Especially JCE: June 2018

June 2018 cover of JCE

What percentage of your high school chemistry students will go on to a career in science? I’m pretty sure that it’s not 100%. Does that mean they shouldn’t be in a chemistry class? No. All students are part of a society that should understand at least basic chemistry and how it relates to our lives. The June 2018 Journal of Chemical Education article Developing Awareness of Professional Behaviors and Skills in the First-Year Chemistry Laboratory (available to JCE subscribers) supports the idea that there can be an additional benefit for chemistry students in the area of “soft” skills, such as being able to work in a team and to communicate well.

Although the research described in the article was carried out with first-year undergraduates in the laboratory, the skills that they investigated with ~9500 students over the space of three semesters are important to high school students as well. For example, the ability to work well with others, to be prepared and organized, and to manage one’s time well can benefit teenagers as they join the workforce in a summertime or afterschool job or begin to function in a college or trade school learning environment.

The authors point out, “Skills such as organization, communication, interpersonal skills, and self-motivation are all highly sought by employers, but students may not explicitly learn how to develop these skills until late in their degree program, if at all.” Their article highlights a potential solution, using students’ time in the laboratory to make them aware of the “qualities and behaviors of a professional scientist,” while offering an opportunity for staff assessment and student self-assessment of these skills.

It begins with staff and student training, to make sure everyone is on the same page, using their rubric below, plus discussing examples of the behavior at each level. You can see from the rubric that students were assessed and self-assessed in three major skill areas: organizational, interpersonal, and work-based, with skill subsections for each. Both staff and students rated using a four-level scale, from “not evident” up to “exemplary.” Staff included additional feedback using a selection of prewritten comments along with personalized feedback, while students were encouraged to justify their self-ratings with comments and examples. Staff did not see the student self-assessments until after entering their own feedback.


Table 1 – Reprinted with permission from Developing Awareness of Professional Behaviors and Skills in the First-Year Chemistry Laboratory, Chadwick, de la Hunty, and Baker. Journal of Chemical Education, 95 (6), pp 947 - 953. Copyright 2018 American Chemical Society.


I found the results interesting, in their change over time from the start to the end of the semester during five separate lab experiences. At the start, many students were generally either overconfident or underconfident in their skills. They seemed to link their knowledge of the content with their professional skills. If a student was not confident in chemistry knowledge, they assessed themselves as lower in professional skills, even though according to staff assessment, they displayed a higher level of the skills; those with a lot of confidence in their content knowledge tended to be overconfident of their professional skills. As the semester continued, staff and student self-evaluation came into closer agreement, with students eventually rating themselves even more critically than staff at the end of the semester. The article includes multiple examples of student and staff comments. The authors report that it served as a good motivator for student performance in these areas. Students were able to receive feedback within a short time span (48 hours), which they could then use to adjust their performance during a future lab time.

Aspects of this could be integrated into the high school chemistry lab and classroom and are likely already in use by high school educators already. Students could be brought in to a discussion, as the undergraduates were, as to what specific behaviors would signal meeting a particular level of competence. Select just a few skills to start. For example, discuss how it looks if one “used time in the lab effectively” or “was an effective member of a team” or “worked safely.” Ask them to make direct connections to how these skills would be a plus at their jobs, volunteer positions, or in other classes. Use five-minute self-assessment opportunities at the end of lab to gauge how their view of their skills matches up with yours. Are you already integrating skills like these into your lab or classroom? Share!

More from the June 2018 Issue Mary Saecker’s post JCE 95.06 June 2018 Issue Highlights categorizes the articles you’ll find in this month’s issue. The cover graphic is particularly striking, together with a description of the nanoscopic structures that are present on butterfly wings. She has also sorted through the JCE and ChemEd X archives to collect multiple articles and experiments related to food dyes.

Don’t forget you can also share what you’ve written or used from JCE at ChemEd X. Sibrina Collins, co-author with LaVetta Appleby of Black Panther, Vibranium and the Periodic Table (freely available) described their work in the ChemEd X post Connecting Black Panther’s Vibranium to the Periodic Table. Start by submitting a contribution form, explaining you’d like to contribute to the Especially JCE column. Then, put your thoughts together in a blog post. Questions? Contact us using the ChemEd X contact form.