Modeling Chemistry Workshop – Day 1 Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts in which I plan to summarize what happened during each day of the Modeling Chemistry workshop I took and to reflect on what this means for my instruction.  As I began to put these thoughts together, I realized it would make sense to break some if not all of the days into smaller chunks.


After a great welcome and introduction, our first business in the classroom was to take the ABCC (Assessment of Basic Chemistry Concepts). This multiple choice tool is designed to use as a pretest and posttest to measure student progress.

I’ve used it with my own students but, to be honest, I’ve thought about using something else.  It seems like there are some concepts covered repeatedly and several chemistry concepts that we do work on in my class that I feel are left out.  Several questions are paired questions in which the second question asks you to explain why you chose your answer to the previous question.  I have given this as a pretest each year, but some years haven’t felt that the posttest was a valuable use of class time being rushed at the end of the year.  I think I will continue to use it – and probably should make time for the posttest, so that I can show measurable increase in student knowledge – but it would be great to update it to something that fits the Modeling Chemistry curriculum better.

Class Website

For our workshop we used Edmodo (it’s free) as a place to share documents and have discussions outside of class.  I am in a school where many students do not have internet access outside of school, so I have not been maintaining any kind of online resource for my students.  But I think there could be real value in having something that was available as an extra tool as long as I don’t make it a requirement that my students check-in.  This may or may not make it onto my list of things to do for this year – but if not now, then I do plan to add it in the future.

Build a Boat

boatAs a “first day” activity, we tried to build boats to float as many pennies as possible at the least possible cost.  We had a few different types of materials (straws, aluminum foil, paper clips, tape…) and needed to fit within given dimensions.  We calculated the cost of the materials using a price list and the winning boat would have the highest ratio of pennies floated to cost of boat.  We had 20 minutes to plan, build the boat, and make a whiteboard detailing: our costs, things we discussed while building the boat, any obstacles that kept us from building a better boat, and our boats best/worst features.

Once the twenty minutes were up, we tested boats (two at a time to keep things moving) and presented our information to the group.  We then had a great discussion about why we did this activity.

Why will I use this one for next school year?

The whiteboard presentations on the first day get students up in front talking.  You can touch upon precision/accuracy in measurement, clear presentation of results, showing evidence for answers, and a need for a set of rules for rounding answers. Students are active and working in collaborative groups. You can establish your classroom as a safe place to make mistakes.

Best of All: Ask students how many of them could build a better boat if you repeated the activity. Let students know that our class will be based on learning through experimenting, discussing results, and revising ideas based on evidence. Our class focus will be building a better model of how matter behaves at the particle level.

Here’s a power-point that gives the information I will give to students (Build a Boat First Day).  It is adapted from materials by Erica Posthuma-Adams in her blog at Journal of Chemical Education.

Next Up:  Whiteboarding tips, Pringles Can Rocket, Mass & Change Lab, The Story So Far in Modeling Chemistry Workshop – Day 1 Part 2