September 2020 | Tech Tips
My Favorite Technology Tools for Teaching Chemistry — Remotely and In-Person
By Amy Roediger
No matter what the new school year will bring, you are probably considering a number of ways to adapt your practices to make chemistry safe and engaging this fall. As I look to a school year that may have face-to-face or remote learning, or a hybrid of the two, I will be leaning heavily on my five favorite technology tools to streamline my work process, keep my classroom as paperless as possible, and heighten student engagement. Here are my five favorites, with descriptions and ways I plan to use them this year:
|Figure 1. A display of the teacher's screen (rear) and the student's view (front) using Nearpod.|
Nearpod is a tremendous tool for combining content delivery with progress checks. Bring your ready-made slides into Nearpod or create new ones within the tool itself. Then, with a few clicks, add interactive questions to quickly gauge student understanding. With a robust library and partnerships with other tools you already love, like PhET simulations, there are likely presentations just waiting for you to download to your own account.
Nearpod has recently added an immersive reader, a gamified quiz called Time to Climb, and robust video tools. Content can be delivered synchronously through teacher-paced presentations, or asynchronously through student-paced lessons. In teacher-paced mode, the teacher controls what students see on their devices, whether content slides or interactive progress checks. Teachers can share anonymous results of progress checks with students to address misconceptions or redirect learning. In student-paced mode, students work through the lessons — content slides and interactive progress checks — at their own pace; teachers can see results in reports as students complete the work.
When teaching face-to-face, I use Nearpod for providing an introduction to concepts. I often add interactive drawing screens so my students can solve practice problems or represent particles. For example, when teaching gas laws, I ask students to predict how volume and temperature of gas are related. Then they see a short video clip of the PhET simulation for this concept, followed by a prompt that asks them to draw or find an image of an everyday example of this phenomenon. Because it all happens in Nearpod, I can share the results of their predictions and the best examples of Charles’ Law with them on their devices. Engagement is high, as students predict and apply learning. In a remote setting, presentations can be combined with Zoom or Google Meet in the same way, or students can proceed asynchronously.
|Figure 2. An example of a question in the free Covalent Bonding game. Image used with permission. © Playmada Games.|
Engagement is often high when students play games, so I was pleased to learn about PlayMada Games at ChemEd 2019. PlayMada has a suite of eight chemistry games that are currently free for teachers to use. The game topics include Acids and Bases, Atoms, Covalent Bonding, Equilibrium, Intermolecular Forces, Ions, Ionic Bonding, and Phase Changes. As students move through levels, they learn each chemistry concept in a gamified way.
I used two of the games — Equilibrium and Acids and Bases — during remote teaching this spring. My students learned LeChatelier’s Principle without taking any notes or explanation by me, just simply by playing this game. The Acids and Bases game introduces proton donation and strength in a tangible way. On my year-end survey, some students remembered these games fondly, saying, “The game we played all last week really helped piece together the concept of equilibrium,” “I liked the Equilibrium Game the best. It allowed me to gain an understanding of equilibrium that would have been difficult otherwise,” and “I feel as though the interactive games are extremely helpful.”
As new skills are learned, practice helps students solidify their confidence and comprehension. A tool I love for student practice is Classkick. Classkick assignments begin as blank slides. Teachers can add text, audio, video, and even create manipulatives. Once assigned to students, each student works on his or her own copy of the slides and the teacher can see what they are doing in real time. Initially, all of the slides appear grey to the teacher, but as the student works on each page, the slide turns white, so it’s easy to see where each student is in the assignment. As the student works on the slide — by either typing text or solving a problem — the teacher can see the work happening. If they get stuck, students can “raise a virtual hand” to ask for help. Teachers can provide help virtually; fellow students can also help anonymously.
|Figure 3. A series of slides for multiple students that show their progress as the work through practice problems in ClassKick.|
When using Classkick in my classroom, I typically use it for problem sets. Because students can assist each other, I can offer face-to-face intervention for students who really need it, while others can get hints and help from peers. I have also used Classkick’s customizable stickers to differentiate instruction. As students ask for their work to be checked, I apply a sticker that tells them to either rework that problem, go on to the next one, or skip the next one. This is a great way to quietly move some students ahead while providing extra scaffolding for others. Classkick is also a terrific resource in a remote environment. The ability to see students’ work in real time means even if they are not in my physical classroom, we can still connect — and I can still help them — during remote lessons. It’s great to be able to hop onto a student’s slide and quickly redirect or answer questions so they can experience success.
Like Classkick, Formative is another tool that allows teachers to see student work in real time. As the name implies, Formative was designed to facilitate formative assessments. Its easy-to-use design interface means teachers can make assignments very quickly. Assignments can include audio, video, text, questions, and embedded elements like PhET simulations. This means students can complete a simulation and answer questions about it all within this one tool. In Formative’s free plan, the company offers the standard question types (multiple choice, show your work, short answer), but adds many others to their premium plan.
|Figure 4. An example of multiple students using Formative to analyze and interpret data.|
Whether in my classroom or teaching remotely, Formative is a great way to create digital lab experiences. A teacher can get the embed code from a PhET simulation, for example, and put it into Formative; in addition, the teach can add test directions and questions to recreate a face-to-face lab experience. I also use this tool when students work in centers or stations. While students work, feedback can be provided in many formats — including audio, video, text, math type, and more.
Grading is a snap in Formative. Some question types are auto-graded, but for short-answer or math problems, you can grade either one question at a time, or one student at a time. Navigating between students or answers is quick and intuitive. Scores are color-coded, offering teachers an easy visual as to how well individuals and classes understand concepts. It’s easy to reset a student’s answer to let them try a question or assignment another time. This is important during remote teaching, as students sometimes struggle to understand concepts without daily interaction with a teacher.
|Figure 5. An example of several questions in Quizizz.|
If you’re looking for a fun way for students to practice new skills, look no further than Quizizz. Quizizz is a platform for checking for student understanding, and it has several built-in features that keep it on the top of my favorites list.
First, you don’t need a student or teacher account to try it out. You can quickly search for a quiz to try, launch it with a join code, and watch the results pour in. Second, with so many people using the tool, there are many quizzes available in their library. Publicly available quizzes can be cloned and edited, and you can even pull in individual questions into new quizzes. Third, Quizizz has a great list of features — leaderboard, timer, reaction memes — that teachers can turn on and off to tailor the experience for particular groups of kids. Even the types of questions (multiple choice, checkbox, poll, fill-in-the-blank, and open-ended) are more than you get from many free tools.
In my classroom, we use Quizizz regularly. When learning the polyatomic ions or practicing formula writing, my students like the “five-minute fun” we get from these fast-paced checks. For new vocabulary, these quizzes are a fun way to revisit language. Quizizz offers live games for in-class play and homework mode for asynchronous work. When we transitioned to remote learning in the spring, I provided a Quizizz homework assignment as an optional lesson before our weekly quiz. My students opted in to these assignments as a progress check. I used my Bitmoji avatar to create custom memes with things I say in my classroom, so that when they got an answer correct, “Bitmoji me” was there to celebrate.
One thing all these tools have in common in their user-friendliness. In 15 minutes or less, you can find or create content you want to use. Share a link or PIN with your students so they can join and get started. The ease of use means you will not have to waste time “teaching the tool” — and instead, simply teach chemistry. Plus, each tool is engaging; students appreciate learning with these tools.
Teaching is mired in uncertainty right now. One thing that’s not uncertain is that these five tools offer multiple uses for a variety of learning formats. As you plan to incorporate new tools or strategies in your lessons, I hope you will investigate some of these.
(article cover) Blan-k/Bigstock.com