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The COVID pandemic, learner equity, and mental health have all been challenging topics at the forefront of education over the last two years. With that in mind, in the previous year, I developed strategies to change my learning environment to focus on increased student engagement and collaboration.

As I reflected on my practice and pondered the direction of my pedagogy, I decided that my learning environment, whether virtual or face-to-face, needed to incorporate learner equity and mental health. My thinking and research kept circling back to a statement from a student who once told me, “Thank you for not showing me what to think, but rather how to think. This has given me the greatest confidence in my studies, and every day it gives me a greater glimpse at my potential.” This statement fueled my change. 

I also conducted research on the topic. According to Fisher, Frey, and Quaglia, educators increase and foster student engagement with relationships, clarity, challenge, and an inviting classroom.1 Meanwhile, in his book, Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad stated, “Learning is highly collective, so teachers today can create opportunities where individualism and competition aren’t privileged over collectivism. What issue is most urgent for students’ learning? How does this issue connect to the world? How can I connect content learning skills to this issue?”2

In order to weave an “equity framework” into my chemistry classroom, I implemented the ideas of Doucette, et al.3 related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect (DEIR) for equity in science. That approach has six key components:

  • Expansive Framing — when students have the opportunity to apply knowledge and skills to different circumstances.
  • Buy-In — when students motivate themselves to learn the science at hand
  • Active & Collaborative Learning — when individual reflections are combined with small-group discussions
  • Action — when students make connections to broader issues in society
  • Flexible Content — when content allows the curriculum to be based on students’ and educators’ needs
  • Science as Context — when students create interrelationships between science and their lives

Based on my research, I modified my classroom into a space where learners’ thoughts are active and collaborative, and implemented equity-based teaching strategies using Jamboard. I’ve found that Jamboard is my go-to tool for establishing relationships, developing student-driven challenges, and monitoring and accessing student learning.

If you aren’t familiar with Jamboard, it is a part of the Google Suite. Jamboard is an interactive software incorporating Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides — and it’s free. Jamboard can be used by students in live or virtual situations using their own devices. Users can write directly on the Jamboard, insert images, and place sticky notes of different colors, sizes, and angles. The notes are anonymous, which increases the freedom to express personal ideas.

The Driving Questions Board

Figure 1. A Driving Questions Board is simply a blank canvas before chemical phenomena is introduced.

Clarity and coherence provide students with equitable and fair opportunities to optimize their learning. The Driving Questions Board (DQB)4,5 is a constantly evolving pedagogical tool co-constructed by teachers and students.6,7 I use it as an instructional strategy to increase student engagement and clarity.8

I present my DQB as a Jamboard that allows students to share their questions about a chemistry-specific topic with an entire class. Students access the Jamboard on their own devices, collaborating digitally and verbally. The Jamboard allows students the opportunity to make connections with science and their own experiences. Students’ collaboration increases their active learning.

The core feature of the DQB is to center students’ driving questions about an anchoring phenomenon that we have explored in class. Questions proposed by the students can be organized and saved to be investigated during a given lesson. Sticky notes allow teachers and students to easily visualize how questions’ relationships to each other develop during knowledge co-construction. The DQB will enable students to illustrate connections between their personal knowledge, gain ownership in the learning process, establish coherence between learning activities, and utilize the science engineering practice of asking questions linking to DEIR’s Action and Flexible Content components.

We start the year with a blank DQB. Every time I share a phenomenon, students post questions based on their observations of the phenomenon. When students have the autonomy to choose the direction of the class, the student engagement level increases.

In this particular example, my students investigated and observed three unknown solids (water, ethyl acetate, menthol) melting in an aluminum boat on a medium-warm hotplate. Students used temperature probes and magnifying glasses to gather qualitative data of their observations. They posted their questions on sticky notes based on their observations. Figure 2 illustrates the DQB after students added their questions. Examples of student questions are: 

  • Why can some substances stick together and others can’t?
  • Why did substance 2 melt like ice?
  • What causes the particles to stick together?
Figure 2. The Jamboard after students posted their questions.

Since the Jamboard is digital, all students in the class have equal access to the document. Jamboards equally give students a personal frame of reference for their learning from their perspective. Once students had posted their questions, I used the DQB to shape my storyline and plan for engagement with big science ideas, such as patterns of matter and energy. In this unit, students develop models through experimentation to answer the phenomenon, “Why do clear liquids boil at different temperatures?” After each lesson, students return to the DQB to add more questions based on what they have learned.

Driving Questions Board is a digital method to facilitate the creation of a chemistry storyline. I continue to monitor and address new questions using the questions to drive student learning. The entire class collectively chooses a question that we would like to investigate. I then develop a lesson to answer the question. Students are encouraged to add questions to the board at any point during the lab process. Students interact and collaborate using sticky notes on the Jamboard. Figure 3 illustrates how the DQB changed at the beginning of the second unit, where students observed the reaction of Li, K, Na, and Ca with water.

The questions that I listed above were no longer on the board; instead, they became steps in the storyline to answer the phenomenon. New questions were added, such as:

  • What caused the Li to start on fire?
  • What type of substance in the Li caused fire and an explosion when mixed with water?
  • What is the most dangerous element to mix with water?
  • Why do elements react differently with water?

I used these questions to “drive” student learning in Unit 2. The DQB evolves through time. I love this strategy. Jamboard is cheap, quick, easy, and students can access it at any time of the day. They do not have to be meeting face-to-face with me or fellow students to wonder about scientific phenomena. This platform increases student access to different ideas much more effectively than a poster hanging in the classroom, and serves as a repository for students’ thoughts and insights, even after leave the classroom.

Figure 3. The Driving Questions Jamboard after a new phenomenon was presented.

The Activities Summary Board

Another way to use Jamboard to increase student engagement is to create an Activity Summaries Board (ASB). Based on Windschitl, Thompson, and Braaten’s research, students use talk as a tool for learning and to shape opportunities to think.9 The process starts with a teacher posting a Driving Question from the DQB. Students explore the concept with a lesson where they gather qualitative and quantitative evidence to answer the question, and list their data on sticky notes as Evidence.

After observations, students recognize patterns in data, critique the quality of the data, and propose why these patterns exist.10 After the lesson is complete, the teacher explains the concept, covering all the expected learning standards within the lesson. During the explanation, the teacher connects specific chemistry concepts to student evidence to help students figure out what is happening during a particular chemistry phenomenon. According to Touitou, Israel, et al.11, teachers usually would do this on a whiteboard with sticky notes. However, I use Jamboard instead. In the Evidence section, students only list qualitative and quantitative data connected to the Driving question from the lab. Jamboard allows users to upload pictures, graphs, data tables, and drawings to the board. Students then reflect on their learning.

Since I use storylines, each ASB will be a piece of the puzzle students need to solve the unit phenomena by developing a model and a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) argument. However, you can also use the ASB as a reflective learning piece at any point in a lesson where students need to connect activities or labs to scientific ideas and notes.

In addition, the Jamboard allows students to use Expansive Framing by applying what they have learned in class to different circumstances. For example, to begin our unit on the periodic table as part a unit, I demonstrate the phenomena of K, Na, Li, and Ca reacting with water. I chose one question from the DQB to place on the Activities Summaries Board: “Why do some substances react with water more strongly than others?” Figure 4 illustrates the ASB before students dive into their lesson. The class-generated question from the DQB, “Why do some substances interact with water more strongly than others?” is written on the sticky note on the far left column. Students list qualitative and quantitative data on post-it notes in the middle column during the exploratory lab. After student exploration and teacher explanation, students synthesize data based on student reading and notes in the far-right column. 

Figure 4. Blank Activity Summaries Board.

Figure 5 illustrates a completed Jamboard after exploratory lab and explanation notes. In this example, students used ionization energy data to argue about the difference between inner and outer electrons. Based on simulations depicting attraction between charges, students argued why it takes energy to remove electrons from atoms. As illustrated in Figure 5, students posted data from the simulations, as well as different types of quantitative and qualitative evidence. Students used the evidence to support their reasoning in the far-right column. For example, the Na sticky note states the first, second, and third ionization energies are linked to the Reasoning sticky note, “it takes more energy to remove more electrons.”

Figure 5. Completed Activities Summaries Board.

After the class collaboratively completes the ASB, students return to the DQB. Students then develop more questions based on evidence and reasons from the ASB. After new questions are added to the DQB, the cycle repeats. At the end of the storyline, students will collaboratively develop a final model and write a CER response to address the phenomenon. Students also refer back to the ASB to study for quizzes and to help develop their CER argument. 


Figure 6.
An example of a student-generated sticky note on the DQB, labeled with an icon in the upper left corner identifying the student who posted it.

Since Jamboards are live collaborative documents, challenges arise. Fortunately, there are many helpful tips for managing Jamboards.

Some students choose to post inappropriate sticky notes. It is best for teachers to be diligent at many levels. My classroom agreement is, “Keep it Clean, Keep it Chemistry.” If a student posts a note that does not follow the agreement, you can see who wrote it by clicking on the student icon autogenerated by Google in the upper left-hand corner of the sticky note. Also, you can monitor the “history” feature of Jamboard to see if someone has deleted a particular note.

A second challenge is to plan out a list of probing, reflective, and strategic thinking questions before students begin posting on the Jamboards. Your chosen questions shape the Jamboard results and trigger student synthesis and reflection. For example, during an ionization energy Activity Summaries Board session, I would ask: What do we already know about [element]?, How many electrons does [element] have?, What does this data tell you about these elements? It is also helpful to set goals as you plan. For example, our goal is for each student in the room to post one sticky note of quantitative evidence in the evidence column and one reason that links to the evidence in the Reasons column.

The final challenge is time. Since students are constantly pinning questions to the DQB, it’s likely the class will not investigate all the questions in a year. I remedy this problem in two ways. During May, we have “exploration days,” where students can develop an experiment based on a Driving Question that interests them. Secondly, I also invite students to join the Chemistry Club, where they have an opportunity to dig deeper into their scientific curiosities.

Jamboard is an easy, innovative Google tool that helps to differentiate student learning and give effective feedback. I can use it to help students improve how they use evidence to explain their scientific thinking verbally or in writing, and also track changes in student thinking. This strategy changed my teaching to align with the DEIR framework so that all students can engage in chemistry.

Stacey Balbach

Stacey Balbach
High School Ambassador


  1. Fisher, D.; Frey, N.; Quaglia, R. J.; Smith, D.; Lande, L. Engagement by Design: Creating Learning Environments Where Students Thrive; Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, CA, 2017.
  2. Muhammad, G. Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy. Scholastic Inc.: New York, 2020.
  3. Doucette, D.; Daane, A. R.; Flynn, A.; Gosling, C.; Hsi, D.; Mathis, C.; Morrison, A.; Park, S.; Rifkin, M.; Tabora, J. Teaching Equity in Chemistry. Journal of Chemical Education2021, 99, no. 1, pp 301–306.
  4. Weizman, A.; Shwartz, Y; Fortus, D. The Driving Question Board: A visual organizer for project-based science. The Science Teacher. 2008, 75, 8, p 34.
  5. Windschitl, M., et al. Ambitious Science Teaching; Harvard Education Press: Cambridge, MA, 2018; p 80.
  6. Windschitl, et al., p vii.
  7. Doucette, et al.
  8. Schafer, A.; Kuborn, T.; Schwarz, C.; Stowe, R. “Driving Question Board Quick Reference Guide,” Chemistry Learning Environments Anchored in Phenomena (ChemLEAP): Madison, WI, July 2021; 1-3.
  9. Windschitl, M., et al., p 41.
  10. Windschitl, M., et al., p 49.
  11. Touitou, I., et al. The Activity Summary Board. The Science Teacher2018, 85, no. 3, pp 30–35. doi:10.2505/4/tst18_085_03_30.