“Chemistry is, well technically, chemistry is the study of matter. But I prefer to see it as the study of change.”
-Walter White, Breaking Bad
My last class today was one of those moments that keeps me teaching. My two grade-level collaborators and I just launched a Genius Hour project for our Grade 10 chemistry unit – How have scientific and technical innovations in chemistry changed our world? – and some of the ideas our students came up with are pretty engaging. Check out this brief list of some of the more memorable proposals from today:
- A discussion of the benefits and limitations of spray-on solar cells
- Are methadone treatments for heroin addicts ethical?
- How has molecular gastronomy impacted the food industry?
- How has the development of cheap plastics impacted the lives of subsistence farmers in east Africa?
- What are the potential environmental consequences of new-generation car batteries for electric and hybrid vehicles, and how do they compare to the consequences of internal combustion engines?
- How has our perception and use of LSD changed, from a proposed Cold-War truth serum, to a recreational drug, to a possible treatment for psychological disorders?
- A comparison of social interactions before and after the invention of indoor air conditioning.
I love the idea of kids exploring their own personal interests within the framework of a subject or topic. School should be more like this more often. It’s certainly less boring for the students, but it’s also considerably more engaging for us teachers as well. For one thing, I don’t have to grade 60 of the same tedious essay topic assigned year after year! Instead, students create videos and animations, write songs, and make public speeches à la TED talks.
In previous open-ended projects I’ve done with my classes, I have found that I am better able to judge individual students’ understanding of major concepts in science because we have many more two-way conversations, rather than the typical one-sided lectures common to so many classrooms around the world. Not only am I better able to assess their learning, but students’ learning goes considerably deeper.
For more on the Genius Hour movement in education, check out Chris Kessler’s blog, GeniusHour.com, and the video below.