How to Get Students Excited About Chemistry

CHemistry CLassAre you a chemistry teacher? Are you trying to come up with ways to get your students engaged in chemistry? Some of my past high school chemistry teachers are emailing me and asking me how to get their students interested in chemistry. It’s pretty easy to do.

Frankly, chemistry is extremely boring for most students. Imagine putting an art major in a calculus III class. That’s exactly how most students feel when they’re sitting in your chemistry lecture. Most students simply don’t care because they think they’re never going to need chemistry again. The truth is, half of them won’t. However, the school made it your job to convince the students that they will need chemistry in their lives. The only problem is, most schools don’t tell you how to do this.

You have to come up with ways to relate chemistry to every student’s life. You have to let them know that it’s important to understand some of the basics and even show that some of the material is pretty cool. Although, you have to do all of this without telling them in those words. I had a teacher once who literally told my class that chemistry is important and we need to learn the basics because it will apply to our everyday life. It was useless and he lost half the class right there.

The best way to hook students and get them engaged? Start off with the most interesting and taboo topics in chemistry. Talk about the chemistry of drugs. Cocaine is usually a great way to start off discussion about chemistry. No, not taking coke, but talking about it’s history, the purely medical uses for it, and that it comes from a plant. Guaranteed, you will have the attention of every student in the class. From there you can talk about the individual atoms, some of the properties like solubility and what they mean. Students will absorb so much more information if the topic they are learning about interests them.

One of the best ways to lose students’ interest is buy starting with the basics and emphasizing that the material only builds on itself. Students have heard that so many times that it’s just obnoxious. What’s wrong with starting with the most interesting and complicated topics? Bring up radioactivity and everyone will be listening. You’d be surprised how many students will also have the ability to understand most of what you’re saying. You will get great questions that will help you lead into the fundamental topics.

Example: Polarity. Very few students care about polarity. Actually, I was most likely the only one who cared in my class of 98 students. My teacher at the time must have realized this because we never once had a lecture titled “polarity.” What’s the point of teaching a basic concept without giving students context. Instead, tell your students that no matter how hard they try, they couldn’t dissolve table salt in gasoline, but throw it in water and it dissolves right away. One of the students will no doubt ask why. Of course, the reason has to do with polarity. Give tons of examples (water expanding when freezing, and so on). It will help the students relate. They’ll feel smart for knowing these things and try to impress their friends with cool science tricks.

Demos are definitely a plus. Every student loves the teacher who does demos. Why? It’s just cool. What’s more exciting than watching something blow up in class? Hearing your teacher sound like a chipmunk by using helium and then sound like a record in slow motion using sulfur hexafluoride is the funniest thing and really interesting. Do things that will cause the students to ask you questions about the basics. You will be very surprised at how many students want to know how things work and who found out that they work.

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