Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What's UR Rxn? A chemistry class blog, part 1

I emailed my students the rubric for the class blog project today.

Ever since starting THIS blog last April, I have been ambivalent about the whole endeavor. I tend to be much too particular to be able to write quickly or easily. The act of posting my writing to the “world” reminds me a bit of piano recitals, which were not my favorite evening growing up.

Maybe I wanted my chemistry students to experience some of this angst.  (OK, that sounds mean, but I am a chemistry teacher AND an organic chemistry teacher, I know how to cause angst.)

I introduced the assignment to my AP classes back in September. We used a block of time to brainstorm ideas for the requirements of the project. It was not a tightly structured block, so a few students rose through as leaders. These students volunteered to be editors for the project. I gathered the ideas into the start of a rubric and then let the project sit for three months.  (I’m a cross country coach—there were other things on my mind.) Just recently I discussed the project with my organic chemistry students and, similarly, I now have editors and ideas for the assignment from those two classes. I sent the rubric outline out for the editor's review.  Here are a few of their responses.

About a minimum word limit: 

“I'm not sure if any of the grading categories account for writing quality. Some pieces of writing feel as if they have "filler" information with redundant or irrelevant sentences intended to get the article over the word minimum. This sentence that you're currently reading, which is not really necessary and a bit of a run-on, restates exactly what I just said about adding a sentence to increase the length of one's writing through superfluous words, when actually it doesn't serve a useful purpose, since I just mentioned that and you don't really need an example, but I have read a lot of papers that are written this way, even if they do have interesting content. :)”

About the lack of structure:

“Anyway, while nothing within the rubric is wrong, that in itself is the problem. The rubric you created, no offense, offers mostly generalities, lacks explicit goals and instructions, and desperately needs more criteria that can be effectively evaluated and graded.”

About the distribution of points:

“I agree; the point distribution for the final draft should be altered a bit; fewer points should be awarded for "interesting/entertaining" (probably 5, at most 10) and there should be more focus on clarity and cogency of the writing itself.”

From these ideas, I have constructed the assignment. 

  • 30 points for a rough draft (on time, has a copyright-free image, current source, written in colloquial voice.)
  • 20 points for 2 different peer-edits (check grammar, sentence structure, sources, and give ideas for improvement)
  • 50 points for the final copy (creative title, thoughtful and organized, correct voice, image supplements writing, general creativity, and meets all requirements)
  • 20 points extra point assignment, if the post is published:
“The publication standard will be met only by posts that are current, thoughtful, creative, entertaining, well-written, and worthy of a blog post representing our school. The publisher will discuss selections for publication with the editors, but the ultimate decision is made by the publisher.” (I am the publisher.)

I decided to go with a looser writing rubric, contrary to one of my editor's request. If I want my students to “find their own voice” when writing this piece, I did not want them to be hamstrung with a rubric that details what I think good writing looks like. I like the bonus points for “above and beyond” needed to be met for publication. 

This assignment is a work in progress. The goal is to have my students write about science with a personal voice, but also to be involved in creating the assignment and learn leadership and communication skills as they produce the blog with the rest of the class.

I’d love to know UR Rxn!


  1. I've yet to do blogging with my students, but I've struggled with how I will (or won't) mark them. And contrary to your editor, I'd probably go loose rather than stringent as well, to avoid cramping any creativity. My problem with that, though, is that marking can become a bit more subjective. I've never enjoyed marking where I can't be very specific in my reasons for assigning a mark to a student.

    I can't wait to see the results!

    1. Lowell, the posts are coming in right now. Looking at a fun-filled next week of grading them.

  2. Chemistry is such an interesting subject but unfortunately, some have a hard time learning it for some reasons they wouldn't be able to appreciate it's complexity. high school chem/high school chemistry tutoring can help in breaking those complex concepts into simpler and understandable ideas.

    1. Pretty tasteful spam there. I will leave it for now. :>)

  3. i'm interested in whether this benefits you or the students to be worthy of the time commitment...i'm ambivalent towards this kind of stuff right now but want to be convinced that it could help them...

  4. Greg, This kind of "stuff" (developing communication skills, scientific literacy, and connecting chemistry outside the classroom. etc.) seems pretty important lately--with all this talk of 21st century education. (Not my favorite's already 2014.) And it's certainly part of NGSS, and Aim 8 of the IB, and now with the requirement in AP chemistry by the college board on the audit. And I like having my students write about science, even if the grading can take a bit of time.