Category Archives: science education

How to measure oxygen

I wanted my honors chemistry students to see how chemists of old discovered the make-up of water using test tubes, batteries, and pushpins. The process would allow students to measure the amount of gas produced in each test tube and see it was a two:one ratio. All of this sounds great. Until I tested it out for myself…

The brass pushpins made hydrogen gas ok, but I couldn’t get oxygen. The silver ones worked a little better, but I still wasn’t able to produce oxygen gas. I tried salt water, I tried baking soda in water. I tried vinegar in water. I spent 3 straight mornings not grading or helping students, but trying to figure out this stupid lab. Jus when I was ready to give up, I found a site that reminded me graphic conducted electricity. So I made graphite water electrolysis devices.

Step one: poke holes in plastic cups.

Step two: insert pencil lead into said holes.

Step three: Use paraffin wax to secure the pencil lead.

Step four: Make thirteen more so that every pair can have one.

Step five: Test it to make sure it works

Step six: Cry when your 3rd hour class breaks the lead on half of them and you have to spend half of your lunch fixing them.

Step seven: Find out how much this set-up costs on Flinn Scientific and add it to you list for next year.

All and all I don’t think a single student got the 2:1 ratio of hydrogen to oxygen but they had a lot of fun setting it up and breaking apart the water. We’ll leave discussing just what the heck happened to Monday when I’m less frazzled from helping them set up the stupid thing correctly.

Oh, and if anyone knows a better solution to use besides salt, baking soda, or vinegar, please let me know in the comments!

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Flipping the classroom

This year I decided to experiment with my classroom a little bit.  I don’t like to lecture.  I find it boring and can see when the students just tune out.  So this year I decided I am going to flip my classroom.  So far so good.

So what does a flipped classroom look like.  Instead of students being bored to tears with a lecture every day in class and then going home and struggling with homework, we do the opposite.  I let them be bored at home and watch videos or read notes and we do the homework part in class where they can get more help.  This approach allows students to take their time with their notes, go back and re-read/watch the parts that were confusing, and jot down things that they need help with while at home.  Then they come to school and do the practice, lab, or activity in class to get a deeper understanding of the materials.

There are pros and cons to flipping the classroom.  The biggest con is the fact that some students will not actually watch the videos or read the lessons.  So far, I have found that a small number of students fall into this category.  I tie their lecture notes to a small participation grade which helps motivate students into doing their part.  I also make sure that what they are learning at home directly ties into what we are doing in the class the next day.  So far, students seem to understand the need to come prepared to class.  The other major con is the actual learning outcomes.  Much of the research about flipped classrooms is behind paywalls, which means I can’t access it as a teacher (which is its own problem in education and other fields).  The articles I do have access to touch on this problem but do not explore it directly, so I’m not sure if flipping the classroom is actually an effective way to reach students.  Alls I can do is look at how it affects my students and see if I want to continue next semester.

The pros are pretty great though.  I have time in class to help students when they are stuck on problems.  I have time to do more labs and hands-on science with students.  I have my students up and doing things or working together or actually doing chemistry in the classroom.  Those are all things that have been shown in multiple studies and reviews to help students (Carini, Kuh, & Klein, 2006; Chen et al, 2014; Lazonder & Ehrenhard, 2014; Jong, Linn, & Zacharia, 2013).  The more assistance and feedback students receive from their teachers, the better they do.  And if having them work more in class means I can give them better feedback, than I will continue to flip my classroom.

Flipping the classroom is definitely a difficult thing to do.  It requires lots of work on my end to create short videos for my students.  But it’s something I am going to continue doing for this semester.  I can look at test data and student data to see if this method works for my population of students.  Because in the end, it’s all about doing what is right for students.


Here we go again

School has started!  Tables are in groups, white board markers are ready, seating charts are made, and syllabus have been read.  We are officially back to school.  Happy end of summer, fellow teachers.

Every year, I want to tell my new students so much.  I want to tell them that I am there for them, truly.  I want them to succeed and I want them to understand and I want them to try their very best.  I also want them to fail and I want them to struggle and I want them to say that they don’t get it.  I want my students to experience what it is like to have a super easy time with something.  I want them to experience what it is like to have to struggle like hell to get something.  I want my students to experience life in all the nitty-gritty (but not too nitty-gritty because they are just 16 after all) that I can offer.

This may sound weird, but I tell all of my students that they will fail at some point in my class.  I don’t mean that they will get an F.  I mean that they will not do something as well as they thought they had.  They will have to give up on something they didn’t want to.  They will not meet their expectations.  I tell them that because I want them to know that failure is not the end.  Yeah, I know that quiz was hard and you got a C on it when you wanted a B.  What are you going to do about it?  Yeah, I know you didn’t understand the instructions and got a B instead of an A.  What are you going to do next time?  Because I think that when someone fails is when they really start to realize what they are made of.

I also let my students know that it’s okay to be wrong about something.  I’m wrong somethings.  I mess up and do things incorrectly.  And, you know what, that’s ok.  I’ve made it this far and to crashed and burned out (mostly).  I think we don’t let students fail enough.  I think we don’t let students try to pick themselves up without help.  I think we put the safety net too high.  Oh, there is a safety net, to be sure, but maybe we can let them try to figure out how to fall correctly before showing them that the safety net is there (maybe that metaphor got away from me a little, but you know what I mean).

So students, I really do adore all of you.  Yes, all of you.  But I am going to be harsh and hard and enforce things that you don’t like.  I am going to push you and push you because I know you can do better.  And I am going to help you out to the best of my ability every time.

Welcome to Ms. Doskocil’s class of 2017-2018.


Disney Does It Again

Moana’s theatrical debut was Thanksgiving weekend, so of course, like the faithful Disneyite I am, I went to see it that Wednesday.  And Disney hit another one out of the park – home run for all the points.  Moana follows the title character in her journey with Maui, demi-god and hero-of-men, and HeiHei, a dumb chicken, to restore the heart of Te Fiti.  And it is delightful.  If you haven’t yet, run out and go watch it.

Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!!!!!!

Moana is an amazing character.  She’s the next chief of her people and actually takes her responsibility to heart.  She wants to go beyond the reef that protects her island but she turns away from her needs to be the daughter and leader her father and people expect her to be.  She still dances with the waves with her grandmother, but she still helps in the day-to-day administration of her people.  When needed though, she doesn’t shrink away from her destiny and follows the ocean to find Maui and return the heart of Te Fiti.  Moana is a refreshing Disney “Princess” (in a dress with an animal side-kick, thus princess) because she actually admits at one point in the film that she has no idea what she’s doing, she doesn’t know why the ocean choose her, and she really isn’t anything special.  She’s just a girl who loves her family and loves her island and loves the ocean.  Which makes her very special.

Maui isn’t quite your typical side-kick either.  In the movie version of the legend, Maui is a shape-shifting trickster who stole the heart of Te Fiti as a gift to humans.  As a result, he lost his magic hook and can no longer shape shift.  He definitely does not want to help Moana put the heart back and tries everything to get away from her, including stealing her boat, throwing her off her boat, and tricking her into going to realm of monsters.  In the end, though, he comes to recognize that Moana is just the girl to succeed on their mission and helps her out.

The third star of this movie is the music.  The songs were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who wrote, among other things, Hamilton and In the Heights), Opetaia Foa’i (founder of the group Te Vaka, a contemporary Pacific music or “South Pacific Fusion” group), and Mark Mancina (worked in the music department for Disney movies from Lion King to Brother Bear and Tarzan).  This soundtrack is a force of nature by itself.  The original songs capture with their beautiful lyrics and the Pacific Island sounds.  It doesn’t hurt that new comer Auli’i Cravalho, voice of Moana, has a powerhouse of a voice.

In the end, Moana is a wonderful addition to the Disney collection that will inspire young girls to go after their dreams while keeping their family in their hearts.


5 years and beyond

A new study shows that 17% of teachers leave after 5 years in the profession.  That number might be a little low due to the recent recession too.  A previous study had shown that up to 50% of teachers left the field after just 5 years.

I completely understand why.  I’ve been a teacher for 5 years now and I get it.  I know there are a lot of people out there who understand that teaching is difficult.  There are a lot of people who really appreciate teachers for what they are doing and how hard they work.  I know that there are a lot of other professionals who work just as hard as teachers do.  But unless you are there, in the classroom, you really can’t understand what I do on a daily basis.  I don’t want to complain about it, because I do enjoy my work, but I just want to say that I understand why people choose to leave after 5 years.

I teach HS chemistry.  It wasn’t the subject I thought I would be teaching (I have a degree in zoology for crying out loud) but I’ve come to absolutely love it.  I’m even in the process of completing a MS in chemistry education to both further my education and to help my students earn college credits for taking my class.  I want my students to get everything they can out of my class.

But sometimes I really wonder what the heck I’m doing and if it means anything at all.  I was doing a lab on intermolecular forces and polarity the other day and my students where… just not getting it.  This is after we’ve gone over polar bonds, polar molecules, intermolecular forces.  They’ve had demos and reading and group work and computer simulations.  We’v had class discussion and they’ve written about it and answered bell work about it.  We’ve been doing this for a week and still… they are not making the connections that I want them to make.  I get that it’s only been a week and I know that it is difficult stuff.  That doesn’t make it any less frustrating to me.  Because it is frustrating when you pour your heart into making these lessons and making sure that it is fun and engaging and hits all the DOK levels and all the learning styles and all the Blooms levels and all the other stuff that your principal and mentor and college degree says should be in a lesson to make it a good lesson.

Your students are frustrated too.  Because they can see that you want them to understand and expect them to understand and they still don’t.  So they blame you.  You didn’t teach it.  You went too fast.  You didn’t help them.  Or maybe they blame themselves.  They are too stupid or just “not good at science (or whatever subject)”.  They give up because they think it doesn’t matter and no one cares.

Except I do care.  I care a lot.

So I understand why teachers leave after 5 years.  I want to remind those teachers of all the good times.

I have a wall in my classroom of all the notes that students have left me.  I read through those every time I’m having one of those “nothing I do matters” days.  They are notes saying that I’m a good teacher, that I made a difference in one student’s life.  They are notes saying I was fun and the student enjoyed my class (even though it was hard).  They are notes telling me that the student didn’t like science before my class but now they do.  They are notes reminding me that what I do does matter, even if a student still doesn’t understand polarity at the end of the day.

I met up with some former students at ASU the other day.  They were all taking chemistry at college and they said something about how their college class is basically my class, just a little deeper level.  But they get it this year and were really glad that they took my class their senior year.  Oh, and they still have all of my notes and they’ve been really helpful.  They are also dying inside and haven’t slept in a few days, but chemistry is easy this year.

Maybe I don’t connect with every student.  Maybe there are some students who don’t like me or hated my class.  But there are more students who liked my class, who enjoy me as a teacher, and who think that what I’m doing matters.  These are the students I want to stay for.

In January, 2017, I will officially have been a teacher for 5 years.  But I won’t be leaving this profession.  Even if it is only for those few students, I matter.


Everything to say, nothing to write

I haven’t really written anything since the end of the summer.  This happens a lot to me.  I think I have these great things to say and then life catches up to me and suddenly I have no time for anything but work and school.

There are so many times I’ve wanted to sit down and write something: a story, a blog post, an opinion piece, whatever.  But I find myself thinking “who will even read this”?  Ok, I know people will read it (and big thanks to all of you who do!), but I feel this imposter syndrome when I have things to say.  There’s this idea that I’m just this nobody with nothing important to say.  Or nothing original to say in any case.  I’m never sure who to get past it.

I feel like this is the reason I haven’t tried to publish many things yet.  The one time I’ve tried, my story was on the short list but cut for the final draft.  We build these protective walls around us to keep that kind of thing from being painful.  I told myself that it doesn’t matter anyway because I’m not a written, I’m a teacher.  I don’t have any ambitions to get my work published.  So I don’t write, I don’t submit, and I let the creativity bottle up until I feel like I’m going to explode.  Probably not a healthy outlet, to be sure.

I always set these goals for myself – two blog posts a month, 1000 words a week, submit to at least one publication a month, run every other day.  I’m horrible at keeping goals.  I don’t know how people do it, honestly.  I find that I just shrug it off and put it in the back of my mind.  Out of site, out of mind, no stress kind of thing.  I’ve tried to change this, but I’m not really sure how.  I don’t have a lot of motivators and the things that do motivate me, video games, tasty baked treats, pumpkin spice coffee, are things that I will do or eat anyway.  I don’t feel the need to limit myself because I didn’t do x, y or z.

So my blog sits for months at a time old posts and barely any traffic.  So my stories sit for months at a time with blank pages and lost ideas.  So the world never sees my words or my imagination.  So I just let the ideas rot in my mind and never put them to page.

What does it matter anyway?  The earth is going to be swallowed by the sun in 10 billion years.


Why? Why not?

I consider myself a scientific skeptic.  I try to look at claims with a healthy dose of science and evidence.  I like to consider what the evidence says before I make up my mind about things.  I like to take a step back and ask “wait, what’s the proof for that?”  I like to doubt things it they sound implausible.

Of course, that often translates to my friends and family as being a doubter, as being contentious, as being difficult, as not believing in things.  I think my friends and family see me as being a nay-sayer to the things they believe such as homeopathic medicine, global warming, and the existence of ghosts.

I got into skepticism due to two podcasts: Science…Sort Of and the Geologic Podcast.  I wasn’t always a skeptic.  I believed in ghosts and spirits and Bigfoot and the conspiracy behind global warming.  And then I started listening to these two shows and they talked about science and skepticism in an easy-to-understand way.  Those podcasts lead to others such as Skeptoid and The Skeptics Guide to the Universe and to more involvement with local skeptic groups.  That involvement lead to more research and more understanding of how important it is to examine things critically and not take claims at face value without good evidence to back it up.

This, of course, has lead to family and friends to start saying “there was a study about this” when they tell me things.  Great, I’m glad there was a study about it.  How good was the study?  How controlled was the study?  Did you actually read the study or just the reporting on the study?  What conclusions did the researchers reach?  Where those conclusions in line with the data they actually collected?  It’s a nuanced process that needs to be followed.  I understand that can’t be for everything.  I’m not going to doubt it when someone tells they hit a deer or they feel better when eating a gluten-free diet.  I just also don’t like to take everything at face value.

Sometimes it’s hard to describe why this is important to me.  I think George Hrab said it pretty well in his TEDx talk, so I’m just going to leave that link here.  The video is about 23 minutes, but it’s well worth the watch if you are interested in learning why skepticism is important.

GWC-keep-calm-and-question-everything-3Sometimes it seems like it is all pointless and why should I care.  But most of the time, I think it’s important to continue to inform people that they shouldn’t believe every miracle cure or health claim or wonder product out there.  They should stop and say “hey, wait a second, how does that work?”.  It’s okay to question how a product works and to demand that a product or procedure has been rigorously tested to ensure that it actually does what it should do or prevent what it claims to prevent.  So I’ll keep questioning and just hope that my family and friends realize I’m not trying to be a jerk, I’m just trying to make them understand that science is complicated and claims should require evidence.

Image credit: www.quotehd.com and larochecollege.blogspot.com and globalwomenconnected.com


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