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Hotchalk Global

Writing to Learn Chemistry

We tend to focus on the lab and active part of most chemistry classes but writing is a critical component of every scientist’s life. One year I had a medical researcher come in to speak to my class and she brought her research logs. These leather bound books with numbered pages and hand written diagrams and notes on every page were amazing to my students.

There is a power point to illustrate the power of this presentation at:…/Classroom_Science_Notebooks_Presentation_revised.ppt

I like to create links to student lives. I am always searching for ways to bring current events and seasonal happenings into the science classroom. I usually take that task on my own shoulders. This year I asked the kids to make links. This holiday season I asked the students to tell me what chemistry they are able to find in the holiday season. Their responses tell me that they are able to form links much better than I had thought. Here are a few samples:“We made cookies and we used two different types of frostings.

One became solid at a lower temperature than the other. So, I am wondering what is in that second frosting that made it stay liquid longer? “We made a snow man and even though the temperature was below freezing all week parts of the snowman either melted or the snow just disappeared. I think the molecules of the water in the snow changed to gas because you said it is going on all the time. So, part of my snowman turned to gas even under 32 degrees.”

“We are wrapping gifts and some of the dye on the wrapping paper comes off on our hands and others it does not. I think the paper that loses dye is because the dye is water soluble and a polar molecule while the other is non-polar. “We are using the same lights on our tree that we used when I was in elementary school. When we looked at metals we saw what the filament of a light bulb was made of. Why can’t they make the light bulbs we use in our regular lamps out of this metal so they last longer? Maybe they are the same metal and only thinner?”

“I’m thinking about indirect evidence. We never get to see atoms but we know they exist. So, if we never get to see Santa does he exist?”Each prompt gives me a clear path to guide my instruction. My writing prompt when they come back from holiday break is to ask them what science knowledge or concepts they used or thought about over break.

I expect the results will tell me not only a bit about their science understanding but even more about the lives of my amazing students away from school. That is probably the more valuable data.


Shannon C ‘de Baca is a passionate educator who teaches at Iowa Learning Online. Visit her blog at

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