Chemistry at Home: Accessible Experiments and Science Literacy

by Gavin Jenkins & Mary Courtney

Keywords

grades 10-12, science, chemistry, experiments, asynchronous instruction, science literacy, online learning, UDL

This case study is a snapshot of one week of practice where high school students are given the opportunity to do chemistry in their kitchen and make meaningful connections to a chemistry phenomenon. In general we design our experiments to be accessible to students by using common household items, while encouraging alternatives based on what is available in student’s homes. We then support students to make connections between the experiment and real world phenomena through science articles adapted for different reading levels.

In this particular week students were challenged to put an egg into a liquid of their choice: vinegar, coca cola, juice, and more. They were then asked to collect data over several days until we had a Zoom call to group our results by the different kinds of liquids students used and compare. Students were then challenged to read about an environmental chemistry phenomenon called ocean acidification. The article was from Newsela. Newsela provides articles on current topics rendered accessible and adapted for different reading levels. After reading students were asked to draw connections between what they learned about ocean acidification from their reading and their egg-liquid experiment. Going further, students were supported to create a chemistry explanation connecting the results of their experiment to ocean acidification. Feedback was given individually to students through Google Forms using both multiple choice questions with immediate feedback and later feedback we provided on short answer questions.

This is our first year teaching together. During “normal times,” we plan together every other day for an hour, deciding collaboratively on lesson plans, activities and assessments. Once we moved to a remote work environment, we developed a new routine where we each took responsibility for different portions of the weekly learning. Twice a week, we have Zoom planning sessions where we brainstorm ideas for topics, loosely following the topical sequence of a normal year. Generally by the end of one Zoom call, we have the general gist of the next week’s lessons. Over the next two days, Gavin generally takes responsibility for developing the experiment lesson, compiling teaser videos, student instructions and a Google Form for collecting student input about their experiment. Mary finalizes selection of an article connecting the topic to a real-world phenomenon and generates a Google Form to collect student responses on the article. All of these materials are housed in a shared Google Drive folder where our co-teachers can access them for additional modifications, including Spanish translation, preparation of visual vocabulary aids, and sentence frames for scaffolded open-ended responses. These modifications are distributed via Google Classroom to bilingual students, ELLs, and students with IEPs or 504 plans requiring additional supports. Assignment deadlines are flexible, allowing all students the time needed to complete assignments around other obligations in this time. A final Zoom meeting with all teachers on Friday afternoon confirms that assignments are ready for Monday morning posting in Google Classroom. Our Zoom meetings are a critical component of our approach to cooperative planning, maintaining the synergy that truly only comes during real-time interactions where we play off each other’s thoughts and ideas.

Chemistry at Home: Accessible Experiments and Science Literacy

Learning goals

  • Plan and carry out an experiment to test the impact of a liquid on an egg over time

  • Construct an explanation of what they observed in their experiment

  • Evaluate and draw connections between an environmental chemistry phenomenon and hands-on experiment

Transition to distance learning

Activities

Face to Face

  • Teacher demonstration

  • Student lab activity

  • Modeling on white boards

  • Lab questions or lab report

  • Sharing of findings with each other

At a Distance

  • Video-based introduction and invitation

  • Independent experimentation with flexible inquiry and materials substitution

  • Online submission of work with autograded scoring and feedback

  • “Live” meeting and experiment

  • Leveled reading through newsela article

  • Online submission of reading interpretation and constructed response questions

Materials

Face to Face

  • Eggs

  • Liquids such as vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemon or lime juice, soda, juice, isopropyl alcohol

  • Lab notebook

  • White boards for modeling

At a Distance

  • Eggs

  • Liquids such as vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemon or lime juice, soda, juice, isopropyl alcohol

  • Chromebook

  • Wi-Fi

Strategies

Face to Face

  • Verbal check for understanding during teacher demonstration

  • Written or lab group check for understanding during initial lab activity

  • Small group model of what they think is happening to the egg shell

  • Larger group consensus model and/or class discussion of competing hypotheses led by small groups

At a Distance

  • Initial “hook” video and introducing a phenomenon to capture student interest

  • Experiment video live and posted for those that could not attend Zoom session

  • Google Form that is scaffolded to help students do experiment on their own and designed to challenge them to construct an explanation of what they saw happen

  • Leveled reading from newsela sent specifically to scholars with IEPs, 504s, ELLs, scholars with other specific needs, and available in Spanish for our bilingual chemistry course.

  • Google Form reading quiz to assess student understanding is also leveled based on the reading, and available in Spanish for our bilingual chemistry course.

  • Targeted and specific accommodations and modifications are provided by our special education consultant teachers including annotated copies of articles, sentence starters for questions, and videos or visuals to help re-teach concepts in the article

What worked well

Students enjoyed the hook video that we created featuring Gavin getting an egg from his backyard chickens. You could do a similar “hook” by going into your fridge or a video of you [safely] at the store. We use the hook video to get students interested in the up-coming activity and to help them prepare for our live session. We try to make them funny and engaging to emphasize personal connection. Each of our lessons are informed by universal design for learning. Specifically, this one allows students to access information through video, reading, and a hands on experiment. It also provides them with choice during the experiment, which resulted in students reporting multiple ways of what liquids they chose and how long they left the egg in. Students also liked the feeling of holding the egg after letting it sit for 24 hours or more. They were surprised that the egg shell reacted in vinegar but not soda or isopropyl alcohol. It brought up many interesting questions about the nature of acids and bases that we were able to address in our following weeks lesson on pH indicators. Many students reported that they had at least one egg to try the experiment and at least two different liquids to compare in the experiment. Google Forms is a great tool for collecting information about student responses and building in checks for understanding. You can give individual and specific feedback through Google Forms for specific questions or for the assignment as a whole.

I was surprised by

It is difficult to capture the full experiment during the live video. I used an “experiment camera” (my phone) and my laptop for a full view. It was challenging to keep track of both cameras and to fully display what was happening to the egg. The video of the live session was also much longer than anticipated. Students seem to prefer to access the video on their own time instead of the live video, many of them communicating with us that it is due to commitments like working essential jobs or taking care of family. We noticed that our SWD’s and our ELL’s reported that the videos were too long and that the recording from Zoom doesn’t always provide the best audio or video quality.

Next time I’ll try

Due to the difficulty in capturing the full experiment, the long video, and feedback from our students with disabilities, we are creating a shorter and more clear video of the experiment to make it more engaging and to capture the specific moments or takeaways that are most critical to our lesson. We also moved our videos to YouTube to better track views that come from the Google Form to gain an understanding of how many students were clicking on and watching the videos. We continuously want to make the at-home experiment and the phenomena in the article as connected as possible so that scholars can make meaningful connections between what they are doing at home and other real-world phenomena.

My big picture takeaways

Teaching and learning online is challenging for adults and youth alike, but for a variety of different reasons. Some teachers are trying to adapt to this new normal while they take care of their families at home, struggle with new technologies, are disappointed by the levels of engagement from their students, worry about how our students are doing, and/or miss the in-person relational aspect of our work. Our students with disabilities have noted that accessing multiple platforms, creating new accounts, and using new technologies make the content contained harder to do. Therefore, we have embedded all of our materials within Google Classroom and use the consistent strategy of Google Forms, embedded videos, and articles adapted from newsela to ensure that our learners are able to focus on that week’s content, and not learning a new online tool.

Working with co-teachers and consultant teachers is an enormous help for teachers and for students. Our special education consultant teachers and bilingual co-teacher allow for very specific and targeted interventions to take place in the classroom, and now online. Amy Agnitti, one of our special education consultant teachers, has weekly been including annotated copies of articles, sentence starters for questions, and videos or visuals to help re-teach concepts each week. Additionally, each week our bilingual co-teacher Crisanta Torres translates the chemistry article into Spanish or finds a comparable article in Spanish. This reminds us of the phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child” and how collaboration is essential to make sure that our students with specific needs have those needs met both in person and virtually.

We are learning to exercise patience with the challenges online teaching and learning brings while also trying to give meaningful, hands on experiences to youth in Rochester. We are creating new norms and routines and still trying to let our teacher personalities shine through student screens. While this is not a perfect replacement for in-person teaching, we are trying to make all of our experiments and articles accessible to our diverse learners and the variety of unique situations our scholars and families may be experiencing.

Resources

  • newsela.com - In this case study, Mary Courtney and Gavin Jenkins use this resource to assign topical readings to the students in their chemistry class.  This page explains some of the key accessibility features on the platform.

  • Ways to use Google Forms in the Classroom - Mary and Gavin use Google Forms to collect student responses and give individualized feedback to each of their students during the lesson described.  This blog post outlines other innovative ways to utilize Google Forms during student learning.

  • Universal Design for Learning Course Enhancement Module - Mary and Gavin use principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to plan a lesson that is accessible for all of their students.  This resource from the CEEDAR Center provides background information about UDL and strategies for integrating the framework into lessons and classroom practices.

  • Video: Being a Scientist With Dyslexia - This case study focuses on how a co-teaching team made their chemistry lesson accessible in a virtual setting.  In this video from Understood, Dr. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann talks about her personal struggles, why she was drawn to science and how she ended up working to help kids with dyslexia.

  • Supporting Student Collaboration in a Virtual Setting:  General Education and Small Group Services - Mary and Gavin mention that the switch to virtual teaching has resulted in the creation of new “classroom” norms.  The resource suggests some potential norms that can be used in online classes.

  • STEM Classes and Kids With Special Needs - This case study discusses a chemistry lesson differentiated for learners with diverse needs.  This resource outlines some other strategies that STEM teachers can use with the students with disabilities in their classes.

About the Author

Mary Courtney is a NYS Master Teacher, teacher leader and chemistry teacher, and Gavin Jenkins is a first year chemistry teacher at East EPO in partnership with University of Rochester, a part of the Rochester City School District. You can find them on Twitter at @courtneychem and @jenkinschem.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT!

 Get the Latest Updates, Events & Resources from the Educating All Learners Alliance!