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The Worst of Times: How The Pandemic (and TeacherMade) Have Changed the Way I Teach Chemistry For The Better

Let me first state that I am a “veteran” teacher who has not been a big adopter of educational apps in the classroom. When I first started teaching in the early 1990s there were still mimeograph machines in the schools where I worked. The grading systems of today were nonexistent and Excel spreadsheets were the work-around for those of us who strove to make our professional lives easier.
Fast forward to 2019-2020 when technology is ubiquitous and the number of applications claiming to make teaching easier are so numerous that it’s impossible to sort through them all. And then in 2020-2021, we find ourselves in a global pandemic and need to quickly adapt to online learning, hybrid learning, and teaching from a computer screen. Thankfully, I found TeacherMade and a few other programs.

There were 3 types of teachers that emerged during COVID closures and the abrupt switch to online teaching and learning. The first was the teacher that took their old materials, took pictures and posted them for students to find a way to submit their answers. The second type of teacher was the one that could not make up their mind about the applications for their classroom and tried anything and everything. And lastly, there was the teacher who started the school year looking for a few reliable tools to keep students learning.

Cassandra Kobrick - Chemistry Teacher Who Uses TeacherMade
Cassandra Kobrick has been teaching for 30 years in Northeastern Pennsylvania. She has a M.S in Chemistry from the University of Scranton and a M.S in Educational Leadership from Wilkes University. Cassandra enjoys planning and executing chemistry lessons for her Applied Chemistry and Honors Chemistry courses. When not teaching, she loves to read, attend concerts, and spend time with her family including 3 cats and a grandbunny.

I belong to the third type. When planning for the 2020-2021 school year, I realized that students would be overwhelmed with new applications and purposefully chose just a few to give students a sense of stability within my Chemistry class-- whether in person or online.

Looking back, I realize that I actually used quite a few applications to organize my classroom and provide a structured routine for students. However, these apps worked so seamlessly together that they were not overwhelming for the students. I received many comments at the end of the year stating my class was well organized and the number of applications we’d used was just right.

My class is structured so that the students receive their resource materials though Wakelet.com which allows you to curate a variety of resources. For each topic, I make sure to include reading resources, video resources, and practice resources. I also include a link to the Loom video that I had created for the lesson and the Google Slides presentation containing the notes on the content.

At the beginning of each class students were asked to complete a “Question of the Day.” I was able to format these questions in TeacherMade and have them auto-scored. The students completed this while I was taking attendance. Using TeacherMade, I was able to see what problems they were having with the previous day’s lesson in real time and offer students targeted help. I often then presented new material or had students practicing problems while I assessed their work. During this time I was able to work with struggling students in small groups or one on one. At the conclusion of class, students had to complete a “Learning Journal.” I used a Google Form to assess their Level of Understanding on the topic, collect questions that they still had on the content, and provide a short (usually multiple choice) question to see if they really understood the day’s lesson. Students also received a grade on this. I was able to take the information provided in these Learning Journals to adapt my lessons for content that the students indicated that they were still struggling with.

I used EdPuzzle to enhance the lesson or the topics we were covering. Students were able to watch the video and answer the questions. I was able to allow students to rewatch videos with difficult concepts to improve their understanding and to receive a better grade. Another application I utilized was CK12.org. This OER site offers STEM textbooks with adaptive practice activities. I would have my students read, listen, and watch videos about certain specific topics in Chemistry and then complete the adaptive practice materials, allowing them to work at their own pace.

Each of the applications that I chose worked seamlessly with Google Classroom. That was the common denominator. Student grades were directly transferred into the Google Classroom assignment and all I had to do was export the grades to our district LMS, saving time for this overworked teacher.

So, where does a 30-year veteran teacher with only one year of teaching with educational apps go from here? Not back to the pre-pandemic routine, that’s for certain! I didn’t use a textbook this past year and I won’t ever again. I have plans to use Google Sites as the hub for all of my content resources next year. I will create my own virtual repository of information about the topics that we’re covering. I will use Wakelet to plan lessons and act as a virtual file cabinet for my student worksheets, practice, presentations, labs, and content. I’ll use TeacherMade to deliver these activities to my students. I’ll curate my CK12 assignments and EdPuzzle videos in Wakelet, too. This will allow for immediate digital access to any topic, just like I used to pull that manilla folder from my file cabinet for 30 years prior.

I love the new teacher that the pandemic forced me to become. As we leave it behind, I’m looking forward to my 31st year of teaching, now as an ed tech leader who can keep my students engaged and my younger colleagues impressed. It’s been the worst of times and the best of times for this teacher.