“This is the kind of curriculum I’d write if I wrote one!”

I was in Miami this past Friday working with teachers to help them implement the thematic chemistry curriculum I developed.

I love doing these post-adoption trainings for so many reason.  First, I love working with teachers!  I love hearing their stories of what is going on in their classroom and helping them figure out ways to address their concerns or difficulties.  Second, I truly believe in the curriculum I wrote – it has an amazing transformational power and it re-energizes me to work with teachers to implement it in their classrooms!

So why is it (Kendall Hunt Chemistry: Discovering Chemistry You Need to Knowmy site’s info about it and the publisher’s site) so “transformational”?  It’s a completely thematic program – students learn chemistry as they need to know it to understand a product, theme, problem, etc.  It’s teaching the exact same content that has always been taught in high school general chemistry – but doing it in a manner that (1) reflects more accurately how scientists really work – on specific problems or questions rather than going through content in an order that has zero relevance for someone that doesn’t already know the whole story; and (2) engages students in a way that traditional curriculum just doesn’t (and I think “can’t”).

I love working with teachers implementing it because it’s always such a “grass roots effort!”  Usually the curriculum has been brought to the attention of the school or district by a teacher that was seeking out how to teach chemistry in a more relevant way and stumbled upon my curriculum.

It’s the teachers that realize the need in their classroom – to teach in a way that is relevant and applied yet covers the content they need to cover.  And it’s teachers that are seeking a way to do that.

Many teachers over the years have said “this is what I’ve been wanting to develop” or “I’ve started down this path and tried to do things like this but I haven’t gotten very far” or “this is what I would do if I had the time/resources/support…”

For as long as there have been teachers that have realized the traditional approach doesn’t work for their students, there have been teachers piecemeal-ing together modules, units or projects that teach in a more relevant way.  The problem with this is that it’s really hard to do and takes a lot of time!  It’s a jigsaw puzzle of making sure all the prerequisites for the current topic have already been covered and making sure all the required content is covered through the various modules, units or projects.   It’s difficult to curate material from scratch and get all the bases covered and make sure everything is cohesive!  And this is especially true if you’re one of the many science teachers teaching outside the discipline they were trained in, or if you’re one of the many that is juggling multiple preps (I was lucky enough to never have more than 3 at a time…but I’ve met many with 5 or more!)

I love how excited teachers get about the little things that I’ve developed to accompany this program.  These aren’t the “little things” that publishers typically develop and show-off with a program – the things they throw in there to sell the book but don’t really help the teachers on a day-to-day basis.  The things I’ve added are things that only a teacher using it in their classroom with real teenagers on a yearly basis would know to add in!

This curriculum was written by a teacher (me), for real students (my own students) and it caught on with other teachers because they were having the same struggles I was and looking for solutions!

Some of the favorites that I hear time and time again from teachers include:

  • Students are actually engaged.  It’s amazing what providing relevance and content can do!  Students actually think about chemistry when they’re looking at the back of their drink label or using soap to wash dishes (these things have happened over and over again and both students and parents comment on it!) – and the more they’re thinking about chemistry in a variety of different contexts, the more neural connections are being made!  Learning!
  • Students retain more.  Because the content is connected with current schema and relevant things in the students’ life, and because content is spiraled, students have an easier time recalling the content in later courses!
  • Everything is editable.  Every worksheet, lab, PowerPoint presentation, quiz and basically anything else other than the actual “text” itself is completely editable – provided to the teachers in Word format!  Yay!  No more re-typing an entire lab for your students because you want to change the instructions or change that 250mL beaker to a 400mL beaker!
  • Performance assessments (and their rubrics) are built in.  No more scrounging around for projects, papers or performance assessments to fit into your classroom that end up not really being a cohesive part of the course.  Each and every chapter ends with a performance assessment (a variety of formats – traditional labs, inquiry labs, research projects, persuasive writing, creative writing and so on) that tie in all the concepts of the chapter within the theme of that chapter.
  • There’s a large variety of “extras” provided – even references to ChemMatters (the American Chemical Society’s magazine for high school students) that tell you exactly which articles relate to the theme or content of the chapter – great for substitute lesson plans, content literacy work or at-home work that doesn’t lead to students struggling trying to do stoichiometry at home by themselves!
  • Kids can (and will) read it.  It’s written entirely by someone (me) that spent 10 years in the classroom every day talking with high school students.  I wrote it how I talk to them.  It has created a text that I’m told over and over again is far more readable than traditional texts!
  • It’s realistic and approachable.  Some teachers write it off as “not a real chemistry book” simply because it’s thinner.  But when has anyone on the planet ever covered what’s in an entire “traditional” chemistry book anyway?  The content that was selected for it is based on research of what college professors want us to put in our courses and what high school teachers currently teach and wish they taught.  It’s realistic – an honors course can go through the entire book in a year.  A general chemistry course can cover about 2/3 to 3/4 – depending on the students and which chapters are chosen.  Concise also leads to approachable – students look at a couple of pages on a topic and it’s manageable, do-able.  That leads to students actually doing it! (And research has shown that students learn far more from concise explanations.  One study showed they learned more from a physics chapter summary than from the entire chapter itself!)
  • The labs work.  They’ve been done many times by myself with real students.  They work.  And anyone that has taught for a while knows that not all published labs actually work with real students in real classrooms!  The labs use very few harmful chemicals – in fact they use household chemicals that are safer, easier to get and interest students far more!

What kind of curriculum would you develop if you could?  What would be included?  What should I add in for the next edition…what other things are teachers wanting that I haven’t thought of?

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