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Advanced Placement National Conference – Day 2 (July 23, 2011)

Session Title:  A New Approach To Teaching Chemical Equilibrium

Session Presenter:  Bob Ayton, Dunnellon High School, Dunnellon, FL

Presenters Website:  http://www.mrayton.com

Session Thoughts:  My presentation on A New Approach to Teaching Chemical Equilibrium went amazing.  It could have easily gone differently since there were many experienced, successful AP teachers there who could have told myself to leave the room with my crazy ideas.

A little background on the topic I spoke on.  Every year I taught equilibrium (the central subject in AP Chemistry) I taught my brains out for 4 weeks and at the end of it, my students knew close to nothing.  It was 4 weeks of teaching down the drain and I could not understand it – I was teaching it the same way the textbooks presented it and the way the review guides explained it – but my students did not take away anything and I was left frustrated.

So one summer I ripped apart my curriculum.  Literally, I ripped apart textbooks, review guides, old AP exams and laid it all out on a floor in one of the rooms of our house.  Through careful dissection and time, I realized that the textbooks and review guides taught chemical equilibrium with:

  • No systematic order
  • Poor sequencing
  • Disorganized in their presentation
  • No correlation with AP Exam questioning or students processing of information

In response, I developed a more systematic approach to teaching chemical equilibrium.  A way that is not intimidating to the teacher or student, that provides a progression of knowledge, supports a discovery of equilibrium for the student, and fosters a long-term knowledge base that is concrete.

And I was blessed to be chosen to present my approach on a national scale at the AP National Conference in San Francisco and the reception for my approach was amazing.

The first 20 minutes of the presentation I felt I was battling to convince my colleagues that the current approach did not make sense.  At this point, I’m not sure everyone in the room agreed with me – thinking that the current way was just fine…I mean they were taught with this method and look how they turned out.

But then about 30 minutes into my talk, I started to see heads begin to bob up and down as I talked.  Teachers, one by one, began to “buy” into my new approach.  As they continued to see the systematic progression of learning and ease at which it could be taught and learned, they agreed with almost every Powerpoint slide that I explained.

From that point until the end of the presentation of 70 minutes, I believe every teacher in the room was ready to try my new approach.  I finished my presentation with a story, an analogy that challenged each teacher to look past how “crazy” an idea I was presenting and just give it a chance, because it may just work.

Session Reviews:

Your presentation was energetic, engaging, and very thought provoking.  Loved it.  By far the best presentation.  Deb Wolf

Just wanted to follow-up.  I was in Minneapolis this past week for a conference and there were 2 AP Chem teachers that were part of the conference.  We talked about your approach to equilibrium and they both LOVED the idea.  I am definitely going to revamp my equilibrium unit this year in light your thoughts and ideas.  BRAVO!!!  Deb Wolf

I believe you are the one who understands how to teach equilibrium.  I have discussed your ideas with several people here at ChemEd and they liked your idea as well.   Greg Dodd

I was at the conference during your presentation.  I thought it was absolutely brilliant!  I’m a rather new teacher and am still getting my feet underneath me in terms of lesson plans and activities.  I loved your energy and enthusiasm.  I bet students respond very well!  JC Page

First, I would like to congratulate you on a great presentation.  It was very inspiring and full of energy!!  Vladamir Baldelomar

Your talk was excellent and eye-opening.  This is one of my students’ most problematic unit.  Loreni Kerecman