Teachers For A New Era
Gore Education Complex C203
Tallahassee, Florida 32307
The Chemistry Department & TNE
Since the summer of 2004 the General Chemistry faculty has been working to find ways to improve student pass rates in their courses. Some of their first efforts concerned matching the courses (CHM 1045 and CHM 1046) to state, national and learned society (American Chemical Society) standards. Next, the instructors standardized their teaching across sections of the course by meeting weekly with a science educator and the FAMU Teachers for a New Era (TNE) Curriculum & Evidence Coordinator to agree on the amount of time spent on various units and the numbers and types of questions which would be included on unit tests. While implementing these changes, they piloted the use of a placement test to determine whether a particular cut score could help predict a student’s potential success in those courses. With the statistical help of the other team members, they found that with the use of a American Chemical Society (ACS) test and a student’s SAT and/or ACT math scores, they could fairly accurately determine those students who would benefit by taking an introductory Chemistry course (CHM 1020) before attempting General Chemistry.
Challenges continue in implementing the administration of the test, advisement, and placement of students into the appropriate course, but those appropriately placed have shown a markedly improved pass rate. In spite of obstacles, the General Chemistry faculty continues to strive to improve instruction for students who take these courses, which are perceived as “barrier” courses. One semester each faculty member committed to using a pedagogical technique of his or her choice, which they had not used consistently in the past. Unfortunately, they did not find one technique that yielded better results than the rest. Undaunted, they decided to attempt a more student-centered approach spring semester 2010.
The thinking behind this approach is that student who fail exams often assert that they really studied for the test. The General Chemistry faculty decided to accept that assertion as true: students probably did study for the test. However, the problem may be that they do not know HOW to study effectively for the type of test which they will be given. Rather than counting on a hit or miss approach to students discovering the best way to study for this type of test, the faculty, with the help of TNE, put together a personal study plan based on Bloom’s taxonomy. After each exam, faculty members review the results and decide which concepts students had the most trouble mastering. During the next class period the instructor tells the class which concepts will be reviewed in the following practice sessions.
At the first practice session, students get to look at a copy of their test answers and fill in the personalized study plan form, which indicates the questions which matched each level of each concept. Armed with this knowledge, they can plan to attend the practice sessions which pertain to those topics they did not master. The form explains the types of skills associated with each level question. For example, at the knowledge level, it indicates, “can remember pretty much word for word what the text and/or notes said; knows definitions of important terms; can solve a problem that is just like one of the homework, practice or review problems.” In addition, the form outlines what the student is doing well if he or she answered correctly all of a level of questions on any given concept. For the knowledge level it says, “If you are getting all these questions right, you are doing a good job of studying the text and your notes.” It also makes suggestions for ways to improve; at the knowledge level, this advice takes the form of, “ If you are not, taking notes as you read the text and notes in class is a good place to start. You might want to make flashcards of important terms and seek other resources (the chemistry tutoring room, professor’s office hours, practice sessions, the opportunity to ask questions at the beginning or end of class.”
In the course of field testing the form, the faculty discovered several things. First, in using the form to indicate to students which questions test which concepts, it became clear that there are too many concepts on each exam. Students may do better if they are tested more frequently on fewer concepts. Second, if faculty really want to be able to determine the level at which their students begin to struggle, they will need to have more of each level of question about each concept on each test. This could make exams unmanageably long. Further, one of the faculty members realized he was not giving students enough practice problems to go with each level of each concept in preparation for the test.
With their tenacious record of continually attempting to improve instruction, the General Chemistry faculty continues to adjust their teaching to meet the needs of their students. The current student-centered approach has promise, but will need to be revised and monitored to see if it makes a statistically significant difference in student performance. Teachers for a New Era continues to offer support and technical assistance for their ongoing efforts.