Making a Difference in the Classroom

In a February 2013 post, Kurtis Fairley wrote about the Hermiston Outreach Experience. Since then we have spent 24 weeks in the Hermiston High School chemistry classroom working with Lisa Frye. In that time we have formulated a plan for the future of this program; we have also learned some important lessons this year.

The goal of our first year in the classroom was very general and began as an assessment of the classroom environment and subsequent determination of what we could do to assist. As the year is coming to a close, it is evident that we’ve gone above and beyond these expectations. We have developed and compiled an impressive list of material for the advanced chemistry classroom that is supplementary to the established curriculum. This list includes labs, concept maps, worksheets, demonstrations, and assessment material. One of the most beneficial components of this program occurring in the classroom is our ability to test the newly developed and adapted material with the students and edit as we go along.

As the first year of the program draws to a close, a new goal and plan of action has emerged from this educational partnership. Hermiston High School has committed to offering an advanced chemistry course for college credit that is taught in conjunction with the curriculum of General chemistry (CH 101), Organic chemistry (CH 102), and Biochemistry (CH 103) at Eastern Oregon University (EOU) in LaGrande.

Our goal for the next year is to adapt our compiled material and the EOU curriculum into a course geared towards high school seniors. This will be accomplished by throwing away the conventional system of lectures followed by laboratory experiments used for assessment of information retention. We plan to instead use labs as a teaching exercise. Lectures and labs will occur in tandem allowing lessons on math and calculations to be taught in the most practical and comprehensible setting available. The students indicated that they wanted more time in the lab doing experiments and observing demonstrations. This alternative style of teaching would provide the desired additional hands-on environment without decreasing the amount of content or learning time.

In response to the request for more demonstrations we have started to assemble a set of demo preparations and instructions for teachers. Many of these have been adapted from the plethora of material available on the internet, but we have added something new that is not commonly practiced with demos. Students usually like demos because they are enjoyable to watch. Big explosions or color changes are exciting, but rarely are students required to remember the specific reactions or major topics and concepts. We have created worksheets that assess the retention of the material that demos are meant to teach.

The demo can be performed at the beginning of class and then worksheets can be handed out at the end of class, the next day, or later in the week. Lisa would like to do one demo/worksheet combination a week along with one quiz each month that contains questions specifically about the demos. We received a lot of positive feedback after polling students about our impact in the classroom.

Here are a few of the responses we got when we asked, “What has been the most beneficial part of having the CSMC fellows in the classroom?”:

  • "We learn more when you are here because you have different experiences and opinions to share."
  • "No offense Mrs. Frye, but having a second way of teaching things is really nice because sometimes the way you explain things doesn't make sense."
  • "More help because Mrs. Frye is just one person. By help I mean material and homework help. You have good ideas about things we can do and you can answer questions when Mrs. Frye is busy." "You have extra knowledge and different views that you can share with us."

All in all, I have really enjoyed participating in the first year of this program and look forward to being part of it in the future. We have some great ideas that we plan to set into motion next year. Look for copies of the material we have produced this past year on our website this summer!