Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What's UR Rxn? A chemistry class blog, part 2

My organic chemistry students were given the “What’s UR Rxn?” blog project rubric shortly after my last blog post. We spent the latter part of one of our one-hour blocks to discuss ideas for their blogs. I had a stack of C&E News from the American Chemical Society for them to peruse. It was fun to watch them try out ideas on me and on each other. Their topics all were supposed to be different from one another, and I was very surprised when the first student to “shotty” an idea, said loudly, “I get chemical weapons in Syria!” 

The students were given seven days to write the rough draft.  I think one of the hardest parts for some of them was to change their writing style to fit the project and to fit themselves.  I told them that I did not want, “blah, blah, blah, citation, paraphrase, paraphrase, citation.”  Not that the teachers in other classes encourage this kind of writing, but I think the possibility of being caught plagiarizing looms large and it tends to make their writing choppy and unnatural. 

Prior to the peer-edit day, I set up a folder on my Microsoft SkyDrive for the project and created a folder for each student, accessible to all for viewing and editing.  (Full disclosure—I did my best to embrace Google Drive and Google Docs over the summer in my online class and even dabbled with Evernote and Dropbox.  I never felt comfortable until I got the new version of Office on my laptop in August with Skydrive, Word, OneNote, and Outlook all integrated together. Sounds odd, but it was like coming home! And no, I’m not paid by Microsoft, but our school has some very high connections with Microsoft, so we have always been a Microsoft school.)

At first I was not exactly sure how to assign peer-editors for each post, but as a class we decided to use a random-number generator.  I assigned each student a number and we called out numbers until everyone was matched. After the first edit, they could invite others or choose their next edit. All the folders were open to everyone, so they opened the rough draft, saved as name_edit, and used the markup tools in Word, and away they went. It was completely silent!  (At least block 1 was, block 7 can never be truly silent…) Students gave each other great, constructive criticism, (edits in red):

[This paragraph is definitely more complicated and confusing than the previous paragraph. I would suggest simplifying the process more so normal people who don’t have too thorough of an understanding of chemistry can follow along.]  (I like the fact that ‘normal’ people don’t have an understanding of chemistry!)

Or “seemingly invulnerability yielded, [You are using an adverb on a noun.]

The students were then given another seven day period to make changes and post their final draft in the folder. They were not allowed to email them to me.  A few tried, but I told them to go back to the SkyDrive link and make it work.

Another fun piece of the assignment was that they had to pick an image/avatar for themselves for the end of the blog and add a 140 character description so the blog readers would know something about them. Here is Abdullah’s picture—I love that he included his mom.

Or Helena’s description:  “I’m Lena, currently a high school senior. I’m not sure what I want to do in the future, but I know what I’m passionate about. If you like art, 90’s bands, or Woody Allen films, we’ll get along just fine. And if you don’t, we’ll still get along fine.”

Pure Helena.  (Though maybe a few characters too long.)

What’s UR Rxn?


  1. What a GREAT project. Thanks for sharing. Is it possible to see some of the blogs, or are they kept private?

    Next semester I'll be doing some blogging with a chemistry class. I can't wait!


    1. Oh yes, I will be posting the student's work from the What's your Rxn? blogspot. I want the editors/classes to help me put the site together first. It's their project, too. We will also have a twitter handle linked to the blog.