I am currently teaching my chemistry students about atoms
and elements . . . and how to calculate the number of protons, neutrons, and
electrons in each atom given a certain set of information. Neither math or
science are my strongest subjects, but these are the most basic of algebra
problems – A=Z+n (usually you have to solve for n). It took me about half the
class to explain how to solve this equation and took the whole forty-five
minutes to get through five problems. I’m a bit nervous for what’s going to
happen when we start balancing equations. But this ongoing difficulty with any
form of math means that I almost start dancing (and definitely start singing
alleluia in my head) every time a student finally gets how the problems work.

For their first assignment, my students did an experiment
that used iodine to see which foods had starch. We don’t have any lab
equipment, so the experiment was done in my Tupperware containers, but actually
seemed to go fairly well. During the lesson before I had gone over the format
of the lab report that the students needed to turn in for their first grade. I
gave them all of the needed information, the only information they needed to
provide was their name and class, their thoughts to complete the hypothesis, to
fill in the table of data, and to write their own conclusion (all of which were
pretty much spelled out for them). I also offered office hours where they could
come down to the mission to talk to me about any questions they may have
regarding the lab report. When only three students came to talk to me, I
started to get a little nervous.

Sure enough, over half of my students failed their first assignment.
It’s hard because I don’t know if they just didn’t understand my Portuguese, if
this kind of assignment was just completely new to them, or if they just didn’t
care. I’m guessing it’s some combination of all of these factors, but I am just
rather frustrated with the results. I am offering students the chance to redo
the exam, but thus far very few have taken me up on the offer. Some students
did do very well on the lab report, so that’s encouraging.

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