Category Archives: ed tech

Switching from Mercury to MolView

One of my favorite Modeling Instruction activities is the comparison of crystal structures to derive properties of ionic, molecular and atomic substances. The original instructions for this activity have you use the Mercury software from ​​​​The Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre to visualize 3D crystal structures. The Mercury software is simple to use and makes it easy for students to make connections between properties like boiling and melting point and crystal structure.

The only problem with the Mercury software is it does not play nice with Chromebooks. If your school is anything like mine, you have a lot of Chromebooks. It makes sense, they are affordable, fast and durable. They just lack some of the computing power and operating system of a PC or Mac. Luckily, Chromebooks come with a ton of great apps meant for the classroom. One of these great apps is MolView. MolView is very similar to Mercury as it allows students to visualize crystal structures but it is not as intuitive to use. Here is a quick walkthrough to get you started:

Go to and get started!

Does your screen look like this? (maybe with a different compound)


Good! Now find your search bar, type in “sodium chloride” but don’t press “Enter”! See that little arrow next to your search box? Click it to get a drop-down menu like this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 8.46.00 PM

Select “Crystallography Open Database.” That will give you some options like this:

MolView.clipular (2)

From what I have found, you can just click the first one and it will give you what you need. Now you should have a unit cell of sodium chloride. You can hold down your mouse clicker and drag over the structure to rotate the structure like this:

Sodium chloride.clipular

Want a bigger crystal? We can do that. Click the “Model” drop-down menu and scroll to the bottom where you should see the options, “load 2x2x2 supercell” and “load 1x3x3 supercell.” Like this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 8.54.00 PM

Let’s try a “2x2x2 supercell.”

Sodium chloride.clipular (1)Look how pretty that is! Go ahead an repeat with any other molecular, ionic  or atomic substance. For some substances, like copper, you can just type in the name of the element, press “Enter” and the unit cell will pop up! If you try that and it doesn’t work, just search the crystallography database and it should be there.

If you are using the original Modeling Instruction worksheet, make sure to use the chemical name, not the common name of the compound when you search. Make sure for sugar, you search “sucrose” and for baking soda, use “sodium hydrogen carbonate.”

Good luck!

Coding in Chemistry

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed the other day and ran across a tweet from Frank Noschese (@fnoschese) about using GlowScript to code in physics. While the meme below is a joke, it really sums up why I love coding.

Coding is hard! It requires serious critical thinking and problem solving skills that students need. If you haven’t checked out the Hour of Code initiative, it is definitely worth looking into.

I am by no means a coding expert which is why I like GlowScript. GlowScript uses the VPython language which is easy for a novice to pick up. You could also code in JavaScript or CoffeeScript but unless you and your students are very code savvy, I would stick with VPython.

GlowScript makes it easy to code 3D objects which is great for building particle models in chemistry. We often represent particles in stationary 2D space but do not often look at particles moving in 3D space.

I started with building a model of gas particles in a closed box. You can check out what I put together here.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 8.47.19 PM

In class, I would give students the code for the box and have them focus on coding the particles.

Some other programs I would like students to write throughout the year include a 3D density model, an equation balancer, a solution calculator and a stoichiometry calculator, sticking with the Python coding language.

I encourage you to check out Code Academy in your spare time. This site has free online courses for all of your coding needs. I will be working my way through the Python course and then exploring app and website building.

Happy coding!

Autocrat for Reassessments

If you are switching to a standards-based grading system, you might be thinking “how I am going to handle reassessments?!” If any student can reassess any learning target at any time, things can get messy. My solution to reassessments my first two years of using SBG was having students line up at my desk so I could think of a question off the top of my head and write it on a post-it note. I tried having them sign up on a notepad ahead of time and making the reassessments the day before but that lasted about a week. At the end of a grading quarter, my desk basically looked like this:

Okay, maybe not quite that bad, but close. I knew there had to be a better way to organize reassessments that would not be horribly time consuming; enter technology. A colleague of mine introduced me to a nifty Google Sheets add-on called Autocrat. Autocrat is your documenting making/merging assistant and your new reassessment guru. Autocrat allows students to schedule a reassessment with you using a Google Form and then takes the information from that form and puts it in a Google Document using a template you provide. All you have to do it open the document, insert a question, print.

Here is how it works:

You will need a basic knowledge of the Google Drive Suite for this tutorial.

First, go make yourself a Google Form for your students to use to schedule reassessments. Mine looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.16.45 PMNext, make a new Google Document to serve as your reassessment template. Every reassessment you make will use this template so it should include useful information like the student’s name, the date, and the learning target being assessed (information that should be collected by the form). Mine looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.23.09 PM

You might be wondering “what is going on with “<<>>” around certain words.” These are called merge tags. You want to put a merge tag around any information that can be pulled from the form you made earlier. Anything with a merge tag around it will be different for each reassessment. Don’t worry about your template wording matching your form wording, we will fix that later.

Now comes the fun part! Open the Google Sheet that contains the responses to the form you made. If you haven’t already, you need to add-on Autocrat. Do that using the “Add-Ons” menu in Sheets. Got Autocrat? Good.

From the “Add-Ons” menu, launch Autocrat and click “New Merge Job.” Click the “Drive” button to select the template you made earlier. On the next screen, it will ask you to match your merge tags from your template with the form questions that provide the appropriate information. This is what my match-up looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.32.06 PM

Save that and move on to the next screen. Now you need to decide how you are going to name all of the reassessment files that Autocrat creates. I suggest using the student’s name, the learning target being assessed, and the date. Copy/paste the $tags at the top of the screen that correspond to the values you want in the file name. Mine looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 1.37.20 PM

All of my reassessment files will be named with the convention “last name, first name:learning goal – date” You can expand the “Advanced” options to select a folder in your drive to dump all of these new files in and you can check the “run autocrat when new forms are submitted” box to automate the process. Click “Save” and you are done!

Go test you new automated reassessment creator by filling out your form. Autocrat will add a link to your spreadsheet to the new reassessment document it created. This document will also be in the folder you specified earlier. What you do with this document is up to you.

You can print it and handwrite the reassessment question. I am personally going to type the reassessment question right into the document and then copy/paste that question into a master question bank spreadsheet. If your school is 1:1, you can just share the reassessment document with the student. My school isn’t quite 1:1 yet so I am going to print the reassessment and stick it in a folder at my self-serve reassessment station. When the student is free to reassess, he or she will come in, grab the reassessment, take it and turn it in.

No more lines at my desk and no more piles of post-it notes!

If you are feeling really techy, you can go to the “Tools” drop-down menu on your spreadsheet and select “notification rules.” You can set up a daily digest that tells you about any reassessment requests submitted that day.

Happy te(a)ching!

Doctopus and Goobric

The combination of Doctopus and Goobric has completely changed the way I distribute and grade electronic assignments. If you haven’t used these tools, they will most likely blow your mind.

Basically, Doctopus reaches it’s tentacles into your students’ Google Drive accounts and places an assignment in a folder it makes for them. Doctopus populates a list of all of the links to these assignments in your spreadsheet. Students do not have to share the document with you because you already have it! No more inundation of share notification emails and sifting through your shared folder to find documents! You can even see from your spreadsheet if your students have been editing their documents.

Image result for doctopus

It gets better with Goobric! Make the rubric you want to grade the assignment with in Sheets, attach it to the assignment using Doctopus and grade away! When you open one of your students’ assignments, the Goobric extension will recognize that the rubric is attached to it and you can electronically complete the rubric. Goobric will attach the completed rubric to the student’s assignment and can even email it to them. You can even leave typed and voice comments! All of those rubric scores then get compiled into your original spreadsheet.

Sounds awesome, right? Here is how you do it…

First, make sure you are using the Google Chrome browser. Start by opening up a new spreadsheet in Google Drive. Click the “Add-ons” drop down menu, click “get add-ons” and download Doctopus. You can then open Doctopus from the same menu. Doctopus does a really good job at walking you through the process step by step.

Life hack: You don’t want to end up typing in all of your students’ names and emails by hand to generate your roster.

Have your students fill out a Google Form at the beginning of the year with their names and email addresses. Now you already have a roster compiled for you in spreadsheet form!

Once you have gone through all of the steps of Doctopus, you should see a button that says “attach a Goobric” in the Doctopus control panel. Click that button if you are feeling adventurous. A nice window with instructions about downloading the Goobric Chrome extension should pop up. Once you have downloaded the extension you need a rubric. Make your rubric in Google Sheets. Put your possible grades along the top and your criteria down the first column. Here is an example:

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 9.19.31 PM

Now go back to your Doctopus control panel and tell Goobric where your rubric is located in your Google Drive and attach it. When you open up your students’ assignments, you should see this guy pop up in your address bar. 

Click him and all your electronic grading dreams will come true. Your rubric will pop up and you can start grading. Goobric will attached the completed rubric and any comments you make to the student’s work. It will even email the student if you want. The best part is if you click “next”, it will automatically open the next assignment in your spreadsheet.

I love this for lab reports in my chemistry class and article reviews in my environmental science class.

Happy grading!