedback: how many they got right/wrong and which ones. After the quiz, they get their guided notes sheet and wait a minute or two for everyone to finish scanning. We take notes, interspersed with practice. If the notes are extensive, they go through to Tuesday.

Tuesday: This is a flexible day. Finishing notes if not done on Monday, do a mini-lab, ,prepare for Thursday’s lab, talk about SBG, students study on their own, etc.

Thursday: We start class with the same preassessment that they took on Monday which still doesn’t count for a grade. This one is loosely timed: they’re to try to finish, but if they don’t finish by the time I need to move on, I tell them to only judge themselves on the ones they get to. I also post the answers in the back of the classroom if they want to go back and look at it. Then we move on to lab, which usually takes the full hour and 35 minutes (which is why I push them to finish the quiz quickly), especially if they haven’t read the lab procedure before coming to class.

Friday: We take a quiz on the standard for the week. Students who needed to retake a previous standard (I often require retakes) will also take those at this time. If students finish with time left in class, I ask them to go to my website and look ahead to next week’s standard, fill out their practice log, or study/sign up for another standard they wish to improve. If everyone finishes the quiz with time left, we’ll discuss the lab (which they turn in with their quiz) and talk about other Chemistry stuff.


I’ve heard it said that students often thrive on a routine. This is about as “we know what to expect” as is out there. Yes, topics and labs change, but students know that on Monday & Thursday they start with a quiz and Tuesday & Friday they start with a warm-up. This helps a ton with classroom management as well, and (most) students arrive to class ready to work.

Frequent assessment. I was reading an article about 53 ways to check for understanding and that’s what motivated me to write this post. Students, twice a week, are receiving instant, specific checks to see how they’re doing. No, binary feedback (right/wrong) isn’t the best, but it’s the fastest and the only way I’d be able to do this so often. They can then use these quizzes to study and I can give more detailed feedback on the Friday quiz.

I’m teaching at a much faster rate than previous years, where the mantra was “we’ll move on when we’re all ready”. Part of this is the guided notes/graphic organizers, which condenses the teacher-led instructional time (a good thing) and helps students organize their own notes (also a good thing). Because I’m moving so much faster, we’re going to have 2-3 weeks at the end of each the semester for students to study (& improve) the standards where they didn’t do well the first time around.

It’s also nice to have the weekend to grade quizzes so I can give appropriate feedback, call parents, etc. Unfortunately that means they have 2 full days to forget what they had on the quiz, but that’s what the earlier non-counting quizzes are for. That and they know they’re going to see the quiz 2-3 weeks later. Oh, and 2-3 months after that.

In the past I’ve made the (huge) mistake of not assessing, moving on to the next topic, and then students doing terrible on the assessment a month later at the end of the unit. This guarantees that I get a picture of how they’re doing at least once a week. Because the Monday/Thursday quizzes are scanned into Gradecam, I can glance at those quizzes and see how a student did during the week.


Is this too much structure? One of the good things about SBG is being able to modify lessons more easily to meet the specific needs of students’ knowledge of the material. If most of my class does terrible on an assessment because I have this “must learn by Friday” rule, will I really take another day or two (or week) to go over the material? Or will it “throw the whole train off”.

One idea with this scheme is “I’m going this speed–if you’re not with us, you need to come to tutoring and/or study more at home.” [3] I have the advantage that this will be the 4th year of me teaching the class, but every year is different (and every student is different), so perhaps I need to be more flexible and willing to move at the appropriate rate?

Is it possible for students to perform less well with too much structure? Is there such a thing? Might I become bogged down in too much structure and become a less effective teacher?


Do you do something like this? If so, what do you do that works (this is my first year trying it) or what do you do differently? Does this sound like a good idea? A terrible idea? Let me know so I can fix it before the train wreck happens in a few months & I can’t turn it around. Otherwise, I hope this post might have been helpful to you–or at least given you some ideas.[4]

[1] This is the first year that I’m reusing any of the same material in Physics. I was a terrible physics teacher my first year and only slightly better the following year. It wasn’t until my third year that I was brave/competent enough to try modelling (thank you, Kelly!), and even this year (my 4th) I don’t really have it down.

[2] They should do terrible because it’s a pre-assessment and the students had to get used to doing badly (and not let it “get them down” as they said).

[3] I guess this could be a pro because I’ve had classes where I slow down every time a good chunk of the class does poorly on a quiz. But if they start to bomb multiple quizzes, I slow down to the point that my expectations of them outside of class is little to none–we’re just doing all the studying in class. I want them to learn to be responsible, and if that means a tough lesson by me calling home a few times in a row, then so be it. That’s also why I’m having them keep practice logs–if I see they’re practicing lots and not doing well on quizzes, then we can slow down. But if they’re not practicing at all outside of school (that seems to be the “norm” for many students), then they’re going to have to put 2 and 2 together: practice and you’ll do better on the quizzes!

[4] Notice that I’m not doing this kind of rigorous quiz-all-the-time in Physics and Precalculus. I’m just trying to make sure I assess enough in there (weekly or semi-weekly quizzes). Should I do it in those classes?

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Augmented Reality: States of Matter

A while back I discovered that the awesome Augment company included animations in their models. I’ve been wanting to try this for a while, but didn’t have enough time during the school year to work out the kinks.

Well, I finally have time this summer, and so I created three trackers which link to what particles look like in the three states of matter. Or at least as well as I could animate particles with my limited abilities. There’s plenty more than I want to animate, but for now this is something that should help my class and anyone with an iOS device or Android device can use. Just download the augment app (iOS or Android), click “scan” and scan the images below. It works much better if they’re printed out, but it will work on the screen if you want to try it out. I hope the images are self-explanatory for which image links with which type of matter.

gas-zoom liquid-zoom solid-zoom


Here are some videos of the 3D objects. Note: I’m using the standard augment tracker for the videos just cause I haven’t printed the above images yet, but the images above double as the image to scan and the tracker.

Now that I have discovered/understand the animation feature of the augmented reality app, how else could you or I use this in class?!?

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Crushing Steel Drums with Chemistry

Each year in Chemistry I do a little demo with a soda can where air pressure crushes the can. We also watch a video of it happening and the students always say “ooh, can we do that!!” I tell them, “Sure, if you can bring me a 55-gallon oil drum!”

Well, the past 2 years students took me up on that challenge, and this year it was more exciting. I brought my video camera to school and everything, but totally forgot to hand it to a student to run! Oops. Fortunately a student had pulled out a phone & taped the important part. Here’s the video for your viewing pleasure.

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Speed Dating: Chemistry Style

Others have posted about various “speed dating” review games, but I just wanted to share one I did recently in Chemistry which went better than I could have expected!

We’ve been working on Chemical equations, and I want them to (1) write the formulas from the Chemical names, (2) predict the products, (3) predict whether the reaction would take place, and (4) balance the equation. For many of my students, that process is overwhelming because there is a lot more to do on each of those steps, depending on the reaction.

We had a block period this day (1 hr 30 min class), so we started with the students making their own chemical equations with their lab partner and doing all 4 steps above to them. This took about 30-50 minutes depending on the class, especially as I wanted to make sure that (a) they got all the steps correct and (b) they understood how to get the right answer for their equation.

After all groups had equations ready, I had them go to the lab (so they were standing up) and pair up with another lab group. There were whiteboards at the lab tables and I had them divide the boards in half. They wrote their equation along the top of their half of the board, and then flipped the board around so that they were working on each other’s equations. See the pictures below.

photo 1

photo 2

photo 3


What’s great about this setup is that the students immediately become tutors of “their” equations. I give them a set amount of time to work, and when the time runs out, even if they’re not done, they’ve got some work and the people across from them can check their work right away.  If they get stuck, they have immediate help. Students rotate so that they are working on a different equation, but “their” equation is still across from them and they’re still available to help.

We were only able to work on this for a relatively short while (about 40-50 minutes depending on the class) because it took students so long to come up with their own equation, but it was essential for them to come to the table with the right equation and it gave them a confidence booster to help others on “their” equation. They also got faster each time they were doing different equations, which was another goal of this activity.

It also gave them ownership over their work to have an equation that they created and that they know the in’s and out’s of. They actually surprised me with how into this activity they were. It was probably partly that they were working on whiteboards (where mistakes are okay), and partly a combination of the things I mentioned above.

I could have handed out worksheets[1], but this was so much more fun and exciting for them.


[1] Not all worksheets are created equal. Some would be highly engaging, but the ones I had in mind were boring as anything.


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Augmented Reality and Possibilities

As a Chemistry teacher wanting students to view 3D models of molecules and understanding their VSEPR shapes, there are a handful of options when it comes to this. I’ll list the things I’ve used below:

  1. The free (& open-source) molecule building program Avogadro.  It is great because students can build any molecule and then the program will “optimize” the molecule and students can visualize the atoms pushing to get away from each other while in the bond.
  2. Good old plastic ball-and-stick models. It’s hard to beat getting to put together and pull apart the molecules yourself.  Unfortunately, there are incorrect ways to assemble them, and they’re not much good if I want to put them on an assessment unless the whole class is looking at the same thing at the same time. I love my students, but I only trust them as far as I can throw them, and that’s not very far!
  3. Sketchfab is a free website where you can upload 3D files and students can view them from all angles very easily. I can even embed them into my website, so on a single webpage, students can compare and contrast multiple views (the links are actually to orbital diagrams, but you get the idea).
  4. Perhaps the coolest way to view 3D stuff, that I’ve blogged about before, is using a program simply called Augment. Recently I had some trouble getting to their servers, but the problem turned out to be on our side: our firewall was blocking an essential server for some reason. Once our IT cleared it, it worked perfectly. Since this is the title of the blog, I’ll explain why it’s so cool below.

Last time I used Augment, a little less than a year ago, you would scan a QR code, and then direct the camera at a “marker” where your 3D model would show up. Recently, however, they brilliantly combined these two things so that you can have “custom markers”.[1] That means that you point your iPad’s camera (from withing the Augment app) at the “background” and then the model will automatically begin uploading and then show up right where you’re pointing it once it’s uploaded.

Here’s a student demonstrating that:

If you’re not in education, I’m not sure what kinds of limitations Augment puts on how many you can have, but they were very kind to me once they found out that I am a teacher and now I’m pretty sure I have the ability to make more custom markers than I’ll ever fill up. What’s great about this is that the markers don’t give away to the students which molecule is which. That makes cheating much more difficult, in addition to “memorizing answers” or other such nonsense as that. Just check out my quizzes below:

The 4 images you see represent 4 different molecules for the students to examine. If you’ve got a device and have the Augmented app downloaded, go ahead and scan them: they should work for you. Now here’s another version of a quiz on the same topic.

It’s very easy to make different quizzes simply by rearranging the images.

Here’s a student demonstrating scanning the quiz.

Other Notes

The images were taken from Creative Commons (perhaps the only legal thing I’ve done all year…), so feel free to take them and use them. Yes, they’re the same few images rearranged, and yes, the Augment app recognizes their different arrangement, so it produces a different 3D image for each. The images are originally in color, and I believe that it would help the Augment app if the images were in color, but like most teachers, I don’t have (easy) access to a color printer (nor would I want to make 80 color copies for a final exam).  Fortunately, the scanner still worked very well on black and white copies, but you should be careful about a few things:

  • Don’t make the copies too small. Then your print quality would be too low and it is harder for the app to pickup the right information.
  • Be careful about copying copies of copies. As a teacher, you probably know this reduces the quality of the images each step it is copied. If possible, simply print and don’t copy (fortunately our xerox doubles as a printer, and apparently uses the same resources either way!).
  • Make sure to test it out before you make 100 copies and especially before you hand it out to students. (Is that one too obvious?)
  • If you’re making your own, choose more complex images, as it gives the Augmented app more information to use when trying to pick up an image. No, you can’t use a QR code as your marker cause those squares stand for something else.

Perhaps one of the best things about this is that I don’t feel that I’m “using technology for technology’s sake.” The students grab the iPads, which they’re used to, and simply open the app, click “scan”, and point.  Within a total of 10-20 seconds, they’re viewing multiple 3D images, something which would take longer, whether using laptop/desktop computers or even just the physical models. This is definitely a case where the technology has improved the educational experience: both with the “wow” factor and the ease of accessibility by the students. Below are the 5 custom trackers I made for viewing VSEPR shapes. Feel free to use them! tracker_1 tracker_2 tracker_3 tracker_4 tracker_5

[1] The Augment team has wonderful customer service, and they were very generous with their time and in helping me figure out what was best for my students.



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Memes for Participation Points

Over the break I had a new participation points idea, and I’m excited to see where the students take it.

I’m not really sure of the history of internet memes, but I know that they’re still pretty big among HS students right now.  I’ve always been impressed with teachers on other blogs who can use these and incorporate them into their classes, yet are still pretty funny.  So I thought I’d challenge my students to make some up on their own.

My rules (1) it’s got to be related to our class, and (2) it should be funny.  Even more than simply being related to class, it should show that a student understands something in class.  For Chemistry, I’ll give a comparison.

Side note: I simply found these, I did not make them!  I got them from memegenerator.net, the website I directed my students to make up their own.  [1]

Here are two examples I gave students:





While both memes are funny, the first doesn’t require any knowledge or understanding of Chemistry beyond the fact that Argon is an element.  However, the second requires that you know that covalent bonds share electrons whereas ionic bonds “take” electrons.  So I would probably give 10 participation points for the first and 20 (the full value) for the second.

They can only turn in 1 meme a week, although they can make as many online as they’d like.  If they go digging and find some obscure one that I’ve never seen, I’d probably be fine with that since one of my goals is to collect more memes.  I just don’t want 30 copies of the same meme from different students or I won’t be giving anyone credit.  But if a student finds an obscure meme, and understands it’s significance with respect to what we’ve been learning, then I say “mission accomplished”.


[1] Be careful sending students here because there’s no filter on the stuff that’s put there.  I teach Jr’s and Sr’s in HS, so I tell them to be careful because the site isn’t PG.  I expect that those students who find R-rated stuff on this website have already seen similar R-rated stuff online.


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