“Mr. Chang, who stole your bathroom pass?!”
Under normal circumstances, when you hear a comment like that from high school students who you have not had in your class, it may be an indication of poor classroom management. However, when you deliberately misplace your classroom pass and redesign a chemistry lab so that your students can apply scientific principles to solve the mystery, and when you collaborate with the video production teacher to have the mystery broadcast to the whole school, what you have in this case is an engaged, authentic audience of high schoolers badgering you about your bathroom pass.
The idea above started with a simple question: How do I make reaction matrices and identifying unknowns in a chemical reaction fun for my students? In my students’ terms, how do I make my assignment more “lit”? I started with a scenario that any student at Workman High School would be familiar with: a missing bathroom pass. Students had to develop a claim, design their own reaction matrix and construct an explanation of their results in the form of an NSTA Argumentation Chart. The first time I ran this lab using the “missing bathroom pass” as our example, students met the lesson objectives (that fit with the NGSS Science and Engineering Practice of constructing explanations), completed their argumentation chart and were able to solve the mystery. However, it missed a “so what” component, a payoff that students who solved the mystery could share with their peers who hadn’t taken chemistry class.
The next semester, I ran the same lab again, but this time our video production instructor allowed me to collaborate with him to develop a segment for “Lobovision,” the weekly broadcast all students watch during homeroom. I selected four students who were in my chemistry class and were also in video production, gave them a loose script to follow and let them create two videos. The first video highlighted the missing bathroom pass, which was shown at the beginning of the week when we begin our lab. The second video highlighted how we identified who “stole the bathroom pass,” which was shown the following Monday after completing the lab in class. Through this activity the students who participated not only met the NGSS Science and Engineering Practice of communicating their scientific findings, they were also able to do so to an authentic audience, some of whom were so engaged that they came to offer me their ideas as to who stole my bathroom pass even though they weren’t part of my class!
The first video segment produced by Mr. Chang’s students.
The second video segment: the solution to the mystery.
The biggest takeaway from this project was realizing the video media resources I have access to to help share what we learn in class with the rest of the student body. As a chemistry teacher, media is not my forte, but it is for many of the students in our classrooms. I have student athletes who create their own highlight videos via Hudl, students who create their own music and share it on Soundcloud, and students who live-stream themselves playing video games via Twitch. By engaging students in something that they enjoy and asking them to do so through the lens of what we learn in chemistry class, media has not only provided an opportunity to have an authentic audience, but also a new form of assessment that is relevant to the world students are part of outside the classroom. Although using video media is something I’ve only begun experimenting with, here are some quick tips I learned through this project.
Do: Provide potential collaborators with reasons to collaborate
When it comes to collaborating with peers, I was lucky to have a willing and inviting peer to work with. But, if you happen to have a reluctant teacher that you’re hoping to collaborate with, it is best to make it as easy as possible for them and provide them with a reason to collaborate that meets their needs as well. For instance, I developed a script, set the time for students to film during my prep period, and provided an opportunity for students to create a final product which could be used in the weekly production that Mr. Jimenez is ultimately responsible for.
Do: Try your best to make sure that all students have access to media production and an authentic audience
In my first trial of this assignment, I only had students of mine who were currently enrolled in video production create the video segments. In the next iteration of this assignment, I will have all my chemistry students participate in making media, whether it be in the form of video, a blog post or podcast. Additionally, I want to look beyond just video production and identify additional outlets for students to share their work. Options include the school’s website or the school’s Instagram account.
Do: Pursue fun ideas and collaborate more with your students
While it seems ridiculous that any student would care about a missing bathroom pass, we all know that sometimes it’s the silly things that capture our students’ attention. In addition to our video production, I also made a Twitter account to add additional hype. But, like any social media novice, I gave up before any momentum took place. Perhaps I need to ask my students for some help on that end!
In order to prepare our students for the 21st century, I know I must provide opportunities for students to incorporate and create media while teaching chemistry content. But I’ve learned that fellow teachers and my own students can be great collaborators in creating those opportunities and making them a success.