My First BCCE - Vibrant High School Programming

First time at BCCE

This summer I had the opportunity to attend my first Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE) in Greeley, Colorado. When I first expressed interest in this conference more than one fellow high school educator told me some version of, “Don’t bother with that. It’s a bunch of stuff for college professors, it won’t be of use to you.” Nothing could have been further from the truth. Yes, much of the programming is directed at a higher-education audience, but many of the workshops and symposia have something to offer for precollege educators and there is a very vibrant and continually growing strand of high-school specific programing.

Throughout the week I had the opportunity to connect with college and precollege educators who all share a common goal: collaborate with and learn from one another to improve chemical education world-wide.

Here are some things that I plan on using in my classroom this fall. Note that several of these ideas come from college professors!

Simulations and Particulate-Level Models

Particulate-level representations have gained traction at the high school level with the recent redesign of the AP Chemistry Curriculum, but they are not new and every college professor I spoke to was very pleased that more emphasis was being placed on these diagrams due to their ability to increase students’ conceptual understanding.

Dr. Rebecca Sansom (@sansomator) from Brigham Young University ran an excellent workshop in which she encouraged us to pair macroscopic experience (wet lab) with a simulation of the phenomenon so that students are able to conceptually connect the two. The Molecular Workbench from The Concord Consortium has some excellent simulations. I especially appreciated those addressing IMFs and spectroscopy. Users can search sims and activities developed by third-party users and, if they have the skillset, actually modify the code of the simulations to fit their needs.

Dave Doherty (@AtomsNMolecules) has developed a software called Atomsmith that provides one of the most visually appealing molecular-level models I have ever seen, especially when it comes to atomic orbitals. Particularly appealing to me was the visualization of intermolecular forces in different scenarios, including their importance in considering real vs. ideal gases. The functionality of this software is limitless and can be applied to almost every unit of your chemistry curriculum. I can’t wait to incorporate this in to my class! (Doug Ragan and Chad Hustings have both written about Atomsmith on ChemEd X. ChemEd X also published a recent article authored by Dave Doherty.)

Both of these provide excellent additions to the very user-friends PhET Simulations many of us are already familiar with.

Verbal Final Exam

Ryan Sweeder from Michigan State University presented on incorporating an optional, verbal final exam into his general chemistry course. He uses an anchor demonstration throughout the entire year and is able to refer to it through all of the topics in the course. At the end of the term, students sit with him for a verbal final exam that is over that demonstration. Questions are selected at random from a hat by each student, and he pushes them with extension questions. I feel like this would be an excellent model to implement into my high school AP Chemistry course following the AP exam. It should be more manageable in my smaller AP course than in his university course.

Technology Strategies

Google Apps: If you are not familiar with Google Apps, I highly recommend you check them out. After attending a session on Tech Strategies I now have a renewed desire to use Google Docs for submitting AP lab reports. It allows for easy revision and submission. You can see who wrote what and when, which is great for group projects. Even if you are not a Google Apps for Education School you can still take advantage of the benefits with just a regular Google account.

Chemix: A very easy to use Chrome Add-On that allows you to “draw” chemistry apparatuses with ease and export them as jpeg images. Very useful for showing students how to set something up, or to use on a test as a visual. page1image33808

Formative Assessment: Doug Ragan showed how he used tools like Kahoot and Socrative to formatively assess his students in a way that also gave him real data. I have personally used Kahoot before, it is great for review games and the students always get really excited to play. He also showed us ClassKick, an app currently only available on iPad, that allows you to formatively assess students in real time while they are writing! You can see students writing from your computer (or tablet) and go to them as necessary if you see they are struggling. This fills a big void that the other apps have, that is you can see the students’ work while they do it. Very powerful possibilities.

Follow all of the presenters from this symposium on Twitter for continued insight in to how they are creatively incorporating technology in to their classrooms. Ben Meacham (@meachteach), Doug Ragan (@dragan39), Dave Doherty (@AtomsNMolecules), and Erica Posthuma-Adams (@eposthuma).

Final Thoughts

Attend a national conference, be it ChemEd or BCCE, it is a great way to learn new ideas and network and collaborate with amazing chemistry teachers. Also, if you have not done so already, all chemistry teachers out there should join the American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT). The organization is new, but already provides a wealth of teacher-reviewed classroom ready resources as well as a quarterly periodical and online webinars that can benefit any teacher of chemistry from elementary through high school. I have used several of their activities in my regular and AP chemistry courses, been inspired to change my course sequence, and had the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers in the presentation of an AP review powerpoint that was developed from the AP Teacher Community.

The next BCCE will be held on the campus of The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana from July 29- August 2, 2018. Of course, ChemEd is next summer, July 23-27, 2017 at South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD. I hope to see you there!

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Comments 1

Dave Doherty's picture
Dave Doherty | Wed, 08/17/2016 - 12:20

I was very impressed by how much interaction there was between high school chem teachers and college chem professors.  There was a truly collaborative vibe the whole week.

And I came home with all kinds of ideas for improving/developing new simulations. I learned a lot about teachers' "pain points" --  IMFs and atomic structure in particular.