How I Teach More Chemistry in Less Time

November 29, 2022

How I Teach More High School Chemistry in Less Time

Lynn Swanson is a chemistry teacher at Stillwater Area High School. Winner of the Stillwater’s Partnership (Plan) Award in 2012, Lynn is an innovative and effective teacher, always in search of methods to improve student outcomes. Lynn is also a member of the Pivot Interactives 2018 Chemistry Teacher Fellow program.

Like many teachers I talk to, I find it challenging to fit the entire Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry curriculum into the limited minutes offered by a traditional high school schedule. It is particularly difficult to run college-level labs in 52-minute class periods. With this in mind, I am always searching for innovative ways to incorporate rich lab experiences that make every minute count. Using Pivot Interactives this year, I’ve found that I am actually adding more lab experiences to my curriculum. What a welcome change to constantly paring down! 

Pivot Interactives activities are not replacements for labs. But labs, especially inquiry labs, rapidly soak up precious hours of instructional time. In addition, with more than 160 students in my classes every day, the time it takes to set up, troubleshoot, maintain the lab equipment means that I spend less time on other important tasks, like individual student feedback. 

Students observe and compare surface tension between different liquids, and make connections between the molecular structure, intermolecular forces, and surface tension.

Pivot Interactives activities allow students to learn and practice skills more often and in new ways than they would normally use in hands-on lab. Students practice experimental design, measurement, data collection and analysis, and error analysis using Pivot Interactives. They make and test predictions, discover trends in data, and focus on the concepts and the chemistry. 

I’ve used Pivot Interactive to conserve instructional time, add more inquiry, and expose students to new things in my course in three ways: 

1. Replace Labs

I replaced labs that require significant student setup or data collection time with Pivot Interactives activities, allowing students to have more opportunity to explore these concepts and ensure techniques run effectively.

One of my favorite Pivot Interactives activities is the Reaction Rate Activity. After trying this lab myself, I decided to replace our traditional, hands-on experiment with this Pivot Interactive activity. I found it saved time while introducing students to more chemistry! The traditional, equipment-based lab demanded lots of class time setting up technology and then subsequently waiting 20+ minutes for the reaction to occur out of students’ view, with the computer collecting the data during the reaction. In performing the Pivot Interactive Integrated Rate Law Lab students immediately see the reaction. Using the innovative Iris tool, my students measure the light transmission, see, and directly measure how concentration affects light absorption. Then, with the integrated data tables and graphs, students immediately plot their data to see that the log of absorbance is proportional to concentration. Seeing and measuring for themselves how transmissivity changes with concentration helps make Beer’s Law more concrete. With Pivot Interactives, students had more freedom to explore the phenomena, use science practices, and draw conclusions.

Using the Iris tool with the Reaction Rate Order- Crystal Violet and Sodium Hydroxide Activity lets students directly measure changes and see Beers law for themselves.
I found it saved time while introducing students to more chemistry!

2. A Productive Pre-Lab

I’ve used Pivot activities as a pre-lab activity to demonstrate to students how to perform the hands-on lab. Working through the Pivot Interactives prepares students to strike out even farther on their own.

The Using Heat of Solution activity served as an excellent warm-up activity for future hands-on thermochemistry experiments. Students had the opportunity to observe how to collect relevant data to answer energy questions. As a result of this pre-lab Pivot Interactives activity, I found students were able to write their own lab procedures much more efficiently. By completing the Pivot Interactives activity, students also anticipated possible problems, eliminating typical mistakes that can extend the time it takes to complete.This is a refreshing change from traditional word problems.Having learned the basics in Pivot Interactives, I can give them more freedom to design their own method in the lab.

Students identify substances using heat of solution.

As a result of this pre-lab Pivot Interactives activity, I found students were able to write their own lab procedures much more efficiently

3. Redos, Absentees, & Assignments

Lastly, Pivot activities have been useful as replacement assignments for students that missed in class experiments, or for students that made errors and need to redo an experiment.

Pivot Interactives activities are so helpful for students that miss class or when I have to miss class. I appreciate having a resource to provide students an inquiry experience outside of the classroom. Absent students and I can use our limited time face-to-face time going over key concepts and questions rather than setting up and making up missed labs after school. 

The challenge of having enough time in AP Chemistry and General Chemistry classes will be something for all chemistry teachers to navigate for the foreseeable future. Using Pivot Interactives, technology can be used to enrich the science experience, give students unrestricted exploration of phenomena, and actually save both students and teachers time, while increasing the amount of science practices used in our course.