When I tell adults that I teach
high school chemistry, the response I most often hear is, “I never liked
chemistry. Learning all those formulas and memorizing that big table … how can
you teach that?!”
I think about those comments. How can I teach chemistry in a
way that students will leave my class feeling that they actually like chemistry, and want to learn more? How can I make the
subject relevant and fun and content-rich?
Here is a Developmental Designs-inspired
idea that makes a big difference in student engagement in my
I love to integrate art projects
into the science curriculum. When we begin studying the Periodic Table of the
Elements, I have students research a chemical element of their choice and
produce a booklet full of clues that help identify their element. They enjoy
writing cryptic clues that eventually lead to the identity of their element.
They love using their artistic skills to show properties of their elements.
They love being creative and original and, most important, successful. For my
part, I love seeing a reluctant learner fully engaged in a chemistry
And there is a lot of learning
going on. Through their research, most students learn far more about their
element than they would from a lecture or textbook assignment. They learn
vocabulary words and chemical concepts on their own in a relevant context, and
it sticks with them.
I also love what I learn about my
students from these projects. I learn
about talents they have that may not have been evident on tests and worksheets
and lab reports. I learn about their creativity, persistence, and pride in
Long after the projects are completed, students talk about “their element.” They have taken ownership of chemistry! A student returned three years after graduating, looked at the Periodic Table in my room and said, “Potassium! That’s my element! It’s in bananas! Do you remember the project I did?” She may not remember all the formulas she learned at the time, but she learned that chemistry is relevant to her and can be fun. She left her chemistry class knowing that she could understand and do chemistry.
Try bringing art or
drama or movement into your subject area and see how the kids respond.
Share your ideas with us, so this whole community of
teachers can learn.
Ann Larson Ericson has been using the Developmental Designs
approach in her classroom for more than eight years. She teaches high
school chemistry and physical science at Community of Peace Academy, a
public charter school on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Posted August 2013