Balancing chemical equations
In my experience, there are two kinds of students when it comes to balancing chemical equations. Those that love it, and those that hate it. It has been a struggle for me to try to move students from the “hate it” camp into the “love it” camp. One simple change has made the MOST difference in how many kids love balancing equations. Whiteboards! Yup, cheap little whiteboards that they can write on with dry erase markers have made all the difference in student success in balancing equations.
Why students were struggling
My working theory is that students hate to be wrong. They simply do not like to write down a wrong answer. The problem I was seeing was that they would try to write in all the correct coefficients right off the bat. They simply were not equipped yet to do that so they were becoming very frustrated. I would stand next to students after they’d exclaimed “I can’t do it, I need your help” and say over and over again, “Keep going”, “3? Try it”, Try it and see”, “re-count”. They never had a problem with the concept of balancing equations. Their problem stemmed from the fact that they didn’t want to write down an answer that they may have to then erase to write something else. It was creating a mental block for them.
Why whiteboards work
What happened when I handed them whiteboards was really kind of magical. All of a sudden they weren’t giving up. They kept trying new coefficients until they got the equation balanced. They began to see patterns which made balancing even easier. Students were no longer hesitant to write something down because writing it in dry erase marker made it somehow less permanent than even a pencil. It became easy to wipe out a coefficient that didn’t work and write in a new one. Almost as if that was part of the process…and you know what? It was!
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Cheap way to make whiteboards
I did not have the good fortune to have 30 whiteboard laying around so I had to get creative. I thought about using laminated cardstock, but I didn’t like that is was difficult to erase. I tried using page protectors with cardstock in them and those worked but they were pretty small. So I went online and found page protectors that were 11 x 17! They erase great and there is plenty of space for writing out long chemical equations.
As an added bonus, you can print things onto the paper that you slip into these page protectors. I typed out some of the tips I taught them along with a basic framework for balancing chemical equations and slipped it into the sleeve.
Who can benefit?
Not all of my students will use this method. There are always those kids that can balance equations in their heads and just never have to write anything down. This is not for them, I don’t force them to use this tool. This is for those kids (like me) who need to write it out. They need to count and try numbers and re-try numbers in order to balance an equation. That is OK! They many not use the whiteboard for every equation, maybe just the tough ones. Sometimes I have students that start with the whiteboards but them find they don’t need them after a while. They’ve built up enough confidence that they can now just do it on paper. However they utilize them, they serve their purpose of building student success and that’s never a bad thing!