Tag Archives: gcse chemistry

Interactive Virtual Manipulatives in Online Chemistry Teaching – Creating Molecules

Over the last 2 years I have been mentoring Paul Morgan, an A Level Chemistry tutor on his move to tutoring Chemistry online. With Paul being based in Burnley and me in London, we are still yet to meet in person. We have been meeting on a video call every week which serves as part staffroom and part CPD. We discuss a range of things from the business side of tutoring, teaching techniques online and more recently I have been his test pupil for the Chemistry teaching videos he records while we are on a call. So in effect we are on a video call, an interactive canvas and online video recording studio.

I teach up to GCSE Chemistry and Paul being an A Level Chemistry specialist, I have learnt a lot from him. Particularly how what I am doing at GCSE and earlier stages links up with what comes up at A level. Always keeping a long term view of learning Chemistry and making sure that things are taught correctly the first time round in the learning journey. I did A Level Chemistry and did research in a multi-disciplinary Tribology lab at Imperial College. So Chemistry has always been of interest to me.

One of the great things about using interactive online whiteboard Bitpaper (disclaimer : I work for them as their social media rep) is that you can build a whole bunch of filled shapes. Both the tutor and tutee can move these shapes around. For maths teaching this has been excellent since I have made my own two coloured counters, algebra tiles and cuisenaire rods. A tutee can be thousands of miles away from me yet both tutor and tutee can move the manipulatives around on screen as if we they were on the same table.

The use of interactive virtual manipulatives on Bitpaper to show how atoms are arranged to form molecules.

I have started to use virtual counters in teaching Chemistry as well now. In Chemistry students may use ball and stick manipulatives at school to understand the basic formation of molecules, the relative arrangement of atoms in space in that molecule, bond breaking and bond breaking etc. Quite a lot of that movement and playing with things can be replicated online.

We have created a series of videos to show exactly this. This first video is the very first one that introduces virtual manipulatives. Some things to note:

  • The atoms sizes are relatively in proportion to each other approximately.
  • The subscript symbolism of what the molecule represents with a pictorial representation of the molecule needs to be explicitly practiced by students.
  • Embedding what monoatomic and diatomic means using a pictorial representation.
  • Common misconceptions are addressed using non-examples. For example, while Methane’s molecular formula is written with Carbon first and Hydrogen with a subscript of 4, that does not mean that the molecular representation has a carbon atom, followed by four Hydrogen ones in a row.
  • The whole process of forming a molecule from atoms is then animated by the tutee once they have manually formed the molecules. This is done while I keep silence. Silence from the tutor is key to reduce cognitive load on the tutees while they discover and make these molecules.

I have tested this with a number of pupils now online and Paul has started using it with his tutees as well. It has been really useful for me to consult Paul and together we are creating this new way of working with manipulatives for Chemistry when teaching online. Please do let us know in comments or on twitter/Facebook what you think of this.

Extraction of metals and the Bronze Age

The reactivity of the metals determines how abundantly they are found on the earth. And an appreciation of their reactivity gives us a timeline of our own development as a species. A study of the reactivity of metals is also a study of very own history. This part of AQA and Edexcel GCSE is one I go through with students all the time. How the Bronze age started and then the Iron Age. All linked to the reactivity series.

Early Bronze Age Tools

Pre-historic humans used stone tools and items in their day to day lives. Tool making was a big deal indeed. But we couldn’t have known of metals besides silver and gold as they were all locked away in unrecognisable oxide form.

A most remarkable discovery moved us from the Stone Age period into the Bronze age. Bronze is an alloy (mixture of metals) of Copper and Tin. And copper would have been found as copper ore in nature. An accidental hot fire near a copper ore in the presence of coal (which contains Carbon, which is more reactive than Copper) would have revealed copper’s true existence. The Carbon reduced the Copper Oxide into Copper. A beautiful gold like substance, soft and malleable. It must have been an extraordinary discovery of its time and it changed the game for humans. We were now able to make much much more sophisticated tooling, ornaments and jewelry. It was the first metal we discovered and set us on a path to more discoveries later.

Here are a couple of great videos that show how a green ore of Copper called Malachite can easily be reduced into Copper. The implications of discovering Copper, and how it was a prime trade item are shown on the videos.

This is a superb resource for GCSE AQA Chemistry students studying the C2 module, or the iGCSE Edexcel 1C modules, both of which I tutor. And if as a student you are feeling bogged down by learning cold facts, then these videos will bring it all to life again.

Do you have any thoughts on the magic of Copper? Feel free to comment 🙂

Gas Tests Video Demonstrations for Chemistry

Anyone who knows me knows that two things that I really love are tutoring (with any practical element in it) and rock music. It is awesome that the two have been so flawlessly combined in this video.

Chemistry is really best experienced by doing experiments yourself. But that’s not always possible and thanks to the world of sharing videos, we now have the next best thing. To see videos of experiments. This is a lot better than reading about it. In this video a school Science teacher demonstrates the three core gas test that are relevant for GCSE and Common Entrance 13+ Chemistry. Here they are as shown on the video

  • Oxygen –  Will re-light a glowing splint.
  • Hydrogen – A squeaky pop sound is heard as the Hydrogen is lit.
  • Carbon dioxide – As Carbon dioxide gas is passed through clear limewater, it goes cloudy/milky coloured. Carbon dioxide will also put out a flame. This is why it is used in some fire extinguishers

So there you have it, a very clear and Joe Satriani type rock ‘n roll guitar soundtrack to demonstrate some of the most basic Chemistry gas tests. The tune is called “The Redshift Riders”. Satch must know his Physics as well to use that name 🙂