Innovative Teaching + Learning in Year 9 Science

Bec McKinney & Drew Mayhills

Shenton College

Teaching Chemistry to the gifted and talented Year 9s at Shenton College requires me to stretch my capacity for innovation and test the waters with new ideas. My students are open to experimenting with technology and eager to work in teams to develop their understanding of science – a perfect starting point for innovative teaching and learning.

In Year 9 Chemical Sciences, we study models of atoms, with specific reference to the position and number of protons, neutrons and electrons. Particular focus is made of the outermost electrons, the valence electrons, which are all important in Chemistry and Physics.

As electrons are too small to see, this topic risks being abstract, two-dimensional and restricted to textbook-based explanations to demonstrate the number and position of valence electrons. Reluctant to use the ‘usual methods,’ I reflected on how this topic might be reimagined in a more hands-on way to enrich learning.

Working in teams, students built models of atoms using plasticine. My thoughts were that if student physically counted electrons and built models, they would better understand and remember the ideas. In the design process, I remembered the value of peer to peer collaboration when learning abstract concepts and so decided to include time-lapse video as part of the task, so that the learning could be shared by the entire class.

Together with the Innovation Coordinator at Shenton College, Drew Mayhills, I investigated some time-lapse applications that would suit our purpose. We chose Hyperlapse by Instagram on the basis of its ease of use and functionality.

Armed with paper, pens and plasticine, the students researched an atom and the number of electron shells it had. In groups, they drew the electron shell model and placed plasticine balls in position around the atom. Once students had practiced and got everything in position, they filmed the construction of the valence electrons around the nucleus of the atom, using Hyperlapse. The result was some deeply interesting and engaging footage, in which they visibly documented their learning.

As I began to realise the enormous potential of this project, I encouraged groups to integrate develop their Hyperlapse footage into short tutorial films using QuickTime, where they could record an accompanying dialogue track to describe their understanding.

This project was hugely successful and students loved it. The accompany clip chronicles this process and I am hopeful that it can inspire other teachers to explore innovation in their own practice.