I often wish each day came with an extra two to three hours so that I could get everything on my list accomplished. I’d love to be able to go home each night with an empty To Do List, but that rarely happens. I usually have something else to do because I just run out of time. If only I had an extra hour in the day, I’d get everything done. However, the odds are that that new time would be chewed up by something else and I still wouldn’t have enough time in a day to get done what I need to accomplish.
A few weeks ago when I planned my new Chemistry Unit for STEM class, I penciled in a few lab experiments to introduce the scientific method, experimentation, and lab safety protocol. In my mind, it would only take about half of the class period or less to accomplish the investigation, which means that there would be time to work on the partner portion of the project. It made sense to me in the planning stage of the unit.
So, today marked the first investigation of the unit. Over the weekend I prepared the materials and found some fun and engaging videos to introduce and review the major concepts covered. I created slides to project on the whiteboard that would detail the lab protocol. I had everything planned just right. I figured we would have at least 30 minutes remaining when we finished so that the students could begin working on the Science Fair project. It was sure to work, or so I thought. Sometimes all the planning in the world can’t prepare you for reality.
When the time for STEM class arrived, I was so excited. I prepared the materials on the back table before I started class. I was pumped. Today we were making Oobleck! I started class as I usually did. I reviewed the homework, signed planbooks, and reviewed the day’s agenda. Nothing new there. We were on schedule at that point. Then I handed out the math worksheet packets so that the students could begin the homework. I said very little about the packets as everything they needed to know was written on the front page or detailed on their Haiku page. That took about two minutes. Then I shared the Chemistry Question of the Day with the class. I didn’t even have volunteers share their hypotheses on the question. I briefly explained what the question was asking and shared a short video with the students. The video detailed the differences between physical and chemical changes. It was filled with visual explanations for the ELL students but had lots of information conveyed verbally as well. It was a perfect supplement to the question. Following the video, I asked a few students the question again to be sure they had gleaned the appropriate information from the video. One of the students who I asked seemed a bit confused by the ideas in the video and so I spent about three minutes reviewing the major differences between physical and chemical changes. I even detailed notes on the whiteboard. I had volunteers share their thoughts and ideas until we had specific and understandable definitions for each type of change. This helped make the ideas in the video tangible for all.
Then we got into the lab. At this point, about 20 minutes were gone in the double block, which meant there were only 60 minutes remaining. I wasn’t worried at that point. I figured conducting the lab would only take about 10 minutes anyway. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. So, I quickly went over safety rules when conducting a science lab. I called on volunteers for ideas and made a list on the board. We reviewed the important tips to remember when conducting an investigation. I stressed the importance of following the rules so that our safety is always being honored and respected. This took about seven minutes. Not bad, I thought. Then I quickly shared the slide detailing the steps for conducting the investigation. I handed out the Observation Record worksheet I made to help guide the students through the scientific method. I then took all of the questions the students had regarding the expectations for conducting the investigation. This whole process took about six minutes. Nice. Still on schedule, I thought. Yah for me.
Then I assigned the students their partner and allowed them to begin. They all got set up quite quickly. Still no worries. The boys got to work, slowly. Some of the students asked me what to do. How do we make Oobleck? I reminded them to look at the protocol on the board. I said no more than this when they asked me what to do or how to do it. I wanted them to use their critical thinking and problem solving skills to get the job done. That has been my focus all year in STEM. I want them to engineer solutions to their problems. They need to learn to self-advocate for themselves. After about four minutes, many of the partnerships had solved their problems and had created Oobleck. Then they started observing and playing with it. This is where the real learning happened. They started playing with the ratios of water to cornstarch to make even more Oobleck. It was quite awesome to watch the boys learn and explore. They were solving problems and thinking like scientists. However, this play time meant more time had elapsed than I had mentally allotted. All of a sudden, 10 minutes had turned into 15 minutes and they hadn’t even begun to clean up or complete their Observation Record worksheet. So, I had them all clean up, which took a lot longer than I had anticipated. The whole lab and clean up process took almost 23 minutes. That was more than double what I had planned for and they still had to complete the worksheet. That took another seven minutes.
Then we reviewed the big ideas from the investigation. What kind of change took place? What phase of matter is Oobleck? What happened to the water and cornstarch when they were mixed? This discussion brought about some insightful ideas and great conversation. It was so interesting how the students thought that a chemical change had taken place. It was like an a-ha moment for the students when I revealed what really had happened. This part took a while but was totally worth it.
Then we watched and discussed a video about the difference in mixture types. The students had to figure out which type of mixture the Oobleck represented. This was the easy part. It was at this point in the class when only five minutes remained. Rather than get into the next part of the lesson that I had planned, I reviewed the major chemistry concepts covered in class. This was a great way to wrap things up for the period as I will begin class on Thursday with an assessment on the concepts covered to be sure the students comprehended what we learned in class today.
Sure, today’s lesson was a hit. The students were engaged and curious throughout. They loved making Oobleck and learning about the chemistry of it. They asked effective questions and solved problems in an appropriate manner. However, I had not planned on the activity taking over the entire double block. I wanted to leave time for the students to begin the Science Fair, but we ran out of time. Will the students have enough time to complete the Science Fair project? While over-planning is always better than under-planning, I am constantly frustrated with my inability to plan effectively. Although today’s activity accomplished many objectives and concepts, did it cover too much in not enough detail? Or did I beat a dead horse?
Perhaps though, it was just right. Maybe everything worked out just the way it was supposed to have. Maybe the students would not have had enough time to really dig into the Science Fair project regardless of when the activity had ended. Maybe fate worked in my favor today. Well, whatever happened, I’m still frustrated by my lack of effective planning. Yes, I know the activity itself was a homerun. The students learned a lot and had fun. Many of the boys cited it as one of their highlights of the class day. So, clearly it was worthwhile and amazing. I guess I’m just being hard on myself. Today’s STEM class did go very well, I just wish I had planned on the activity taking the whole period so that I don’t feel so bad about having over-planned. Sometimes being a perfectionist is quite challenging, especially when there’s not enough time in the day to get everything just right.