1st Days of School-Secret Sauce #2

Yesterday I wrote about my ‘Secret Sauce #1’. Today ‘Secret Sauce #2’ gives another piece of how I’ve set students up for success in chemistry. 

Starting in 2014 I made a HUGE shift in my classroom structure to account for a downward trend in test scores and retention in science classes beyond chemistry. While I could foresee how the pieces would move together, there was one loose one.

The out of class assignment piece was loose because it forced me out of my comfort zone. All of our teachers had trouble getting 100% assignment completion. We repeatedly received training on the ‘challenging lives’ of our students. But that never resulted in increasing the amount of homework completed, it simply increased my apathy. I understand (though never experienced) the difficulties with students completing work at home. While I sympathized I knew that I would be letting students down if I accepted it as an excuse. I know our students are busy out of school with items that are important to them and are also learning experiences.

I chuckle because I developed the ‘secret sauce’ after talking with students who had earned good grades but weren’t the top students. After learning their perceptions I concluded 5 things:

-assignments must be meaningful to the class, important to do for understanding

-give options for how students could complete the assignment

-outline the assignments ahead of time, examples here, so students have choice in when to complete them

-more than an average of 15 minutes is too much

-all of the above must be evident from the start of the year

A week before school I send a mass email to parents and students about the first assignment, attaching the paper. I tell them it is different than what is usually assigned by teachers so I want to give them a heads up. I encourage them to email with questions. Parent engagement and knowledge is a KEY component of the ‘secret sauce’ for student success.

My first assignment now is to either a) read a piece of paper or b) watch a video where students make either a butterfly or a rose.   In both the paper and the video it states that students should write down the key steps because we will be using them the next day. When they arrive to class, they create their object and we place them around the room.

Do students not complete it? After two years of the method only a few (1 or 2). During the time that everyone is crafting they write about why they didn’t do it and how they are going to resolve that. By the next day, they have completed it.

High assignment completion allows the class to flow smoothly. Many students have said they like the assignments in Chemistry because they help them understand the material. For me, students arrive with a similar background of knowledge, leveling the field for all helping when utilizing new methods of instruction.  They also lessen my stress in hunting down students who haven’t done their work.


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