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  • Conner Emery

Studying Change: Discussing Distance Chemistry

When chemistry class enters conversation, it tends to evoke a similar thought process. “Labs,” declare many, with their own personal connotations of incidents, calculations, and more. However, distance learning shifted Clayton Valley students away from this physical, personal experience.

So how did students start learning from ones and zeroes?

To investigate, I spoke with Ms. Amanda Wilson, one of our Chemistry and Honors Chemistry teachers. “Many of our smaller labs were already written up as assignments,” she explained, and they just needed to be formatted with an online mindset so “students could still analyze the data.”

Labs are used for their application in “lab skills and data analysis,” Ms. Wilson continued. They’re intended as tools of the curriculum—watching metals oxidize or examining colored flames with lab practice may be a memorable experience to develop, but viewing from home and “[shifting] more heavily towards data analysis” can serve the same purpose with appropriate practice.

Given this conceptual and practical mentality, I asked Ms. Wilson about the approach to distilling essential learning ideas. “Mainly repetition and having a plethora of resources available,” she replied. Emphasis was likely a key point with a shifted platform and less time, but she considered that labs confusing to students may “...have benefitted from a more question-and-answer type format.” This was not detached from a familiar sentiment, however. “In person, a teacher can circulate around the room checking students’ work and identifying any pieces that need to be retaught. With classes completely online, we must rely on students to reach out when they are stuck, which is not always something students will readily do.”

Reaching out for help can be daunting to some, but Ms. Wilson highlighted fellow teachers for their contribution to the online transition. In addition to established labs, she explained that “[seeing] what other teachers were doing for similar labs” and “[reaching] out to educator groups” informed the distance process alongside her own evaluation of “our main labs”.

Hybrid learning has continued the newfound curriculum outside of extra support and “minor tweaks,” she explained, and it looks to be a unique year. “We weren’t inspired to develop new labs, but to discover more online lab opportunities. We have our standard go-to’s, but this year forced us to find alternatives to many of our labs and activities to allow students to have the closest-to-normal chemistry experience as possible through a computer.”

Distance learning has led to a new perspective on all classes this year. With respect to chemistry, it’s something to be curious and appreciative of that we’ve gone from beakers to buttons.

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