Taking a risk with a mixed level class

Last year when subject choices were being made, I crossed a wee professional line. A complete blunder had been made (IMO). L3 PE had been put in the same line as L3 Chemistry. About 7 really good kids wanted to do to both. I told them (much to the displeasure of some… I got a wee telling off) to stick at it and put down both. I was sure that if enough kids wanted to do it, the option lines would have to change. But the timetable wasn’t to be shifted. So one enterprising young lass said something along the lines of ‘can’t I just sit in the back of Chizz’s class and learn Chem from there’? I marched to the powers that be and said that isn’t a problem. Being perfectly honest, I just didn’t see it being a problem. It’d be sweet I thought. A chance to do something pretty awesome even. Hell, I could even rock it!!

My HoD and TiC weren’t so convinced. Both for the students success and (kindly really…) for my workload. Letters got sent home to all students warning of the risks of a mixed class and how students needed to be aware that I was there for the L2 students, not for the L3’s. A concerned parent came in for a meeting that I was then not invited too (I cracked another professional strop at that point, as I hadn’t been consulted over the letter sent). Concerns were raised that the L2 students would not be getting a fair deal. I asked on the Chem teachers facebook page and other forums about peoples experiences teaching mixed classes. While some were positive, helpful and supportive, many were like ARGHHH, it is awful!!!

So a term and a half in, I am pleased to report it is the

single best thing I have ever done so far in teaching. 

Without a doubt, hands down, it has been amazing.

There are several things I think that contribute to the awesomeness

  1. The kids in the class, especially the L3 students (it got whittled down to 4 in the end), all want to be there. The L3 students are really thankful in their own wee teenage ways that I stretched some boundaries, went to bat for them and found a solution. The L2’s like having the feeling of being a bit more grown up, of seeing where the Chemistry goes, and I guess in general just getting to mix it up with the different kids. They are all willing to work hard, doing a little more independent work that they might have had to otherwise, and generally just get on with it. I think having the L3 students in the mix does help with the maturity of the class
  2. After their initial misgivings, my HoD and TiC came to the party and have been awesomely supportive by trusting me (and leaving me to it…) and supporting me as they can.
  3. The whole staff have been really awesome at letting me be flexible when I occasionally need the students out of different classes so it is easier for me to run assessments together. This has made the two internal assessments I’ve run way easier to manage in terms of practical gear and timings.
  4. Planning. Through a mixture of good luck and good planning, the timing are working really rather well. For example, the titration practical for L2 quant fell on the same day as tertiary day when all the L3 students where at the university open day. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I can combines ideas and make the class about the Chemistry rather than about the standard. I still don’t have this perfect, but I’ve made some progress I think.

Which is where the awesomeness actually is. I’ve always talked and tried to teach the students rather than the Science, but my further removing myself from the standards, it has reached another Level of awesome

Here is an after fact summary of how the redox unit went. My actual plan was way messier…. but this is pretty much how it panned out. I tried to include a practical in each lesson and we spent lots of time reacting magnesium with lots of things 🙂 It took about 3-4 weeks worth of lessons over about 5 weeks of disruptions over the start of the year.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 7.44.12 .png

Funny how you see the spelling mistakes after you take the screen shot

After redox, L2 started quant and L3 started organic. L3 was relatively self directed for the whole topic, a mixture of scipad work, office mix tutorials and practice exam questions. But there were times it came in handy. We used burning different alkanes, alkenes and alcohols as a context for yields. We reviewed the ideas of redox and also yields with the silver mirror text for aldehydes. Talking about properties of alcohols linked in well with intermolecular bonds and polarity of molecules. It lead into Hydrogen bonding for L3 so it will hopefully not be such a toughie when we come to it for AS&B. We all had fun making polymers and talking about different uses. When L2 were working on practice problems (which was sadly more often than I’d like…. something more to think about for next year) I had time to work with the L3’s. The L3’s results in the practice test weren’t great, but also it was a practice test and they just didn’t put the same effort into it as they did for the internals. Sigh

These two topics finished together and it was time to talk about bonds. Start of AS & B for L2, spec for L3. By talking about what bonds are it made me think more about the theory behind the spec assessment.  The L2’s got more of an understanding about why different types of intramolecular bonds are important. We talked about energy mostly. It was awesome.

Then while L3 worked away at spectra, L2 worked through shapes, bond angles and polarity. Which was a little bit linked into shielding for IR spectra. Mass spec tied in a little bit with calculating molecular masses. NMR not so much :). But we finished up the spec assessment just as L2 were moving into thermochem (this was more good timing, but I was hoping it would work out) so now we are going to talk about thermochem together as L3 start AS&B and L2 finish it off.

I survey the L2 students at the end of the 2 L2 internals.

It was mostly positive, with some good, practical suggestions around how they would like to spend more time. More notes from the board was still a strong feature of the feedback – so I have succumbed and done some more up the front teaching for properties of metals…

I love the comment that rounding is a dick – I think so too 🙂 But then that is an arguement for a while other blog post.

I also surveyed the whole class about how they thought things were going

So there is a progress report. I’m still having to go back to the standards and am still thinking about how I can lessen this. I’m trying to think of ways how I could prep students for success in exams without doing endless practice questions (any suggestions out there…..?????). But the students at both levels are (mostly) really enjoying the experience, there are 2 that are tolerating it that I am think about how I can support more, I am LOVING it, and the students results have been outstanding  in the internals (including one student who has done L2 and L3 together – he is going to skip the exam for Organic but pretty much do everything else). One L3 is going to give scholarship ago and so it is easy enough to funnel some extra readings on top of the independent work they are doing anyway and I’d like to think the recap of some L2 stuff will help.

Next steps are L2 will do organic while L3 do a little bit of 3.1 and periodic trends and intermolecular bonds for AS&B. Then both will start with chemical reactions – I think I’ll start with acids (Ka and Kb for L3), then rates for L2 while L3 take on buffers……, then equilibrium proper for L2. Then we are finishing with ID’ing ions for L2 which if I can time it right will be perfect for solubility in L3.

So I am really glad I stood up and said hell yeah, I’ll help you kids out. I’m really stoked I saw this as an opportunity rather than a burden. But most of all, I’m relieved that rather than a disaster, is is stretching me, growing me, challenging my and ‘feeding’ me. It has really kept me going this year. Reminded me of why I teach and let me move with more confidence away from just teaching standards and more into teaching the kids.

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