|Image by Midjourney
Wednesday, August 2, 2023
Sunday, July 9, 2023
|Image courtesy of DALL-E
I started a new routine this year of asking opening questions at the beginning of every class. Initially, I was mixing these up–one day would be a chemistry-related “warm-up” or “bell-ringer” type question to help the students tap into prior knowledge, and another day would be an SEL related question, like “How do you manage stress.” And sometimes, I’d integrate the two, like “Are you a proton, electron, or neutron, and why?”
But a several months ago, when news came out about the powers of ChatGPT, I decided to ask the powerful chatbot for help. I asked ChatGPT to create opening questions that integrate both chemistry concepts and social-emotional learning (SEL) themes. The results have been engaging, insightful, and sometimes unexpected. Here are some of the prompts I've used and the responses they have generated:
1. Concentration and Focus
Prompt: The concept of concentration in chemistry refers to the amount of solute in a given amount of solvent. In a similar way, your 'concentration' in class can be influenced by distractions, diluting your focus. How do you maintain your 'concentration' during class, and what strategies do you use to minimize distractions?
Student responses: From creating checklists and setting time limits for work to listening to music or binaural beats on Spotify, students shared various strategies for maintaining their concentration and mitigating distractions. One student shared a unique method: "I watch a show or listen to music, and it helps me pay more attention to my work."
2. Saturation and Overload
Prompt: In chemistry, a solution becomes saturated when it cannot dissolve any more solute. Can you share a time when you felt 'saturated' with responsibilities, and how did you manage?
Student responses: Students identified times when they felt overwhelmed or over-committed, such as during football season or transitioning to high school. Their coping strategies ranged from taking tasks one step at a time, prioritizing work, to just managing to get through it. One response stood out, "Last week–I had a ton to do and felt like if there was one more thing added on top I might explode. I just took everything one step at a time, made lists with more important tasks at the top and tried not to get overwhelmed."
3. Stoichiometry and Effort
Prompt: Stoichiometry in chemistry is all about the relationship between reactants and products: what you get out is determined by what you put in. Can you share a situation where you've seen this principle in your own life?
Student responses: Students gave examples ranging from effort in sports leading to success, time and effort invested in schoolwork leading to scholarships, to respect given leading to respect received. A student shared a creative analogy: "When I redecorated my room this week."
4. Adaptation and Change
Prompt: Certain chemicals can adapt to their environment - for example, a solute will dissolve in a solvent. Have you experienced a situation where you've had to adapt or "dissolve" into a new environment or situation?
Student responses: Many students shared experiences of changing schools, with strategies for adaptation including making friends and taking time to adjust to the new environment. One poignant response was, "When I transferred from another school to here, I had to adapt to the new environment because it was very different from the one I was used to, and I did it by making friends and looking at things around me."
5. Types of Chemical Reactions as Life Experiences
Prompt: In chemistry, we've learned about different types of reactions, such as synthesis, decomposition, and displacement reactions. Can you draw an analogy between one of these reactions and your experience of this school year?
Student responses: Students shared analogies relating to synthesizing new knowledge, displacing old friends, and decomposing old habits. One wrote, “I’ve stopped letting work pile up, so I also synthesized new ways of catching up.” Another drew a poignant picture of a home life displaced by family upheaval.
6. pH and Emotional Balance
Prompt: In chemistry, the pH scale measures how acidic or basic a substance is - it's all about balance. How do you maintain a balanced mindset, especially when things get tough?
At first, when I saw this prompt, I thought it was a bit of a stretch, but then I remembered the "Mood Elevator" concept from Senn Delaney, which makes our emotions into a scale from depressed to grateful, with “curious” as the “neutral” point. So I decided to go with it.
Student responses: Students shared a variety of techniques for maintaining emotional balance, from mindfulness practices and gratitude exercises, to calling their moms or simply taking a break. One wrote, “I try to look at the bright side or focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes I think about things I’m grateful for.”
I shared with them the "Mood Elevator" concept from Senn Delaney, specifically the importance of becoming 'curious' to shift our perspective.
We’re in the midst of a mental health crisis among teenagers today, and the classroom is one place where we can encourage students to reflect on important issues and SEL skills in a supportive environment. These kinds of reflections and discussion also help build community and a positive climate in the classroom.
Some might think that SEL questions are out of place in a chemistry classroom, but I (and CHatGPT) would disagree. In fact, the way I see it, the separation between science and emotion, or school and the rest of life is artificial, and the more we can blur that line, the better. Life is one unbroken whole.
What better way to show students the relevance of school, and science, than by integrating chemistry concepts with practical questions they deal with every single day. In the words of ChatGPT, who helped me write this post, "it’s a beautiful kind of synergy.”
And ChatGPT is surprisingly good at creating these questions--surprisingly human-like. And I wonder what impression this makes on my students as well.
I’ll finish with ChatGPT’s conclusion, because I couldn't write a better one:
By seamlessly blending chemistry principles with everyday scenarios that students grapple with, we underscore the relevance of their education in a more tangible, relatable manner. ChatGPT has been an invaluable accomplice in this endeavor, generating thought-provoking questions with a surprisingly human-like intuition.
This entire process feels akin to a live chemical reaction – an enthralling interplay of chemistry education and SEL elements that lead to an outcome greater than the sum of its parts. It’s been a transformative journey, not just for my students, but for me as an educator. The lessons learned and insights gained have made our classroom a unique experimental ground, fueling a fresh brand of holistic education.
So, here's to blurring the lines, to redefining norms, and to forging a future of education that embraces the wholesomeness of life, one chemistry lesson at a time.
Thursday, August 19, 2021
Option 1: Give up
You can always just give up and either quit altogether or emotionally check out and just go through the motions. Lots of folks are choosing this option, and I don't blame them. There is a time to quit, especially if you're close to retirement age, but for me, now's not the time. More on that below.
Option 2: Pretend it's not burning
Denial: It's not just a river in Egypt. A popular way of dealing with difficult situations is to pretend the difficult situation does not exist. I'm not sure if we do this because we think it will go away if we ignore it, or if we think "dwelling on it" will only make it worse. Likely it's a combination of the two. But either way, it doesn't work. Problems do not go away if you ignore them. They either get worse immediately, or they fester and come back to bite you. Only by facing them can you have any hope of solving them. This is true for relationship problems, and it's true when the world is going to hell in a hand-basket.
Option 3: Acceptance and inaction
You can accept that all of these things are happening around you, but just keep doing what you love--kind of a monastic approach, I suppose. Isolate yourself. Tend your garden. Walk your dog. Enjoy your family. Teach your classes. View the world's problems like bad weather that will pass. I guess it's what I've been doing with my art and brewing during the pandemic. It's an escape, and I can forget all about the chaos of the outside world for a while.
There's some power to this approach. If everyone did this--living simply and accepting things as they are, we'd all be much better off, I think. But it's kind of hard to pull off, and the downside is that not everyone will do it, so the shit's going to keep hitting the fan, and at some point the flames will be outside our door. So I tend to lean more toward a balance with Option 4.
Option 4: Action
You can realize that teaching (or whatever it is you do) has a role to play in helping to solve the problems that surround us. In a war, not everyone is on the front lines, and the battle against climate change, racism, COVID-19, and political division needs supply lines as well.
We live in the information age and yet a destructive ignorance abounds--ignorance about climate change, viruses, history and racism. And one thing I learned this past year is that somehow American schooling has failed to adequately educate the nation. But it's not about facts. We've failed to teach people to think critically, quantitatively, scientifically and humanely, and we need to do better. We have a huge role to play here as the world burns.
But ignorance and sloppy thinking are just the tip of the iceberg. There's also a tremendous lack of trust in our society right now. There's also a tremendous deficiency of empathy and compassion. And there's a tremendous loss of social support, despite all of our online connections. And if we are going to fight all of these "fires" that burn around us, we are going to need more empathy, compassion, trust, and social supports. We're going to need unity based on our common humanity. These skills of empathy, compassion and building trust, unity and social supports were not traditionally taught in school, but we need to teach them now.
And most importantly, our students need teachers that care, safe places like schools and the support of their classmates, as they watch the world burn around them. But they'll also need help because they're not going to just watch. They'll need help because they are going to fight the flames--the climate change, the pandemics, the racism and division. Because they are going to make the world a better place.
The Bright Side
So there's lots to teach while the world burns. There's lots to do. But there's also lots to enjoy, because honestly it's always a joy working with young people--they are so full of life and openness and hope and potential. And the world, burning though it is, is still so full of wonderful things to explore with them. And the journey of learning, even though it can be challenging and frustrating and painful at times, is worth it all as we grow from it.
In fact, sometimes the burning happens inside of us, also. Sometimes the old us gets burned up and something new grows. What's it like to teach while that happens?
Fires are a natural part of ecosystems, triggering renewal and new growth. We're teaching, or doing whatever job it is we're doing, in a time of fire and renewal. And my hope is that it will bring the same kind of regeneration to all of us--everyone of you reading this, and everything.
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
|Image via https://twitter.com/lunchbreath
1) Prioritize equity: Better to live in a just society than an advanced one. If forced to choose between a just society or school and a high achieving one, choose just.
2) Don't teach or test in a way that disadvantages some students.
3) If that means the quickest won't progress as fast because you can't support those who are less ready, then that's how it will have to be until we can get better at supporting and challenging everyone. "Do no harm" is the guiding principle.
4) Challenge every student, but not more than they can actually handle. Set the bar high. Let them try. Then adjust it, always trying to challenge them and inch it higher.
So how can we actually do this in the COVID-19 world?
Let's take a look at the primary hinderances kids are dealing with, and some possible solutions.
Access to technology
Problem: Many students of low socio-economic status lack fast, stable internet or computers. This can lead to an inability to participate fully in Zoom calls, especially if webcams are required.
Possible solutions: Don't require webcams. Provide asynchronous options for learning, and extended deadlines. Bring these students in to school, in-person and full time, if possible.
Problem: Many students have home environments that are not conducive to participating in live classes. Some are caring for siblings. Others have distracting activity all around them. Others may be embarrassed to show their homes or families.
Possible solutions: Same as above, plus multiple opportunities for learning and success. In other words, mastery-based learning. They need flexibility. They need to be able to take or submit an assessment when they are ready, not on a deadline. They may also need extra academic help and social-emotional resources and instruction.
ADHD, sleep issues, low conscientiousness, low SEL skills
Problem: Many students attempting to learn from home are hindered by a lack of non-cognitive skills: the ability to get up on time, stay awake during class, manage their sleep, schedules, and tasks, stay focused, manage depression or anxiety, etc. These things prevent them from accessing the curriculum.