Monday, October 3, 2016

five for FRIDAY weekly Linky Party Homecoming Week

This past week was homecoming week. Need I say more? :)

I Started Teaching Sig Figs
One of my favorite things to teach in chemistry is Significant figures. And this is odd because it used to be one of my least favorite. We are just at the beginning stages, but so far so good!

We Dressed Up as Emojis
Wednesday was Wild Card Wednesday, so the science department decided the dress up as emojis. It was fun!

We Buried the Chief
Thursday was a sad day, however. We buried my best friend's stepfather, whom she also called "daddy." He was an amazing man, father, grandfather, firefighter, coach, and friend. His battle with cancer was fought bravely and courageously. The legacy he left behind was inspirational. 


I Sang at His Funeral
I'm honored to have been a part of one of the most touching services I've ever been to. Over 10 years ago, Johnny asked me to sing at his funeral. Not sure why it came up then, but I didn't forget about it, nor did he. In April of this year, standing on the top step at the church, he told me what song he wanted..."When I'm Gone" by Joey and Rory. I believe he connected with the song for a couple of reasons: 1) She too lost the battle to cancer and 2) He wanted his family to know how much he loved them, and even though he was gone, they were going to be alright. He loved them dearly, and loved the community as well. The overflowing sanctuary, community members lining the streets, the flowers, the food, the tears, and the smiles as stories were told, was a testament to his life and the love he felt for others. I love to sing, but I don't like to do funerals. I'm an emotional person. I cry when I'm happy, sad, angry, and pretty much all other emotions. But, Johnny believed in me. He even believed in me more than I believed in myself. And he did that for all...not just me. I'm thankful for having the opportunity to have had him in my life and a better person for it.

Had Another Former Student Drop By
Friday was a tough day. I was expected to teach, but the tears kept wanting to flow. "I've got to hold it together", I kept telling myself. Surprisingly, I had a student that I taught last year that popped in to say "hey". I say "surprisingly" because this kid is now too cool for school. He's a non-reader, been in some trouble-maker, with a most contagious smile. And he dropped by to say "hey" at a most needed time.  I don't know why he chose that day to drop by or that particular moment.  I haven't seen him all year.  But he couldn't have picked a better time...ending Homecoming Week 2016 with a much needed smile.  

Sunday, October 2, 2016

6 Steps to Help Your Students Master Sig Figs

Call me crazy...but I LOVE teaching sig figs (aka significant figures)!  I'm not sure why I do, but I do.  It could be the challenge that goes along with trying to get students to understand how to use them and why to use them.  Or maybe it is just my obsession with numbers and data.  No matter the reason, I find it fun! You can even teach them in 6 simple steps.

Step 1: Show them why you use them

After a few years of struggling to teach the concept of significant figures, I realized that the students didn't understand why they were being asked to use them. Consider the number 3.00. Because of their math background, they ask "Can't I just say 3?". When you answer "No!", they don't get it. It's the same, right? To them it is, so we must teach them that in science, it isn't. Show them significant figures using any measurement tool (like a digital balance). Measure the mass of an object. If the tool shows the mass of the object to equal 2.1 grams, ask them if we would report the mass of the object as 2.11134 grams? It helps them to see that we can't report measurements to any more precision than they have. You can also use a POGIL to introduce the topic. It's a way to FLIP the topic. It served the same purpose but it guided their discovery of why we use significant figures. It worked well!  NOTE:  You may notice that this section is longer than the others.  That is because I strongly feel that this is the MOST important part.  If the students understand why significant figures are used, they are more open to the idea of using them.   

Step 2: Teach the rounding rules

I like to start out with the rules for identifying what makes a number significant and the rounding rules. Baby steps! Go through each rule and give examples. 

Step 3: Practice makes perfect

Give them an assignment that helps them practice identifying the number of significant figures in a piece of data. Also allow them to practice rounding to various numbers of significant figures...1 sig fig, 2 sig figs, 3 sig digs, etc. 

Step 4: Teach the rules for the operations

Remind them of the report data and measurements to the appropriate number of significant figures. Now, teach them the rules for the basic mathematical operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). 

Step 5: Practice makes even more perfect

Practice with it all together. Give them an assignment to complete (or multiple assignments if your students are like mine)  in which they have to perform the operations and report their answers to the appropriate number of significant figures. Or, create a lab in which they take measurements and report their answers correctly.     

Step 6: Assess your students' understanding

End your lesson with an assessment that measures their mastery. Give them a task or test!  These are some of the Significant Figures activities and assessments I use.

What are your best tools for teaching sig figs?