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Flipped Chemistry

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Introduction. I wrote this post primarily for professors that might be considering flipping their classrooms. The tips and tricks below I developed while teaching General Chemistry to freshmen for eight years at Angelo State University. Of course, some, if not most of these tips would apply to upper division classes as well.


First Tip. Bookmark Flipped Chemistry. It is a great resource for classroom flippers.


First Day. Explain yourself. Most freshman students have never seen a flipped classroom. So it is a shock. Explain how it works, but as importantly, explain why you are flipping. I found that the students tolerated the approach better if they thought it would improve their grades. Tell them that the process of learning is on them, that only they can put in the effort to learn the material.  Assure them that you are there to help them and that you want them to succeed. You are there to coach them and to provide them with exercises and help. Go over their sources of help. List them explicitly: you, the book, on line tutuorials or videos from the textbook company, videos that you have produced, tutorials run by you, office hours, the tutor center, the library, the internet, Khan academy, and so forth. See my post, Hello Class.


First Day Quiz. Give a them a basic math and chemistry quiz on the first day. See what you are up against. I gave a first day quiz that was about half simple math problems and half basic chemistry problems. The quiz mostly helps to identify students with math troubles (see It's That Chemistry Algebra). I once gave a more extensive chemistry quiz on the first day and tried to correlate it with final grades. There was no correlation. Gumption trumps prior knowledge. For more about what I am calling gumption see Brandon Tenn's post Developing Grit.


Videos. Make the videos mandatory or not, in either case assume that the student do not watch them and plan accordingly. Alternatively, use technology to ask questions during the videos. Be sure there are points at stake and that the students can't continue without answering the questions. See my post To Video or Not to Video on my website.


Before class. The important thing is to try to get the students to engage the material before coming to class. Videos might do it. Reading might do it. I assign reading and provide links to videos when I can find them. I also assign online homework before every class. Usually, the students skip the reading and go straight to the homework. If they can't work the homework, THEN they go to the book or the internet. For more about using homework in the flipped classroom, see my post Homework as Engagement.


Group Worksheets. Absolutely have the students work in groups. Do not let them turn in one worksheet per group. This encourages the slackers to talk about football or relationships while the only motivated student actually does the worksheet. If everyone has a stake in the worksheet there is at least interest in finishing as many questions as possible during class. If you haven't got your own worksheets, I have posted all the worksheets I used for General Chemistry I and II on my website. Here is the link to my Flipped General Chemistry Page, which contains a description of how I flip and a link to the worksheets. You need a password for the worksheets. Send me an email at JohnOsterhout<at>JohnOsterhout<dot>com with a link to your professional page and I'll send you the password.


Choosing Groups. When I first flipped my classroom, I made up groups randomly at first. After the first exam, I choose one student from each quartile of the class for each group. This was a disaster because the top student would do all the work while the others slacked off. The method I settled on was to make up the groups by major. Honors students were together, as were pre-meds and pre-dents, regardless of major. Mostly, the motivated students were in the honors/pre-med/chemistry major groups. The other groups were at least all in the same boat. Since their majors were all the same, they were having about the same experiences in their classes, and had the same motivations (mostly get through chemistry.) For more on groups, see On Groups.


Homework. I have noticed that many professors using a flipped classroom still give homework as a summative exercise. Since you are essentially doing homework every day in class, it seems a better idea to use the homework daily to prepare students for the material to come and to reinforce the ideas the day after the class. See Homework as Engagement, which I alluded to earlier in the "Before Class" section. Exceptions that I make to the daily use rule are to give online homework as a review before exams and to use online homework for bonus exercises.


Keep Up the Heat. Try to get the students to engage the material multiple times. I try for 1) the reading, 2) the online homework before class, 3) the daily quiz at the beginning of class, 4) the worksheets, 5) homework questions on the next days assignment about the previous days material, 6) exam reviews, and finally, 7) exams.


Quizzes. Use daily quizzes at the beginning of class. The idea is to put a premium on preparation. I usually allow the students to take the quizzes as a group. Group quizzes engender discussion. I sometimes spring an individual quiz on them to encourage them to keep on top of things. The students hate the individual quizzes after they have done a few group quizzes.


Worksheets. I use paper worksheets. The students work on them in groups during class and I post the answers immediately after class. They are required to turn in their worksheets the following class day corrected and complete. The get a check (100%) credit or an X (0% credit). I know some of the students copy the answers and don't think about it. However, I know from the number of mistakes that get caught that some of the students are using the worksheets to understand the material. I did not find the perfect approach.


Large classes. I have been lucky in the last six years to teach classroom sections of thirty two students. If I were required to teach large classes I would consider using classroom responders to do the "worksheets". One could do a series of problems in the usual fashion or give the students a worksheet accessible on the web and let them enter answers at their own pace. I would also try to find students to serve as in-class helpers.


Summary. Be interested. Be kind. Be helpful. Be fair. There is no perfect way to flip. Give it a try. Enjoy!

It's a beautiful day in the land of Flipped Chemistry. The students arrive with bright eyes and inquiring minds. They've done the reading, achieved a basic mastery of the concepts, and are now ready to polish their newly-won knowledge in their groups. I usually wake up right at that point.


When I first flipped my General Chemistry class, I assigned reading and hoped for the best. I had assigned reading when I was lecturing and found that almost none of the students actually did the reading, but hope springs eternal. After all, this was the new, improved, flipped General Chemistry class. Surely the students will do the reading.


Nope. Most of the the students arrived with zero preparation, zilch, nada, nothing, goose egg, squat. Here we are doing the worksheet: (Student) What's this here? (Me) That's the first thing in the reading and it's right there in bold in the book in front of you. Arrrrgh! (That was me, again. Although I do try not to say that last part out loud...)


My class evolved over the next few years. Now I use online homework to elicit engagement with the material before the students arrive in class. My flipping scheme goes like this: 1) reading assignment, 2) online homework, (in class the next day) 3) group quiz on the reading assignment/homework, 4) worksheet. Repeat until we run out of semester.

In my mind, the students do the reading then attempt the homework, going back to the book as needed when they work the problems. Ha! In reality, they almost universally skip the reading and dive right in to the homework. I know this from direct reports. The students tell me right out that they go straight for the homework. I've seen them in action. They open the homework, read the problem, fire up the online textbook, and scroll rapidly until an equation appears that has potential. Then they try to plug and chug. If that fails they scroll to the next equation. The process is very utilitarian. It cuts out most of the time wasted, you know, thinking. A shame, really.


Is it worth having the homework at all? The first that happens in my class is a group quiz. There are usually seven problems, five from the reading/homework and two from the previous worksheet. I overhear a lot of conversations that start with "There was one like this on the homework last night." So, yeah, the homework is worthwhile. It engenders engagement in the material even if it isn't exactly the kind of engagement I was hoping for.


I know that many flipped classes use videos for an introduction to the material. My experience is that student hate the long ones (45+ minutes) and will only use the short ones (six or so minutes) as a last resort.

Some classes make the videos mandantory. Many of my colleagues report that enforcement is a problem. In some cases, it is possible to monitor who has opened the video but not how much of it was watched. Of course it is not possible to tell if the brain was on while the video was playing.


I have talked with colleagues who are using systems in which you can post questions during the videos that have to be answered before the video can continue. Giving points for these questions motivates the students to participate and, possibly, even learn something.


I am interested in what you do to engage the students and, for that matter, in how you flip.
I've developed a questionnaire that I've sent to all the people who got the password for my worksheets. The returns have been interesting. I hope to post about this in the future. If you would like to participate, download the flipping questionnaire and email your answers to me at JohnOsterhout<at>JohnOsterhout<dot>com.

Merced College (3600 M St, Merced, CA, 95348) will be hosting the 2nd Annual Active Learning Conference on January 9th 2019.  This one-day conference will feature a keynote address by Dr. Nika Hogan, an English professor from Pasadena City College and the National Coordinator for the Reading Apprenticeship Project through WestEd and over 10 breakout sessions to choose from.  Dr. Hogan's keynote address is:


The Other E-Learning: The Empathy Gap and its Relationship to the Equity Gap
In this session, I will invite participants to explore the relationship between equity gaps in higher education and empathy gaps in our culture more broadly. In recent years, empathy has emerged as an important topic of study. Brain research has revolutionized and legitimized the scientific study of how we feel, and in higher education we have become acclimated to the affective revolution, from Paul Tough’s drawing upon attachment theory to help us understand grit to Brene Brown’s assertion that empathy is the antidote to shame, and thus the great enabler of learning and innovation. It is clear that empathy is a critical discipline, a Habit of Mind, and without empathy there can be no equity. But how do you DO empathy? I will propose that the answer is simpler than we think, and perfectly within our reach as college educators.


Workshops for this conference include breakouts on active learning in STEM and non-STEM classes, writing good multiple choice questions, best practices with clickers, and others!  Click on the conference webpage below for more information on the conference program, registration form and fees, and breakout session schedule and topics.  This conference includes both breakfast and a (hot) catered lunch.  Registration for this conference closes mid-December.  If you have any questions on the conference or on making travel arrangements, please send me an email at brandon.tenn (at)  Hope you can make it!

John Osterhout

Flipping Survey

Posted by John Osterhout Nov 6, 2018

In a post last May, "What's Your Style". I invited members of this community to answer questions about their flipping style with the promise that I would summarize the results at a later date. About the same time, I sent an email to everyone who had requested a password for my worksheets (available free here) and included a questionnaire that could be filled out and returned. I sent out about one hundred fifty questionnaires and got four replies. In this post I summarize the results of five responses (the aforementioned four plus me).


Questionnaire for Your Flipped Chemistry Class or Program

Which chemistry classes are you flipping?

Four of the respondents were flipping General Chemistry, one was also flipping a high school honors class and one was flipping a one-semester GOB (General, Organic, and Biochemistry) class for pre-nursing students.


What got you interested in flipping?

All respondents cited improving student success and student engagement.


What is your typical class room size?

The responses ranged from 15 (high school) to 200-250 (the pre-nursing GOB course). The average class section size for the college students was 47 with a range from 23 to 90.


If your institution has multiple sections of chemistry what percentage of the students overall are in flipped sections?

The high school class was taught in a situation were all the classes were online, so 100% of the sections were flipped. The pre-nursing GOB class was a single section, so also 100%.  In the General Chemistry classes 11-30% of the sections were flipped. In my case, I choose to flip while the remain professors teaching the General chemistry sections did not. I am assuming that this situation applies to the other professors in this survey.


Are you using videos?

Three respondents reported using videos in their classes.


Please describe videos.

One respondent inherited videos from a predecessor which were 45-60 minutes each. The respondents two sections made their own videos. In one case the videos were 5-10 minutes in length and in the other the videos were mostly in the 4-6 minute range.


If you are requiring the students to view videos, how do you enforce this requirement?

Of the three respondents that used videos, two had no way to enforce their viewing, instead relying on the principle that without the videos, the next day's in-class activities would be difficult. In one case, the respondent used PlayPosit software to overlay questions during the videos that the student had to answer in order to proceed through the video. Those questions amounted to 5% of the course grade.


What do you ask the students to do before coming to class?

Two respondents required reading and videos. One required videos and taking notes. One required reading and online homework then gave a quiz the next morning. One required only the reading and gave a quiz in the morning.


Are you using online homework? If so, which system are you using?

All five respondents report using online homework. Interestingly, five different systems were used: McGraw-Hill Connect, Pearson Mastering Chemistry, MacMillan Sapling, Norton SmartWork, and self-written homework delivered as a .pdf file through Canvas.


Please describe the nature of the homework exercises.

In three cases the respondents use homework in the traditional way, at the end of weeks, chapters or sections. The reported homework exercises vary from 10 to 30 question. I give homework daily, before the students come to class, to encourage engagement with the material. The professor of the nursing class, who is dealing with 200+ students in a section, uses Sapling to provide the in-class exercises. The exercises are 20-35 questions and any unworked problems become homework due the following Monday.  


What do you typically do in class?

Three respondents do worksheets in class, but use different approached: One does worksheets in groups. One does a short quiz and a "mini-lecture" before the worksheet and did not report whether the students are working in groups. I give a group quiz before the students do their worksheet in groups. The online class uses Adobe Connect to engage in an online synchronous discussion. The large pre-nursing class uses Sapling to provide in-class exercises with unworked problems becoming homework.


It was an oversight that I did not ask explicitly about group work. I'll modify the flipping survey to include such a question.


Do you have any data comparing before and after flipping?

Four respondents say no or not yet. The fifth reports seeing a shift in grades toward more As and fewer DFWs.


What is your personal impression of how flipping is working?

Respondents: 1) "...students have commented that they like being "active" during class rather than listening to me drone on... and on... and on." 2) Online: "We have limited face-to-face time (even that is video conferenced) so this is the  most effective way to engage with students, correct misconceptions, demonstrate value, and guide applications." 3) "It seems to be working very well, the one section I’ve flipped is doing significantly better than the other sections." 4) I like it and won’t go back to traditional lecture.  There was an initial resistance among students who thought “teaching = lecturing = learning” but showing the grade changes has helped. Students expect my class to be flipped due to increased institutional memory. 5) "I am the only professor using a flipped classroom. My sections almost always have the highest averages on the common exams and the American Chemical Society final."


Any special insights about flipping your class?

Two respondents answered this question: 1) With large classes and no TA support, a colleague and I started an intern program where students get credit for serving as interns in the class to help with questions. It’s a win-win-win situation.  The students get extra help in the classroom from near peers and often share things with them that they wouldn’t with me, the interns get experience in communicating with many different people and reinforcing their own knowledge, and I get much-needed help in the classroom as well as feedback from the interns.  My class is 99% pre-nursing students and most of my interns are as well.  Students have to earn high grades in the course to serve as interns so it’s a recognition of their work. Additionally, the interns that are already in nursing school can share their experiences with the pre-nursing students. 2) The better students thrive in the flipped classroom. The less-motivated students are immediately out of their comfort zone. It is easy for them to fall into the "lecture equals teaching" trap and conclude that I don't teach. I combat this by explaining early on about increased learning and better long-term results using the method. I also emphasize how much help is available and how much that I, personally, will provide.


Is there anything else you want to share about your flipping effort?

Three respondents answered this question: 1) One challenge seem to be getting the students to watch the videos and take notes ahead of time (at this point they all seem to be doing that).  Another is the disparate levels of ability coming in. However, this seems to be taking care of itself as the better prepared are being very generous in helping the less prepared students. 2) So much work and ongoing effort but so worth it! 3) Flipping isn't a magic bullet, but it works better than the alternatives.



There isn't one path to flipping your classroom. Here are my takeaways:

  • Be kind. Be supportive. Be sure your students know that you are on their side and that there is lots of help available.
  • Before the students come to class put some class credit on the line to encourage them to engage the material.
  • In class, also have class credit on the line to encourage engagement. I have quizzes at the beginning of class every day. This encourages the students to pay attention to the reading assignments and homework from the day before.
  • *Have the student work in groups, but give them credit individually.
  • Have an exercise such as additional homework or worksheet questions from the previous worksheet to reinforce learning.
  • Don't wait. Flip your class now!


Big thanks to the respondents: Kyle Beran, then at The University of Texas at the Permian Basin, now at Angelo State University, Nick DeMello, Joe Caddell, Yosemite Community College District, and Allison Soult, University of Kentucky. May your students thrive.


If you would like to participate, download the questionnaire here, fill it out, and email it back to me at

johnosterhout<at>johnosterhout<dot>com. If I get 10-20 more responses, I'll consider updating this post.

Dan Esterline

Flipping Fridays

Posted by Dan Esterline May 14, 2018

After reading about flipped classrooms and attending an NSF-sponsored cCWCS workshop (Chemistry Collaborations, Workshops & Communities of Scholars) June 20-23 2016, I decided to try out flipping my organic chemistry lecture. My class meets for lecture every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for 50 minutes. I decided to try out flipping my organic class on Fridays only as an experiment during the fall semester of 2016.


First I had to become comfortable with recording my lectures. After investigating several software programs, I settled on the use of Debut Video Capture. Several other software programs were just as good, but Debut was simple to use and easily recorded my computer screen and my voice very well. An additional incentive was a free 3-month trial followed by a one-time fee of $19.99 for use of the software. I’ve used this software for two years now and find no reason to switch. I show PowerPoint slides on half of the screen and Paint software on the other side. With the Paint software, I can draw anything necessary, or I can pre-copy and paste items before recording. These recorded lectures are posted a week in advance by downloading them onto YouTube and providing the URL to my students. Sometimes I either collect a copy of their notes or quiz them to provide incentive for watching the online videos.

During class on Fridays, we work on problems related to the online lecture. I have introduced a variety of activities into Fridays including worksheets, mini-quizzes, Kahoot online quizzes, old exam reviews, individual problems that they answer and explain on the whiteboard, etc... 

One of my favorite activities involves predicting pka values. I bring in individual slips of paper with one organic structure on each. Students are given a slip of paper with an organic acid or base, then they have to compare to their neighbor’s structure and rank them based on relative acidity. Then each group of two students compared their ranking to another group of two students. We then have time to review the results and talk about inherent problems with predicting relative pka values.


Friday lectures are now fun! They are energetic, real active learning takes place, students sharing their ideas is the focus, not the professor. I can use Friday’s for pre- and post-exam reviews, for class-cancellation make-ups, for a more detailed review of complex topics, etc...  I sometimes bring in a bag of cheap gifts for students to compete for. I truly believe I am a better teacher because of the flipped classroom concept.

John Osterhout

Hello Class

Posted by John Osterhout May 3, 2018

It's fall. It's Monday morning. The semester is fresh. The sleepy faces in front of you are staring up with trepidation, with hope, or with quiet expectancy. For most of them it is their very first college class. Guess what? It's flipped. What do you tell them?


Hello class. Welcome to <name of class here>. I am <your name here> and I am your instructor for the semester.

We will be using a flipped classroom. This means that I will not be lecturing. You will be introduced to the material by reading assignments and on line homework. In class, we will have quizzes and do worksheets in groups.


Before we get into specifics, I suppose you are wondering why I am doing the class this way. The short answer is because it works. Studies have shown that students, you, learn better by doing worksheets and talking about the material than by listening to me sing and dance at the front of the class. My own experience is that my sections, the flipped sections, usually do better on the exams and alway do better on the comprehensive final exam than the sections where the professors lecture.


Why does flipping work? Spending time working problems and talking about it with other students helps you learn better than me telling you a bunch of stuff and letting you figure out how to work the problems on your own.

Also, there is the aspect of repetition. Who has a favorite song? Do you know all the words to the song? Did you know all the words to the song after you heard it for the first time? No, of course not, it took six or seven times hearing the song before you got all the words down. In this flipped class, I'm going to give you several opportunities to think about the material, which means several opportunities to learn.


The opportunities are:

  • The reading
  • The on line homework
  • The group quiz at the beginning of class
  • A group worksheet
  • Homework problems that repeat the previous worksheets ideas.
  • Quiz problems from the previous worksheet


So I can give you six opportunities to learn the important material before you sit down to cram for the tests. Then, when it comes time to cram, you will find that you already know a lot of the stuff. Big win for you.


Does this work? If you were weightlifter, how would you prepare for a meet? Would you do nothing until the night before then go to the gym and pump weights all night long? If you did that, would you expect to win?


If you were a weightlifter, you would lift every day, gradually increasing your weight and skills until the day of the meet. I want you to be preparing for your exams the same way, a little at a time, every day, until it is time to study for the exams. Then, your study is really a tune up and not a marathon effort to learn every single thing for the first time.


You might have noticed that this class is about you learning, not about me putting on a show. My job here is not to be a talking head in front of the class, but to guide you through the course and to explain the ideas to you when you get stuck.


Why not just explain the ideas to everyone all at once? Everyone learns at a different rate. At some point, the group that you are working with will be stuck on a certain idea or problem. You need help. You ask me. When you ask me, you want to know the answer right then. You are receptive to the answer and when I help you with it, it will stick with you better. A group that is proceeding a little more slowly, would not be ready for the answer at the same time. So I help you when you ask and I don't care if I answer the same question multiple times, I will help you when you are ready.


If you need extra help, I have office hours Monday through Thursday 1:00-2:00 pm. If you don't want to come in individually, I have tutorials Monday and Wednesday 5:00-6:00 pm. I will work problems from the worksheets, the homework, or explain ideas that may be troubling you. If your class or work schedule won't let you come to my scheduled office hours, then send me an email and I'll set up a special time to see you. I will sit with you as long as it takes. The class is about you learning. I'm here to help.

College is all about learning how to learn. Each of you must find your own set of tools that will help you learn. There are the learning opportunities built in to the class, there are my office hours, and my tutorials. What else can you do to help yourself?


Here are some ideas (See also What Students Do to Help Themselves):

  • This course has a Special Instruction tutor, <insert name here>, who has posted hours, usually about six per week.
  • The tutor center in the library has a chemistry tutor <insert name here> who is available about ten hours per week.
  • The worksheets have links to videos when I can find suitable ones. The videos are from the on line homework, from Khan academy, or from random sources if they are good.
  • Your standard search engines can help you find explanations.
  • The American Chemistry Study guide is a good source of problems and exercises.
  • The textbook has a study guide at the end of each chapter and problems at the end of the chapters, half of which are answered.


There is no lack of help for you in this course. The first homework is due at 6:00 am before the next class. The class schedule and the assignment sheet for the next class are posted on Blackboard. See you in class.

Kevin Revell

Making Chemistry Stick

Posted by Kevin Revell Apr 10, 2018

If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend the book Made to Stick:  Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.  This extraordinary book, written by brothers Chip and Dan Heath, poses a question that is critical for teachers everywhere:  Why do we remember some ideas and stories, but not others?  What makes an idea “sticky?”


The book ranges from urban legends to cognitive psychology; from successful ad campaigns to unforgettable classroom lessons.  It’s fantastic reading for anyone who wants to become a better teacher or communicator.


In one chapter, the authors describe how new ideas are understood and stored more effectively when tethered to existing concepts or images.  To illustrate with my own example:  Imagine you were trying to describe the winter sport of curling to someone who had never seen it.  You could begin by a detailed description of the icy court, the dimensions, and the objective – and fifteen minutes later your audience still wouldn’t understand the gist of it.  Or, you could begin by saying “It’s like shuffleboard on ice.”  With three words – shuffleboard on ice - your audience already has some concept of the layout and the general objective of the game. 


As chemistry teachers, our job is to help students understand and remember a complex subject.  How do we make it easier?  In my own teaching and writing, I regularly use analogies, metaphors, and images that tie concepts to things they already understand.  Of course, many teachers do this.  But in the spirit of sharing good ideas, here are a few of my favorites, top-ten style:


10.  Oxygen atoms come in packs of two, like peanut butter cups. (I extend this to the other diatomic elements as well.)


9.  A barometer is like a straw. Why does the mercury rise up into a barometer?  Why does liquid travel up the straw into your mouth?


8.  Intermolecular forces are like the light from the sun, moon, and stars. The stars are always in the sky, but their light is negligible compared to the light of the moon or the brilliant light of the sun.  Similarly, London dispersion forces are always present – but negligible compared to dipole-dipole forces or hydrogen bonds.


7.  Activation energy is like the startup costs for a business. You may have a business idea that could make a lot of money (or lose a lot of money).  But unless you have enough money to start the business, you’ll never know. 


6.  The plum pudding model. Okay – obviously this one isn’t mine – but think about it for a moment.  Which was more important in the development of modern atomic theory – the plum pudding model or Millikan’s oil drop experiment?  Which one do students remember?  Even though the oil drop experiment was far more important, students remember the plum pudding model.  Why?  Because it’s simple, and it connects with something they can picture.


5.  Your first date, or your first breakup. In my classes, I describe an exquisitely awkward moment from my middle school years in the 1980s, as I tried to ask a girl out at a skating rink.  She could skate, I couldn’t.  Thirty years later, it’s comedy gold.  And it helps students see that the transition point – when you make or break bonds – is always higher energy than the moments before or after.


4.  Heisenberg and the fan. When an electric fan is turned off, we know exactly where the blades are located.  But if the fan is turned on, the blades move so quickly that we no longer know exactly where they are – we just know they are moving in an area that occupies a circle.  Don’t stick your finger in the circle.  In the same way, we never describe the exact location of electrons – Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle says this is impossible.  Rather,  we describe them by the shape they occupy.  [Note – this crude analogy can help students begin to think about quantum mechanics, but of course it doesn’t address the wave nature of matter.  A disclaimer may be appropriate.]


3.  Single and double displacement reactions on the dancefloor. In a single displacement, one couple is dancing when a single person cuts in.  In a double displacement, there are two pairs of dancers, and the dancers switch partners.


2.  Enantiomers and diastereomers are like siblings and cousins. I begin by drawing the four possible stereoisomers for a molecule with two chiral centers.  We label each center R and S, and usually label the pairs of enantiomers.  Then I describe my kids, and compare them to my nephew and niece.  We discuss the family relationships – siblings and cousins - then I go back to the stereoisomers to complete the analogy.  The result looks something like this:



1.  Limiting reagents in the kitchen. Before we dive into limiting reagents, leftovers, and the ICE method, I like to pose a question like this:   "Suppose that you are making sandwiches following this recipe.  You have 10 slices of bread and 40 slices of cheese.  How many sandwiches can you make?  What will you have left over?"  


2 pieces of bread + 1 slice cheese  1 sandwich


Most students can get this without a single lesson on stoichiometry.  And if you can get students to tether stoichiometry to what they already know, the ideas become much, much easier.  In my classes, we usually begin by working stoichiometry equations (complete with unit conversions) on sandwich problems.  It works well.


I hope this list has spurred some ideas for you.  And if you’re willing to share in a comment or email, I’d love to hear some of your favorites, as well.

John Osterhout

On Groups

Posted by John Osterhout Dec 8, 2017

In my flipped general chemistry class we start off with a group quiz and continue with a worksheet, also performed in a group. The nature of the quizzes and the worksheets are important, sure, but so are the nature of the groups. This post is about handling the groups.


When I first started flipping, I was teaching a class of 80 students, which in my small chemistry department at a small state university is considered “large”. I was in a stepped classroom, with fixed tables that would seat four students. At the start of the class, I used the rows for groups. The groups were essentially assigned by however the students arranged themselves. The groups were enriched for groups of two or three friends that were coming to class together.


After the first exam, I had the bright idea to make groups that consisted of a student from each quartile of the class. So each group would have a good student, two middle students and a student from the bottom quartile of the class. At the time, I was giving each group a single worksheet and one person was in charge of filling it out. I did this mostly to cut down on the grading time. The room was a glorious roar of activity as the students chewed their way through the worksheets.


Bt the end of the semester, I had realized that only the best groups were making it to the end of the worksheets. For most of the class, this left significant swaths of information uncovered. I decided to give each students their own worksheet and require them to turn the worksheets in completed by the next class period. The roar of the classroom diminished by a factor of ten.


I soon realized what had been going on. When the groups only had a single worksheet, only the most motivated student would work. The other three would talk about football, deer hunting, or whatever until time ran out. When everyone had their own worksheet, everybody had a stake, and the frivolous talk went away. Lesson learned.


After that year, I was able to move into a smaller classroom, one that held about thirty-five students. For our small state school, this is a “normal” class size. I decided to assigned the groups by test score so that some groups were made up of the top-scoring students and some were of the poorest scoring students. The department had been talking about instituting a placement exam for the freshman chemistry students to allow us to screen out the totally unprepared and assign the less-prepared students to our non-majors chemistry class. I decided use a variation on that them, start the students off with a first-day quiz, and use that to do the initial assignments. The first-day quiz contained some math problems, some simple chemistry problems, and a logic problem. I used the scores to arrange the groups.


The flaw? There was little correlation between the first day quiz scores and ultimate (or even immediate) performance in the course. The quiz can measure basic skills, but it can't measure gumption. See Brand Tenn's post, Developing Grit. Of course, I didn't realize this until after the first couple of exams.


What to do? I started to rearrange the groups after the first exam, using the exam scores to make up the groups. The advantage of this was that I could get all the top students together and they could advance as fast and as far as they could. Having the poorer-performing students together isn't an entirely bad thing. They quickly discover that there isn't one “good” student who will do all the work. Sometimes these middle groups turn into learning machines as the students help each other. The other advantage of identifying the poorest performing students is that I know who they are and I can give them more attention in class.


There are some problems with using the first exam to guide group formation. One is that quite often the results on the first exam stem from prior knowledge. The students are running on their high school chemistry and aren't doing any work. When these students run out of high school savvy, the course, which had been easy, is suddenly hard. Then they have to discover a new work ethnic, one that contains actual study. Some do, some don't. So the first exam isn't a good predictor, either. One can rearrange the groups after every exam. Students, of course, hate this. Once they get used a group they are loathe to change. However, they do quickly settle down into their new groups. One might even consider this valuable experience in “teamwork”, which the state is always in a tizzy about.


After several years of coping with groups, here is what I am doing now. I still give a first-day quiz. I use it only to see if there are any students who can't do any math (see my recent post, It's That Chemistry Algebra, where I found a student who couldn't solve X – 2 = 0) and to lament the generally sorry preparation of students in math and chemistry.


Now, I initially arrange the groups by major. I lump the pre-professional students together with the honors students and form as many groups as I can. I find that by using the major as the guiding principle, I wind up with groups that internally have similar motivations. The pre-professional students are motivated by grades. The chemistry and biology majors sometimes show a little interest in the subject material. Most of the rest of the students don't want to be in the class, they are there because their major requires it. They are motivated by survival. This initial arrangement of groups by major works better than the other methods I've tried, but I'm still looking!


Other group caveats: groups that are all men don't usually work. The guys tacitly or explicitly decide that it isn't cool to be too interested in this academic stuff and so spend the whole class pushing their worksheets around the table trying to look busy while they shoot the bull. Three men in a group doesn't usually work either unless the woman is unusually motivated or outgoing. Groups with 2+ women, even groups of entirely women seem to work fine.


Groups can be derailed by the disgruntled student. I always get one or more students who are very unhappy with the flipped classroom. After all, I don't teach. (They equate lecturing with teaching.) An unhappy, vocal student can poison a group, sometimes even an entire class. I try to head this off in the beginning by explaining the ideas behind flipping and citing the success of the flipped classrooms compared to the non-flipped classes in our department.


I have not tried to micromanage the groups. That is, rearrange the groups as we go along depending upon the skills, motivations, and personalities of the individuals. Unfortunately it seems that by the time I can get a good feeling the individual qualities of the students in the class, the semester is over.


Occasionally, I find a smart, motivated student who can actually explain things to his or her co-conspirators. In the vernacular, we call these teachers and I wish I had one per group.

A few semesters back, a student sent an email to one of my faculty explaining that "I'm really good at algebra, it's just that chemistry algebra that gets me." I had always interpreted that statement as a frustration with the problem-solving nature of freshman chemistry. Maybe the student was good at algebra but just couldn't handle the word problems or logic that comes with chemistry. 


This semester has made me rethink that notion. I work at a small state university with a low bar for admission. The general chemistry classes are populated with all majors, some college ready and some not. For most of the students in my classes, general chemistry I is a check box to be ticked. That being said, I've noticed some alarming trends.


A few years ago our department tightened up our math prerequisites for admission into general chemistry I. We only admit students if they score high enough on the ACT or SAT to be admitted to the precalculus class or have passed college algebra with a "C" or better. The remarks below concern students who have met this requirement.


I recently tutored a student who had a poor score on the second hour exam. One of the problems was a titration with sulfuric acid. I was trying to explain that sulfuric acid was the acid made from the sulfate anion. After a while, we got to this point: how many protons must one add to the sulfate ion to produce a neutral species. The student drew a blank, so I thought it would be helpful to write out the equation:


X + -2 = 0

It turned out that, not only was the solution not transparent to the student, the student could not solve this equation. Their approach was to guess until I told them the answer was correct. I cut them off after they guessed the correct answer so I don't know, if left alone, they would have eventually realized that "2" would have done the trick.


Same student, different problem. The exam question asked for the oxidation number of carbon in the carbonate ion. The carbonate ion was written as CO32-. After a bit, we got to the point of realizing that the oxidation number of the carbon had to add to the combined oxidation number of the oxygens to give the charge on the ion. This drew a blank look. So I wrote on the board:


X + -6 = -2


No luck here, either. The student's first guess was -8. It did get better from there, but the underlying process was "guess until Dr. Osterhout says it's right."


To do a quick assessment of the class's math skills I gave a first day quiz this semester that included some math problems to be worked without a calculator (you can see the quiz and the results on the worksheet page of my blog, Here is my favorite:


a = b/c, solve for c.


In the Fall of 2016, 59% of the students correctly solved the problem. Sadly, this Fall the number was 47%. It does not bode well for your future in chemistry if you are in the 53% that can't do this little bit of algebra.


Here is one designed to see if they know anything about manipulating numbers in scientific notion. Remember, they could not use a calculator for this one.


3.0 x 104 x 4.0 x 103 =


This garnered 75% and 66% in Fall of 2016 and 2017 respectively. I was a little surprised that the results were so favorable. But then there was this:


2.0x106 x 4.0x104 / 8.0x10-3


That one was 18% in 2016 and 14% in 2017. The students don't fare much better if they use their calculators. Even at the end of the semester, I have students who still use the 10x key on their calculator to enter numbers in scientific notion. I also find that students have blithely ignored my exhortations to use the SCI option on their calculators and read, for instance, 6.43 x 10-8 instead of 0.000000064 on their displays.


Recently we were doing calorimetry. In one variety of problems the students are asked to find the final temperature after, say, hot water is added to an iron pot. The equations encountered were of the following variety.


g x cs x (Tf - Ti) = -g x cs x (Tf - Ti)


The students had to solve for Tf. They gathered up the appropriate numbers and happily plugged and chugged until:


1021(Tf - 25) = -3138(Tf - 95)


(I left out the units, because I'm illustrating the math for you.) At this point four out of eight students in the tutorial session were unable to distribute the numbers into the parentheses. I fear that it is much worse in the class in general, because the only students coming to the tutorial had a least a marginal grasp on the material. The ones that really needed to come, didn't. Once we got over that hurdle, we arrived at:


1021Tf - 25530 = -3138Tf + 298000


Here again, half of the students couldn't proceed.


In deference to the student in the first paragraph, it isn't necessarily "that chemistry algebra," sometimes it is just plain old algebra (and maybe just some sixth grade arithmetic). Keep in mind that all of these students had either passed college algebra or had a 600 or greater on the math portion of the SAT. So, what's a mother to do?


Currently our general chemistry professors build math and calculator exercises into their homework and class materials. Clearly it is not enough. Our department has discussed developing a chemistry tutorial that would meet one hour a week to do remedial math and chemistry. We have experienced push back from the administration because they fear this would diminish our enrolment capacity ($). However, it would likely improve retention ($$). Any ideas?

iClicker Reef is a great tool for formative and summative assessments.  In this article, I will summarize the ways I use the different question types in order to conduct various types of (non-content related) formative assessments. 


Multiple Choice:


1.  Student Understanding


How well do you feel you understand  ____ ?

A.  Piece of cake.  I get it.

B.  I understand most of it.

C.  I am mostly confused.

D.  I do not understand any of it.


2.  Student Confidence:  Many times, it is informative to find out how confident students are with their problem solving skills.  Ideally, students who understand should not only have the correct answers, but also be confident in their answers.


Select the most appropriate choice.

A.  I'm finished and am confident I am correct.

B.  I'm finished, but not too sure I am correct.

C.  I'm almost finished.

D.  I don't know how to do the problem.



3.  Traffic Control: During lectures, it is often very difficult to get any feedback on how students are processing the classroom discussions.  For lecture classes, it is useful to periodically stop and let students give feedback on class pacing - then follow up with specific questions on their misunderstandings.


Select the most appropriate choice.

A.  GO: Continue. Pace is fine, I understand.

B.  CAUTION: Please slow down. I need time to catch up.

C.  STOP: I do not understand.


Short Answer

4.  Question Collector

 After one particularly difficult problem on simplifying rational expressions, I asked students what the most difficult step was for them.  No one spoke - even though most students got the problem wrong.  I then fired up a short answer question in iClicker Reef and asked for submissions electronically - almost everyone gave me a response!

I noticed two things from their responses, many people did not know how to find the LCD and secondly, many students were simply trying to memorize steps to problems.  This brought us to a nice discussion on learning, and how I am teaching them tools they can use when encountering problems.  


5.  Muddiest Point

Another way to use the short answer question type is to collect a list of the most difficult topics (muddiest points).



6.  Speed Drill Progress

Numeric questions can be used to gauge student progress in paper assignments.  I often drill students on various topics and have them answer using paper and pencil, since iClicker Reef's refresh time is too slow.  I often ask students to send me the number of questions they got correct.  


7.  Level of Understanding 

Like measuring student confidence, instructors could ask students to state their level of understanding of a concept or unit on a 0 (do not understand) - 10 (understand everything) scale.



8. Campus resources: 

During the first week of classes, it might be a good idea to use target questions to ensure students know the locations of important student resources: Tutoring Center, Instructor Offices, Financial Aid Office, Registrar, Counselors, etc. by asking students to locate the resources on a map.


I hope that you can see many ways iClicker Reef can be used in addition to testing student understanding of core concepts and facts.  Do you use iClicker or another classroom response system (CRS) in your classes?  In what other ways have you used your CRS to conduct formative  assessments in class?  Please share your ideas in the comments box below.

Brandon Tenn

Developing Grit

Posted by Brandon Tenn Oct 11, 2017

My classes are rife with groans and sighs when passing back exams and quizzes.  To try and encourage student persistence and grit development, I decided to implement mastery based quizzes like Kevin mentioned in a previous post


I gave students three attempts to pass a quiz on dimensional analysis.  The first attempt was given in lecture.  The second and third attempts were taken outside of class.  Since I am on campus daily, I set aside time – while I was teaching labs, had office hours, or was working in my office – for students to take it.  By the day of Exam 1, 50 students passed the mastery based quiz on dimensional analysis while 84 did not. 



Passed Benchmark Quiz

Did not Pass Quiz

Number of Students



Average Exam 1 Score



Passed Exam 1



Did not pass Exam 1




Not only did the students who passed the benchmark quiz do better on the exam, but only 20% of students in this group got a score below 60%.  Many of them were in 50-60% range.  On the other hand, of the students not passing the benchmark quiz, 74% of them did not pass the exam, and many of their scores were in the 30-50% range.


I also instituted benchmark quizzes in my Intermediate algebra class, and noticed similar results.  Benchmark Quiz #1 was related to exam 1, and Benchmark Quiz #2 was directly related to Exam 2. 



Exam 2 Average

Passed Both Benchmark Quizzes


Passed Benchmark #1 only (Related to Exam 1)


Passed Benchmark #2 only (Related to Exam 2)


Passed only one Benchmark Quiz


Did not pass any Benchmark Quizzes



The data shows a strong correlation between passing the benchmark quiz and higher exam scores in both classes.  Therefore, I decided to continue using benchmark quizzes to give students an attainable goal prior to their first exam, knowing that students who are successful on the benchmark quiz will have a higher probability of success on the subsequent exam.


In response to the student exam performance in both courses I showed students a short TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth, on Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  A few days later, I gave my students a short article called “The State of Being Stuck” and asked my chemistry students to write half-page reflection paper on it, discussing how they would apply the concepts of grit and the growth mindset to Introductory Chemistry this semester.


The chemistry students are currently working on passing their second benchmark quiz, which is on nomenclature.  Exam 2, which covers nomenclature will take place on Friday, October 13, 2017.  I will update this post once the exam is graded and the data has been analyzed.


Other Resources on Grit and Growth Mindset:


Quotes from Reflection Papers:


“I will not be afraid of a challenge just because it looks hard to do.”


“I always tell myself, ‘This too shall pass.’”


“As a future teacher … I want my students to give it all they have and not give up, therefore that is what I am going to do in all my classes.”


“I sit next to someone who is failing this class and complains about it every morning.  She always seems to be blaming other people instead of herself.  When I ask her what she does to study or take notes, she tells me that she does not even watch the videos.  My motivation for wanting to come to this class is that I want to be able to engage in class work.”


“There’s nothing wrong in getting help from other people who get something more than what you may be understanding yourself.”


“Fear of failing hinders me from even beginning sometimes.”


“I’m actually pretty proud of how far I’ve come because I could have easily gave up … I told myself if I don’t pass this class, what does it mean for my future, am I going to do the same thing when it comes down to everything else in my life?”


“It’s OK to fail in things that you do in life, but the important part is to be gritty.  You don’t have to be super smart to survive in this life.  You just have to be gritty.”


“I always found science classes to be difficult for me, so I never really put the most effort in them.”

On January 12, 2018, 8-4 pm, Merced College (3600 M St., Merced, CA 95348) will be hosting a conference on Active Learning.  This conference is open to all post-secondary educators in 2-year or 4-year public or private institutions.  There is no registration fee for this conference, but seating is limited.  For more information, to register, or to submit a seminar proposal, please go to:


If you have any questions on the conference, please contact me at



Phone: (209) 387-6783

Problem: The same student(s) always answer questions.

Solution:  Popsicle sticks

The same student(s) always answer questions while the rest of the class remains quiet.  How can we get other students involved in the discussion?  Place each student's name on a popsicle stick and place the popsicle sticks in a container.  When seeking responses, draw popsicle sticks at random.  Not only does the randomness keep students engaged, but it also ensures that everyone will have an opportunity to share.  Asking students to draw names can remove instructor subjectivity.


Problem:  I can't tell which groups or students really need help.

Solution:  Stop and Go Cups (or cards)

When active learning activities are in full swing, especially in larger classes, it's very difficult to get feedback from all students/groups on their progress and understanding.  One easy way to tell how students are doing is to hand them a set of color coded cups or cards - green, yellow, and red.


ColorIndividuallyIn Groups
GreenLecture pace good/Understanding materialProgressing fine with task
YellowPlease slow downProgressing slowly, needs help
RedI don't understandGroup is not progressing - needs immediate help


Problem: Students are waiting for someone else to answer before solving the problems themselves.

Solution: Index Card Answers

There are many student polling apps available, some paid, some free.  Undoubtedly each semester they will be a day or two in which the polling app servers are malfunctioning.  A great low tech way to garner student responses is to hand out index cards, each with a letter A-E written on it.  When asking multiple choice questions, students can hold up the card corresponding to their answer.  Alternatively, when in a bind, and you don't have time to hand out cards, students can denote answers with their fingers, placing their hand in front of their chests, so other students cannot see their answers.


Problem: Students do not discuss problem solving with each other.

Solution: Think-pair-share

I saw a very revealing, humorous video on this topic during the summer.  Although the video is not appropriate for this post, I did realize that many times students will jump directly to sharing, before spending adequate time thinking about the problem.  In my classes, I do not call discussions "think-pair-share."  Rather, I give specific directions like "Work on the problem individually for x minutes, then submit your answers (electronically or otherwise), then discuss your answers with a partner." 


Problem: In class, students don't have a chance to stop and reflect on their learning.

Solution: 2-minute paper (Quick writes)

We all need a chance to stop and reflect on what we are learning.  Many times, as instructors, we start class by taking a breath and lecture for the entire class period and stop only to dismiss the class at the end.  While we may have said everything we intended to, students most likely were not given adequate chance to stop and reflect on what was being said.  I've been in many workshops as a participant, where the facilitators gave us time to stop and reflect by asking simple questions like "Summarize what you just learned." After the 2- minutes, instructors can gain much insight into the student's thought processes by letting them share (voluntarily) what they wrote - or by collecting their papers.


Problem: I cannot tell what students are struggling with.

Solution: Exit ticket (Muddiest Point)

A permutation on the 2-minute paper is the exit ticket.  It's very difficult, many times, to determine what topic(s) students are struggling with at the end of a lecture.  Some instructors ask students to do a 2-minute paper by asking them to describe their muddiest point from the day's lecture/activities and hand it in on their way out of class.  Although this post is focused on low-tech solutions, I would be remiss if I don't mention that Socrative, a free student polling app, has an Exit Ticket feature already built in.


What other tricks do you have up your sleeves?  We'd love to hear about them!  Please share your in-class tricks to maintain student engagement by writing a comment below or by emailing me at:


Acknowledgements: This post was motivated by the illuminating discussions that we had prior to the start of the Fall 2017 semester during a 50 minute workshop on active learning.  In particular, I want to thank English professor Denise Rempel for sharing with us many of the innovative (and often crazy) activities she employs in her classes - specifically for sharing with me how she uses popsicle sticks to engage and colored cups to monitor student learning.

Macmillan Learning is proud to announce that The Flipped Learning Global Initiative has named Introductory Chemistry author Kevin Revell one of the top 40 Flipped Learning educators worldwide.


The list, compiled annually by the FLGI executive committee, names the top 100 K-12 educators from around the world who are identified as driving forces of flipped classroom adoptions. This year, the initiative broadened their recognition to include the top 40 Flipped Learning leaders in higher education.


FLGI’s Chief Academic Officer, Jon Bergmann, stated, "The 2017 FLGI Flipped Learning Leaders lists includes some of the most experienced, innovative and proactive education and training professionals in the world. These are the people driving Flipped Learning forward in thought and action and demonstrating what is possible when Flipped Learning is done well."


Congratulations, Kevin!

Recently I was doing some proposal research on Gen Z (also known as Centennials, iGeneration, Post-Millennials, Plurals, or the Homeland Generation) and realized that this incoming generation of students is not only prepared for the flipped classroom, but expects it! Having been born starting in the late 1990’s, these students have been constantly engaged in constant communication through social media, technology at their fingertips, and consistent and fast internet access. In a recent survey from Barnes and Noble College on what Gen Z expects and wants from a college education, it was clear to me that the flipped classroom sets the stage for their ideal educational experience that is both immersive and engaging.


Based on the survey Gen Z wants:


Professors that care about their success and individual attention51% prefer meeting face to face, 77% prefer 4 year colleges
The flipped classroom provides more opportunities for one-on-one mentored like experiences through increased faculty/student interactions in guided classroom activities and group discussions. And while this generation values technology, independence and self-reliance, they still prefer the face-to-face experience and crave opportunities to interact with faculty and peers in person.



Career preparation:

35% currently own their own business or plan to own one in the future, 49% have already taken courses for college credit where 84% plan to

The flipped classroom allows faculty to incorporate more real-life problem solving activities that allows students to practice applying both their background knowledge and new knowledge in ways that better mimics the problems they will face in their careers. Additionally, the flipped classroom teachings soft skills typically not address in the traditional lecture such as time management, collaboration, communication, and team work.



Interesting and engaging course work:

Class room discussions, working through problems, and working in small groups are preferred tools for learning

 The flipped classroom takes the passive learning out of the classroom to make time for more collaborative learning experiences such as small group activities and discussions. The instructor can also bring in tailored activities reflective of a specific group’s interests that are relevant, timely, and more engaging. Additionally, the survey reports that students not only embrace technology in the classroom but expect it and rate class websites with supplemental material, game-based learning systems, DIYL (“Do it Yourself Learning), Smartboards, digital textbooks, online videos and learning websites as their top tech tools for the classroom.


Group learning environments:

80% study with friends, 60% like to exchange new ideas with friends, 52% like to help their friends learn

The flipped classroom allows for pedagogy that incorporates group problem-based learning by moving the lecture out and the hands-on activities in. By incorporating small group work, students also benefit from the diverse perspectives and knowledge of their peers and build stronger connections which help promote retention and success. 


  • Learn by doing:

51% learn by doing, 38% learn by seeing, 12% learn by listening

The flipped classroom affords the flexibility to allow more hands on and applied learning in the class, lab, field, or studio. In the survey, students reported class discussions as the most beneficial which opens opportunities for authentic student driven inquiry in the classroom (think Socrates) or problem based learning
  • Challenges:

(89% see college as valuable, 64% prefer advanced classes)

This generation is not afraid of a challenge and expects to be pushed. The survey reports that an overwhelming majority of Gen Z students plan to or have already taken courses for college credit in high school. In the flipped classroom, the incorporation of active learning, group learning and blended learning strategies affords instructors the opportunity to weave in more challenges that push our students to think for critically about the concepts and application of those concepts in order to solve real world problems.


So flipped teachers rejoice because as Gen Z takes their first steps on to our various campuses they are poised and ready for what we have to offer and may even push us to do more! Have you noticed a change in student perceptions already? Have you noticed a change in their expectations? Let us know! We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences!