Tag Archives: 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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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.


Dear Students

I just want to tell you that it’s time to take responsibility for your own learning.  I’m trying my best.  Are you?

I had a student ask me the other week why I kept lower their grade.  Why I was lowering their grade.  Not how they could help their understanding.  Not what they could do to increase their grade.  I was lowering their grade and they wanted to know why I was ruining their GPA.  Seriously.

I’m not ruining your GPA or lowering your grade.  I enter grades in the gradebook based on your performance and understanding.  Why are you turning in assignments half completed and expecting full credit?  Why aren’t your taking responsibility for your learning?

I had another student ask if they could have extra credit.  This student is missing half of the assignments I have given out.  Why should I go out of my way to give you extra credit when you don’t do the regular credit?  Why aren’t you taking responsibility for your learning?

I am at school at 6 am every morning and I leave school around 3:30 pm every afternoon.  I work nights and weekends to ensure that you have fun in class, are engaged, are stimulated, and are learning the material.  I bring papers home and ignore my pets and friends because I need to grade and provide meaningful feedback.  I lose sleep at night because I’m trying to figure out new and better ways to teach concepts that I know are difficult.  Please don’t mistake this as a complaint.  I love my job (despite what pop culture leads you to believe about teachers).  I really enjoy working with you and teaching you and watching you grow into the young adult that you will become.  I don’t mind grading and planning on my off time.  I understood the time commitment of the job when I signed up.  So I don’t mention these things to complain.  I mention them to illustrate my dedication to you.

I know you have other things going on.  I know you have sports and clubs and jobs and friends and family and stuff.  I don’t expect you to live and breathe chemistry, but I do expect you to try.  I do expect you to do the work.  I do expect you to ask questions.  I do expect you to get help when you are struggling.  I don’t think it unreasonable to ask that you think about things and challenge yourself.  You will certainly be expected to once you leave the comfortable halls of high school.

So please, start taking responsibility for your learning.  If you don’t know, ask.  If you don’t understand, get help.  I am here for you and I am always happy to help in any way that I can.  But if you don’t do the work, don’t blame me for your grade.

Sincerely,

Your teacher


Too Hard

School is back in session and I have a whole new group of kiddos, including 2 sections of honors chemistry.  These are the top kids in their class; these are the kids who most likely want to go into science (either get a degree in science or are pre-med).  They are smart kids who believe a B is failing.  Then they get to honors chemistry.

I’ll be the first to admit that chemistry is hard.  It’s this weird combination of math and concepts and application that most students don’t see in high school.  I don’t just require them to know the information, I require them to apply that information to new and interesting situations.  Not all classes do that.  History is just names and dates to these kids.  English is just writing some stuff down.  Math is just solving for x.  And it’s easy for them.  Suddenly they find themselves in a situation where it’s not so easy.  They don’t have all the answers and they don’t always know all the answers right off the bat.  It’s frustrating to them.  I totally get that.  I’ve had classes like that.  But I truly believe that those type of classes made me a better student, and maybe even a better student.

I had a class in college that was super hard.  It was called terrestrial arthropods and it was a 400 level class.  It was the only invertebrate class that semester and I needed it to graduate at the end of the semester.  I dreaded that class.  For a week before classes started, I seriously debated if I should drop it and take a different class the next semester.  But that would delay my graduation and I was done with school.  So I took the class and I got an A.  It was the most difficult, time consuming A I even received.  It was also the best A I ever received.  I actually worked for that A.  I put blood and sweat into that A.  I fucking aced that class, damn it!  It taught me something (I mean, besides how to ID an insect and how spiders breathe):  just because it’s hard doesn’t mean I can’t do it.

Ok, back to chemistry.  So, I hear students talk in the hall.  One thing I hear my honors students say is “that class is too hard”.  And I have to think to myself “Too hard?  We’ve done, like, maybe two things.  They had to count significant figures and design a lab.  If that’s too hard, well shit…”  I hear it a lot in class too: “That homework was too hard.  That test was too hard.”  I’m trying to figure it out.  Is it really too hard, or do they just not want to do the work?  Sometimes, I’m not sure.  I don’t think it’s too hard.  It’s not easy, to be sure, but too hard?

My knee-jerk reaction is to make it easier.  “Ok, I’m sorry it’s too hard.  Here, let me hold your hand while I walk you through this step by step.”  I want them to enjoy my class.  I want students to want to take the class in the future.  I want students to do well.  That’s when I realize that I’m already doing that.  Students do enjoy my class.  Just today a student was telling me that they “loved this class” even though they weren’t sure about it in the beginning.  I would be doing my students a disservice if I made it any easier.

My message to students is a simply one: Try harder.  I know somethings it’s difficult and you don’t understand.  Take a break.  Go watch a show, listen to some music, play a video game.  Then sit your butt back down and figure it out.  Life isn’t going to get any easier and if you give up on something just because it’s “too hard” at first, you’re going to miss out on a lot of stuff in life.  Besides, your A in honors chemistry will mean a lot more to you than in any of those “easy” classes.  You just have to work at it.


What Students Really Need to Hear

I just said the same thing to my classes today because they didn’t do some homework. The point wasn’t that they didn’t do their homework. The point was that they didn’t even try because it was “too hard”. That thought drives me nuts! As I told me students: Step up and figure it out. Life’s hard, get a helmet.  This essay is exactly what I wanted my students to hear.  The point of school isn’t the academics, although those are good things to know, the point is to step up and learn to overcome difficulties.  Thanks for writing it. 🙂

AFFECTIVE LIVING

It’s 4 a.m.  I’ve struggled for the last hour to go to sleep.  But, I can’t.  Yet again, I am tossing and turning, unable to shut down my brain.  Why?  Because I am stressed about my students.  Really stressed.  I’m so stressed that I can only think to write down what I really want to say — the real truth I’ve been needing to say — and vow to myself that I will let my students hear what I really think tomorrow.

This is what students really need to hear:

First, you need to know right now that I care about you. In fact, I care about you more than you may care about yourself.  And I care not just about your grades or your test scores, but about you as a person. And, because I care, I need to be honest with you. Do I have permission to be…

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Why Does the Arizona Government Hate Children?

Dear Arizona Legislators,

Seriously, why do you hate children?  Or, a better question: why do you hate educating children?  There is a $1 billion surplus in the Arizona state budget, yet you’ve squabbled over giving schools more money. And it’s not like we’re asking for a lot of money, either.  Some estimates put the number at over $33 million given to 60 schools in 18 districts.  That’s 3.3% of the surplus money.

Let me repeat that.  That’s 3.3% of the extra money that you collected but are not spending.

My district would receive $4 million of that money.  And it’s money that we desperately need.  That $4 million would allow us to hire new teachers, which will lower class sizes.  I currently have 40+ students in each of my classes and I am not alone in my school.  Some of my fellow teachers have 45+ students in their classrooms.  And 35 desks.  There are literarily not enough places to put our growing population of students.  That money would help buy more computers so that every student gets a chance to use technology.  Instead of having to plan out the use of a single computer lab among all of the teachers on campus, we could utilize technology as it would best benefit the student.

That’s what education is supposed to be about.  It’s supposed to be about the student: every student.  Instead, you’ve allowed students in poorer areas to suffer.  The kids that need a good education the most are the ones least likely to get it because of something as stupid as 3.3% of a billion dollar surplus.

But you have done one thing for us: you’ve lowered out achievement scores and destroyed many children’s futures.  You’ve dropped us from 48th in education to 51st in education.  And you’ve made me never want to vote for the lot of you again.


The Interwebs are wonderful

There are plenty of trolls on the Internet.  We’ve all seen it in the comments on every social media site and every online article.  So much so that some major web publications are actually shutting down their comments.  People are jerks on the Internet.  They fight with each other.  They nitpick each other.  They are mean to each other.

And then there is a silver lining.  Amazing things can happen that make you realize that the Internet is a wonderful tool that can bring people together.  This is one of those stories.

I’ve been listening to a science podcast called Science..Sort Of.  It’s a fun podcast that deals with science in pop culture, science in academia, and fringe science.  There’s also some stuff about beer and movie trailers.  All-in-all, a fun listen.

I’ve made a few comments, left a few voice messages, and interacted with the hosts through various social media throughout the years.  I’ve developed a sort of friendship with these people that only the interwebs can create.  But that’s what makes the Internet so awesome.

About a month ago, I reached out to three of the hosts of Science…Sort Of to see if they would be interested in talking with some of my students.  I sponsor the Science National Honors Society chapter at my school and I wanted my students to get the opportunity to talk to real scientists about what they are doing and how they got into the field.  Three of the paleopals (title of the show hosts) stepped up to the plate and today my students got to interview them.

It went so well.  Much better than I could have hoped for.  My students had great questions and the paleopals had great answers.  Everything from why did you pick your major to what classes did you take in college to how is college different from high school, this interview opened up the eyes of some of my students and took away some of their worries about moving on into the big wide world of college, responsibilities and the future.

None of it would be possible without the Internet.  These are people that I started following because I like their podcast.  I follow them on Twitter and Google+, I like their pages on Facebook.  I’ve been able to interact with them through social media even though we all live across the country and have never actually met each other face to face.  Because of the interwebs, 11 high school students from a small town outside Phoenix, AZ were able to talk to and interact with two Ph.D students and an engineer in order to learn more about what options the future holds for them.  Because of the Internet, I could reach out to other who are willing to provide learning opportunities to anyone who asks.

This is a pretty wonderful thing. 🙂


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