Posted in Teaching and Learning

Playing around with dry ice

Last week was the week before senior exams. My L1 class had just finished an internal the week before, as had my L2. I felt assessmented out before assessment week had even begun.

Luckily, my year 10’s have been doing good old acids and bases. A big part of how I deliver this unit is based around acids and bases in nature, so ocean acidification due to increasing CO2  is something we spend some time on. Shells in acid go quite porous after a while, and different types of shells react differently in acid.

To this end, I picked up some dry ice on my way to school to show what happens when CO2 bubbles through solutions. And then, we had fun – so here is some ways I used the dry ice with my classes

Water Acidification (Ocean acidification)

A very easy demo – fill a gas jar (or any biggish jar) with a dilute alkali solution (I used NaOH). Add some universal indicator, drop in a chunk of dry ice, and watch the colours change due to the decreasing pH of the solution. For all of my classes, this was a good revision of the pH scale, indicator colours, relative ion concentrations and for the L2 & 3 chem, strong and weak acids.

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This also lead to really good discussions with all of my classes that day (Yr10, L1, L2 & L3) about why the gas was ‘cloudy’. Carbon dioxide is colourless, the cloudiness actually comes from water vapour (think steamy breathe on a frosty morning) and also about why the gas rises when the dry ice sinks with my Yr 10s… density is a weird concept that some still aren’t quite comfortable with yet.

Just add dry ice to water for instant awesome

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just the cauldron look is memorising. Swishing your hands through the cold gas is creepy, a year 10 asked if this was what a ghost would feel like. The container eventually froze to the bench, which lead to a discussion around condensation and water vapour in the air.

For my seniors, we got into quite an involved discussion around enthalpy change. It requires energy for the bonds to break in the dry ice to release the gas. This cools the temperature of the water. Which can then result in the water freezing (ice), which means that the water is making bonds and releasing energy.

If you want to go a step further, add some dishwashing liquid

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And you get lovely water vapour filled misty bubbles. There is something every satisfying in popping these bubbles, but they are also intriguing to look at, as usually bubbles are transparent and colourless, not cloudy and white.

Filling balloons

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Normally I’d do this with latex gloves, but balloons were on hand so we used those. It was a really nice reminder about solids vs gases for most of my classes and how the gas particles are more spread out. But with the my L3, I talked briefly about entropy, and how the gas particles are more disordered, so even though it was an endothermic reaction, it was still spontaneous.


What dry ice lesson would be complete without blowing stuff up. When I was at university, a lab mate and I were constantly filling little Eppendorf tubes with dry ice and putting them under each others chairs. Old camera film canisters are perfect, or a berocca tube will work quite well too.

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Putting out a candle

Didn’t get a pick of this one, but a really nice, easy thing to do is to leave some dry ice in a container for a while. Light a candle and pop it in a bowl. Then pour the CO2 gas over the candle and it will go out. It is really cool – and convinces the non-believers that there really is something going on.

Freezing stuff

If you can get some methanol or ethanol, you can make a really good slurry with the dry ice. Which you can then freeze stuff like flowers in – all of my students loved this, and the poor old spring daffodils in the garden took a bit of a hit 😦 It was especially good for my L2 Chemo students to talk about boiling points and melting points of different substances, and why does water freeze when the alcohols didn’t.

So, I got a whole lot of ‘exam revision’ out of my seniors by simply having something for them to play with. I had some of the best learning conversations I have had all year with students looking to make a mess. Some of my students who were really struggling with concepts around enthalpy and bond energies had some good light bulb moments. On a terribly selfish front, I had such a fun day playing with dry ice. Even after 4 lessons in a row, it didn’t get old, and the ideas are adaptable for different levels.

Which reminded me of the need to play. Learning through play is really nagging at me at the moment – Mr 2 almost 3 is a daily example. But even with my knowledge around how useful, important and enjoyable it is, I still don’t always make time for it. So I need to MAKE the time.

So, my next project will be for L1 Science exam revision – we are going to make one of these 🙂 hopefully we can get it to work – and do some tinkering and playing around on the way.

NB. If you are going to use dry ice in your class and want some safety tips, feel free to get in touch. But do be aware that dry ice burns can be serious, and HURT!!

Posted in Professional learning

BioliveChemEd reflections

Last week I was in Wellington for BioliveChemED. And it was rad. Amazingly awesome – although I was really tired going in so I did struggle a little with the motivation aspect.

I started writing this post wanting to think about my highlights. But reading through my notes, there were so many good sessions and ideas, I am just going to write a novel and recap them all

1) Peter Wothers – I learned some new Chemistry! When sodium reacts with water, and then ‘explodes’ it isn’t the hydrogen gas exploding. It is a Coulomb explosion – where the build up of positive sodium ions repel each other with enough ‘force’ to generate an explosion. It was reported in NATURE of January this year – and it is always awesome to see even ‘old science’ getting some new understanding.

Peter also had come cool explosions – including using a violet laser (I have ordered one….) which, as it is higher energy light, is able to set things off when red and green lasers can’t. My favourite was using his own blood for luminol to recreate the CSI scenes, and I am going to try to do this with my classes.

2) Laura Trout – POGIL

I really enjoyed this session – Not so much about POGIL, but about the use of data to transform your teaching.

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I took a lot of notes in this session – including a reminder to blog about it 🙂

A couple of things really struck me – A) That OVER half of students were failing a course/dropping out before POGIL. Surely, it must have been a pretty tough or poorly designed course to have that sort of result attached to it. So while I am glad they changed and used POGIL, I wonder if the results did look a little skewed and there could have been other factors at play.

B) Students didn’t feel like they learned anything if the teacher didn’t say it. That the perception of ‘learning’ is that it has to come from the ‘teacher’. This is an important point for me to consider as I think about developing student agency – if all is takes is a 5 minute teacher discussion at some point during the lesson to lead a discussion for students to feel they have been taught what they have learned, then that is a good strategy. Not all students will need this, but I think it is a good middle step for me.

3) There was a talk from Primary Industries. Normally I would kind of switch off for these, but they were really well done, had excellent examples of real applications and clear pathways for study for students. This is an area of growth for NZ, and we need our students to be innovative, driven and doing Science.

4)Ian Shaw – Molecular Mimicry

When I grow up and get big, I want to present like Ian Shaw did. His presentation was amazing, informative, funny, he acknowledged his research team, acknowledged ideas that weren’t his and he maybe didn’t fully understand. It was really cool. And his message about soy and plastic products really hit home for me – it isn’t just one in a low dose in the environment. There are multiple mimics, all in low doses but if you take them together, there is a significant dosage with unknown consequences.

5) John Evans – Breakfast Seminar

I am so glad I went to this. The food was amazing, and once things got underway, it was very easy to pay attention despite the early hour. The talk discussed how physical forces also affected the way a body functions, and that this is often forgotten about when you are getting into biochem speak. But different forces can affect gene expression, or even other phenotypics differences – like finger prints. So how finger prints are formed is going to form a big part of my genotype/phenotype explanations for L1 Sci from now on.

And the food was AMAZING

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6) Roy Tasker

Like the POGIL presentation, I really enjoyed this session because of the pedogogy behind it. Roy talked about working memory, and how it can really only hold 7 +/- 2 ideas. So when we ask students to complete tasks with more than 7 steps, we are effectively ‘titrating’ out their capacity to succeed.

He also gave some good tips about using models effectively – it isn’t enough to just show them. Even pointing out that ions in a lattice are vibrating is important, and that water molecules don’t just swoop in and grab them, it is a tug of war situation as attractions are overcome. There are resources – including some great animations – at the website

7) There was a session on hot topics for Chem. My crazy wool obsession went into overdrive with a talk from Jim Johnson on how they are using gold nanoparticles to created ‘opulent’ ‘exclusive’ wool. Imagine a crochet baby blanket made of nothing but merino and gold. I went up after the talk and touched the wool. AMAZING!!! Even the carpet wool felt like heaven. So hopefully it becomes commercially available for all the crazy crafters out there

8) Rebecca Priestly – Communicating controversial Science

I really enjoyed this session, and did my best to corner Rebecca afterwards into promising to do a #scichatNZ on this topic. The best advice was ‘people remember 3 facts’ so if you are trying to undo a misconception, stick to the 3 most important facts. Mentioning the misconception can also be damaging – people will here there idea again and cling to that instead of the new information you are trying to give them.

We also did a great wee activity, we got split into 4 groups, and each given a topic. We were asked to talk about some perceptions and political views on that topic and note them done. Sadly we ran out of time, but the aim was for our piece of paper to go to the next group, so they could talk out some of the issues, and then on again so they could find some solutions. So hopefully watch this space 🙂

9) My FAVOURITE talk was Siouxsie Wiles – it was like being back at Uni again. She talked about using fluorscence to make animal models for studying disease more ethical by reducing the number and disease load of animals used. It was amazing. Having used so many animals in my thesis, I was really pleased to see progress in this area. She also stressed the importance of not relying on antimicrobials – our golden window of being able to ‘fix’ disease with them is almost over. Which will not just affect colds and coughs and ear infections, but surgery, cancer treatments and all sorts of things. We must be more selective when using them.

You can find out more about her work at this website

I also presented, one on using OneNote in the class room and the other celebrating #scichatNZ’s birthday!! The one on OneNote was harder than I expected – it is always so difficult when you have a room on completely unknown people in front of you – some of whom had used OneNote before, and some who hadn’t. I tried to show a range of things, and did my best to respond to questions. Because I was showing a live assessment, it was a little challenging as I couldn’t share this fully with the group. But I feel I help a few people out, and saw some people doing awesome things (especially a Yr 10 Science course from Rathkeale) so it was worth while. You can see my OneNote that I used for the presentation (and conference notes if you are interested) HERE. My presentation on #scichatnz was more of a general discussion around the benefits of getting out there and getting connected. So many willing educators to talk to and be inspired by. We talked about barriers to sharing, with people thinking they ‘aren’t good enough’ being a common idea, which is such a shame, because, as I am learning, there are plenty of people better and worse than me. But you can always help someone.

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As always though, the very best thing was talking to people face to face. Catching up with the Lovely and Amazing Paula Hay:) @AKeenReader came and meet us for drinks, and as always she was inspiring and measured, and so free with meaningful and useful advice. I got to meet Tony Cairns and find he is just as energetic and helpful in real life. I had time to catch up with some Dunedin people that I just sadly never see in Dunedin. And this being my 3rd Chemed, there were some familar faces around it was good to catch up with too. As much as I enjoy the ‘digital’ catch up sessions, nothing beats sitting down over a cuppa and yarning away.

I should also acknowledge that I was support by my school, the Otago Science Teachers Association and Education Perfect for the cost of getting my to the conference. Thanks guys 🙂 It was great conference that I got a lot out of.

Hopefully see you in 2 years…. 🙂

Posted in Professional learning

#TeachmeetNZ meets Science – Awesome happened

A couple of weeks ago I get an e-mail from Cath at the Science learning hub asking me if I wanted to be involved in a Science #teachmeetNZ. I hadn’t participated in an online teachmeet before, but was keen to help out in anyway I could, and I love working with Cath, so of course said yes and was given the roll of twitter broadcaster. It also meant I got to worth Sonya van Schaijik again after she did an amazing job moderating a #scichatNZ chat on sharing best practice.

teachmeet me

wearing my #scichatNZ hoody for the occasion.

Like all things, there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, and there were practice sessions, checking timings, review slides, making revisions etc. Then there were the last minute kinks and practices, and then we were live. I really have to acknowledge the hard work and amazing support the Sonya put in – nothing seemed to bother her and she always had an answer. She was also incredibly understanding of my occasional dropping in and out due to my todler being a spoon about going to bed.

It was a little bit weird being the broadcaster on the day- because I wasn’t involved in the actually GHO I couldn’t talk directly to the presenters. I did flick a few messages via twitter or e-mail, and it worked really well.

The quality of the presenters was exceptional. I am constantly amazed at both the quality of educators in NZ and how generous they are with their time.


the highlights for me were

@MissDtheTeacher talking about removing the ceiling from students learners. I only wish I had the freedom of timetable and content that she has. But there were still things for me to think about – especially in my approach to teaching my juniors. Why do I have to stop at the ‘prescribed level’? How can I differentiate my lessons so I can meet all of my learners needs? And most importantly, how can I model life long learning and learn along side my classes rather than being the sole bearer of knowledge.

@MattyNicoll is always awesome sauce. His advice – Don’t wait for it to be perfect to get started: Just get started – is something I need to remember. So often it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the quality of resources and educators out there and fall into the same trap my students do – not wanting to start in case it is not good enough. So I need to keep making the effort, finding the time and working on making my lessons more accessible at all times.

There was also an interesting discussion around the ‘stats’ of when the youtube clips where being watched – 2am in the morning before internals was a common time. Is this a good thing or a bad thing, yip students should be asleep, but also at least they are accessing the info at some point. I used to pull all nighters before big uni exams….. horses for courses perhaps

@TheMrsRogers did a fabulous presentation on the importance of being a connected educator. Her advice was heartfelt and summed up my thoughts exactly.

@2footgiraffe talking about making 6secondvideos was something new for me, and I am definitely going to look into using this with my classes. Short, sharp awesomeness sounds perfect for my Yr 10 class.

@Doctor_Harves talking about Kahoot – I have seen this before (at U-learn I think) and had forgotten about it, but will also explore using this with my classes.

I also really enjoyed learning more about the Royal Society Science leadership scholarship from Jennie Lyall, and was super impressed with the work Dianne Christenson – some of the bubble experiments her students had done were awesome. And while coding isn’t a strength of mine, is was interesting to learn about how Belinda is using it in her classroom – coding is on my list to get to.

You can watch the teachmeetNZ session recording via the link below

There will be another #teachmeetNZ happening on April 11, and then another science focus on november and I will be queueing up to help out again. It was a really rewarding way to spend an hour (and a bit) on a saturday afternoon. I also learned alot about running digital meetings and some tricks for presenting in this format. I had some interesting conversations with fellow educators, and got another teacher from my school signed up for #scichatNZ. So by accepting a ‘job’ I learned a whole lot and had a good time doing it.

Thanks everyone, and see you at the next one

Posted in Professional learning

Twitter has a new level

So, #scichatNZ has really taken off. Matt Nicoll did an excellent post on how he sees it, which has inspired me to do one too, but as more of a relfection of my journey to get here.

I got signed up to twitter at a school PD day – it was a novelty, I tweeted some questions, felt cool following some people I looked up to, and then promptly forgot about it.

Then when I joined the organising committee for ChemEd I thought I could use twitter to help advertise the conference. So I jumped back on, and made a ChemEd account, and it was really useful. Some of the speakers we had coming were on twitter, we picked up a couple of sponsors, and it helped get the website out (the website is a whole other IT journey, I learned a lot making it and even more about how to get search engines to find it!!)

After ChemEd I still dabbled, mostly enjoying the updates from New Scientist and the like, and slowly connecting with more teachers.

Then I set up the account for SciCon, and really started to see a bit more of what twitter has to offer, spending more time on it, and connecting with more and more people.

And then I shifted schools. Don’t get me wrong, I love my current school and think it will be great for my teaching long term, but moving from a integrated decile 10 BYOD environment with a big focus on e-learning to a state co-ed with no BYOD was a shock to my system. It made me think about why I taught certain ways and why. It made me go back and think about excellent tools I had forgotten about like picture dictation or barrier activities or a whole heap of others. Making differentiated lessons took on a whole other level of challenge (I don’t do this well) and utilising the laptops and other tech available to me well rather than to be flashy has taken some time and practice.

But this is where I have found twitter amazing. There are so many ideas, supportive people, resources and help. Dunedin has a relatively small Science teaching community, and being able to connect to people all over NZ has really broadened my horizons. @NZSciencelearn made pinboards of resources at the flick of a tweet. People had practical and kind suggestions for lessons and topics. I have learned more this year than any of the earlier 4 years in my teaching, and will be a much better teacher for it. That and boys love to set fire to things, and I can always count on them to be into a prac.

I was reflecting on this at a core PD day with Karen Melhuish Spencer as she was talking about twitter. I had been tweeting throughout the day and we had a lovely ‘oh, you’re @ibpossum/ you’re @virtuallykaren moment. I said I was really enjoying twitter, was getting an enormous amount out, but wished there was more science specific content. Rather than say, ‘oh, that is a shame’ Karen told me to make it happen. She would help, and we could target October for connected educators month

So I did. I was going to Scicon, thought about it a lot, checked out and disregarded VLN, and decide to do a presentation on twitter and introduce the #scichatNZ hashtag and get some people on board. NZ Science teacher kindly did a piece to advertise it was starting up. It was a success of sorts, a few more teachers got signed up, the #scicon14 hashtag was well used and provided lots of feedback and discussion, and people started using #scichatNZ. So I thought I’d sit on it, and wait till October for some events around connected educators.

I hadn’t counted on Matt Nicoll and Chhaya Nayaran. They weren’t prepared to wait till October, and they grabbed the bull by the horns and together (with help from Danielle MyBurgh, and also the #engchatNZ starting up) we got it up and running week 2 of term 3. Despite the fact I have never meet them (and some of the humour/sarcasm of my comments gets lost in typing) it just seemed to come together and we all did what we needed to. It didn’t seem like a chore, or even work.

And it was awesome. Just mind bogglingly awesome. As the most experience twitter tweep, Matt hosted, and was amazing. We had such a wide range of tweeps, and I was so stoked to see so many primary teachers got involved. I made heaps of new contacts, got some new resources, ranted about teacher education, and it was just amazing.

So twitter has a new level for me – self generated content, not just by me but by others almost specifically for me. And I feel like I am contributing rather than just participating. Although I have a lot to learn, and a long way to go.

Hopefully #scichatNZ will continue to grow, and I will continue to grow as a teacher with it.

Posted in random ramblings

Term 3 madness

So, term 3 is here already. I am trying to hit the ground running…

Today I had my first go explicitly using Solo taxonomy. I used the hexagons (generated by the free ap here) as a starter for my yr 11 Genetics topic. It worked really well, and I found my students where already familiar with a lot of the vocab, and the discussion around which groupings to make meant they helped each other remember. So it was a great success, and I will bring them out in two weeks and use them to help the students see how much progress they are making.

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I am also going to blog this topic, so will have 2 blogs up and running this term, Yr 12 Chem, which is a work in progress,  and Yr 11 Sci which is still under construction.

I have been inspired to blog these classes by Matt Nicols work blogging for his classes. It means I have a resource for students who are away, or that the students can access for revision, or for when I am away. It is providing me with a good outlet, we are not a BYOD school but it is an easy way for the students to access their learning at any time. I have found student reluctant to access material I put on the ultranet as they are simply not used to accessing information in that way, and I am hoping this works as a lead in for them.

If nothing else, it will help me stay on top of my planning and my lessons.

I am also really looking forward to implementing some of the literacy strategies I picked up at SciCon. I had been thinking about ways to get (my boys in particular) more structured paragraphs, and this timely reminder of the basics was fantastic.

And I can’t wait for the first #scichatNZ chat to go live in just under 2 weeks. I can’t believe the support it already has, and am incredibly thankful for the other amazing people who have picked it up and are running with it. And I have already learned heaps – about setting up facebooks pages and using Google hangouts in particular.

And somewhere I need to fit in open days, tournament week and interchange, Science Fair, reports and Gate evenings, as well as shifting labs around as 2 labs are being demolished next holidays, so the term promises to be very busy.