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When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March 2020, Flipgrid, Collisions, and Gizmos were useful technology resources to easily implement during the early days of distance learning. Between increased demands on internet bandwidth, more people telecommuting, and surging traffic on learning management systems being put to the test, these online platforms allowed me to connect with students while providing opportunities for learning.

Flipgrid

The beginning of the pandemic was an inopportune time to be finishing a unit on chemical bonding, to be followed by a traditional paper-and-pencil test. In my efforts to continue instruction, I found Flipgrid to be helpful in allowing students to practice their skills, collaborate with peers, and assess student knowledge. Flipgrid allows students and teachers to record video clips to answer questions and reply to others via threaded discussions.

Students were already using review worksheets to identify ionic versus covalently bonded compounds, and to draw their respective Lewis structures. However, without being able to observe their progress and listen to their questions in class as usual, I was not able to identify and clarify students’ misunderstandings nor help them troubleshoot problems. I decided to use Flipgrid, requiring students to record a video in order to explain how they arrived at their solutions, versus just submitting a completed worksheet.

My school was on a block schedule with classes meeting twice a week, and I asked students to create four videos before the next class. It took more time and effort on my part, but I assigned each student to create videos in which they explained their understanding of an element that forms a monatomic ion, an ionic compound, and two covalent compounds. Students’ tasks for the videos included:

  1. For the assigned element:
    1. identify the common charge of the ion formed; and
    2. explain why it forms that specific ion, using the terms electron configuration, valence electrons, noble gas, and the octet or duet rule.
  2. For the assigned ionic compound:
    1. show the bonding using atomic electron dot structures;
    2. draw the final Lewis structure using ionic electron dot structures; and
    3. explain their diagrams.
  3. For the first assigned molecule:
    1. draw the Lewis structure;
    2. identify the bond polarity;
    3. identify the molecular geometry (shape);
    4. draw the 3D model;
    5. determine the molecular polarity; and
    6. show the partial charges (delta + and delta -) and dipoles if the molecule is polar.
  4. For the second molecule:
    1. explain how to draw the Lewis structure; and
    2. show their resonance structures.
Figure 1. Example of student prompt used on Flipgrid.

Students received prompts for each video, as shown in Figure 1. Given the minimal instructions, I was impressed by students’ willingness to show their solutions and walk through their processes. Several students who felt camera-shy were proficient enough with Flipgrid to use emojis and camera techniques to block their faces. Some students found and used a whiteboard function to show their work, while others simply wrote their responses in a notebook and held it up to the camera. While it was time-consuming to watch all of the submissions, using Flipgrid easily helped identify students who needed extra instruction, which was my ultimate goal.

After the initial assignments were due, I required students to watch the responses of other students, preferably their lab partner or a student who sat at the same lab table in class. These responses were again due before the following class period. In this case, I allowed them to simply state whether they agreed with the answers provided. But the next time I present this lesson, I plan to adjust my instructions to require that students explain why they agreed, using at least two examples. On the other hand, if they disagree, I’ll require them to show and explain the changes they would make to arrive at the correct answers or solutions.

After students submitted their video responses, I spent about three hours reviewing them and recording myself giving individual feedback for each student. It was nice to see students’ faces and hear their voices to ease the shock of the quarantine. They were also eager to respond to their partners and give constructive criticism when they disagreed. For later assignments, I simply typed my responses, since I could work on them while watching the students. This cut my response time in half. Students who were diligent in watching the feedback from both their classmates and me fared better on the final assessment, which was the same traditional paper-and-pencil test I’ve used in the past, albeit with more versions than usually used in class.

Figure 2. Customizable rubric in Flipgrid.

I used the same process for a different chemistry class a month later, where students identified electron configurations for atoms. In addition to agreeing or disagreeing with their classmate’s response, I asked students to identify the noble gas configuration if their classmate gave the long version, and vice versa. I also implemented a Flipgrid component to the summative assessment. I played with the rubric function on Flipgrid, as seen in Figure 2, identifying objectives that students needed to satisfy. This allowed me to assign points earned as the videos were being graded.

The potential of Flipgrid is endless. Overall, students enjoyed viewing their peers’ videos. Some of them commented that they were able to understand the topics better after seeing their classmates’ responses. I will continue to use it to incorporate student voices throughout any hybrid or virtual learning models in the future. I used Flipgrid with both Honors and on-level chemistry students. The site can easily be used in different ways with younger students and other disciplines.

Figure 3. Sample interactions in the Collisions game, Intermolecular Forces.
Image used with permission. © Playmada Games.

Collisions

After completing the chemical bonding unit, I introduced intermolecular forces using Collisions from Playmada Games, since the company offered the platform at no cost during the quarantine. Collisions uses a game-based interface to walk students through tutorials on different chemistry concepts. Once students complete core levels, a “virtual sandbox” is unlocked for students to experiment with different objectives. I found that this was a really effective tool to help model the abstract topics we were about to discuss.

I had previously tried out the Intermolecular Forces game through the Catalyst for Collisions Educator Program (Figure 3). I liked the game’s interactivity for the students, and was familiar with the resources I could implement right away. Because of the format of the activities, I wasn’t worried about students trying to Google answers versus moving through the levels.

The intermolecular forces lesson plan provided by Playmada Games included a worksheet that students filled out as they completed the core levels. Students were given one class period to play the game. The game reviewed covalent bonding and molecular polarity to define intermolecular forces, and featured tutorials showing the differences between dipole-dipole forces for polar molecules and London dispersion forces for nonpolar molecules and noble gas atoms.

As is typical in my experience when teaching intermolecular forces, students were most confused by hydrogen bonding. When playing the game, some students missed the part of the game that identified which atoms were necessary for hydrogen bonding to occur. I instructed students to revisit the part where this concept was introduced. Eventually, they were able to differentiate between the intermolecular forces.

I continued with the extension activity to determine whether the students were able to independently identify the intermolecular forces between various molecules. I did need to review with the students during the live session to correct misunderstandings and clarify basic differences. I learned that I had assigned the extension activity too soon for some of the students to be comfortable with the concepts. By the end, however, students were confident with the concepts, based on their performance in the game’s sandbox.

Like many of her classmates, one student explained that she didn’t think she would have understood the intermolecular force differences without Collisions. She appreciated how the game explains the concept of intermolecular force interactions graphically, versus simply through text or audio. She also liked how “the game explains to you why you’re wrong and how to make it right or fix it.” Many of the students enjoyed having the game assigned as homework. Because of the positive outcome and feedback received, I’ve advocated that other teachers in my school use the software, or at least try it out with their students.

Collisions can be used in physical science and all levels of chemistry to support understanding of atomic structure. There are more resources available on the site that can either elevate the challenges presented to students, or simplify questions for more basic understanding. For teachers, there is a progress tracker that shows students’ completion of individual levels.

Figure 4. Building the beryllium atom in ExploreLearning Gizmos, Periodic Table Gizmo. Image used with permission. © ExploreLearning.

Gizmos

A final resource that helped during quarantine teaching was Gizmos. It contains many simulations that allow math and science students to manipulate variables and gather data. The subscription-based platform comes complete with student handouts to support activities.

I assigned exploration sheets for the students to work through as they launched the periodic trends simulations. Students were asked to make predictions, collect data, and use observations to form conclusions about atomic size, ionization energy, and electronegativity.

Students collected atomic radius data of a period and a group of elements (as shown for beryllium in Figure 4). They also observed data of electronegativity and ionization energy. Students appeared to enjoy using Gizmos, which provided a means to analyze information instead of simply watching another lecture or reading another resource. A downside to using Gizmos remotely was the students’ temptation to Google the conclusions they were expected to make, versus trusting the process. A change for next time will be to edit the student explorations sheets and ask higher-order thinking questions. An example could be to assess the validity of the statement, “atomic size of an element decreases as you move across the periodic table.”

Forcing students and teachers to move to a distance learning environment was an unexpected challenge. Teachers were faced with learning new skills and finding ways to deliver meaningful curriculum while maintaining relationships with students. Flipgrid allowed me to feel connected with my students and vice versa in an asynchronous learning environment. Meanwhile, Collisions and Gizmos allowed my students to engage in inquiry-based learning away from the classroom. All three of these learning tools were useful to both my students and me during the remote learning period we faced in response to COVID-19. If you find yourself teaching in a remote-learning environment, I encourage you to try these virtual platforms as well!


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(article cover) Fizkes/Bigstockphoto.com