Low cost air quality monitors for teaching

I have adopted the Arduino platform to introduce students to environmental measurements and monitoring. For the Integrated Science seminar students built a low cost PM2.5 monitor (a Plantower PMS5003) with data written to an SD card all connected to an Arduino board fitted with a development shield.

Arduino microcontroller board to receive and write PM2.5 data in a student-built device

Following their chosen hands-on project (e.g., monitoring indoor or outdoor air quality in their immediate environment, students could then explore data structure and basic strategies of plotting and data analysis as an introduction to the scientific process.

Review remote teaching at the SALTISE 2021 Conference

With now two full remote teaching terms under my belt (although shortened labs remained in-person) it is good to look back (and ahead) for all things university and college teaching

I would like to draw your attention to an upcoming teaching conference (with a Montreal focus, but more and more Canada-wide and international contributions): https://www.saltise.ca/saltise-conference/

As part of the conference a number of workshops will be offered; for those teaching (university) first year courses Workshop #3 on the upcoming renewal of the CEGEP curriculum might be of interest: https://www.saltise.ca/saltise-conference/post-conference-workshops/

Feel free to join the discussion session that includes my poster contribution: Moving Analytical Chemistry courses to an online format and lessons learned for in-person teaching

P05 – Emerging Issues in STEM teaching I
3:45 PM, Thursday 3 Jun 2021 EDT (1 hour 15 minutes): https://sites.events.concordia.ca/sites/saltise/en/saltise2021/sessions?type=poster

Getting your hands dirty — sampling for trace metal analysis

Last week I went water and soil sampling with first year students. As part of an Integrated Science course, where we explore fundamental science skills and discuss chemistry, physics, biology and mathematics aspects centred around Environmental pollution we visited an abandoned copper mine East of Montreal.

After an in-class introduction to the former mining sites, sampling techniques and a visit underground with some beautifully coloured rock formations, students went out to sample soil and surface water including the effluent of a now flooded abandoned mine. Furthermore, samples were collected in a reclaimed area, including a river.

Samples will now be analyses for 10 different trace metals using ICP-MS. The data will be used in introductory data analysis modules, where students will explore basic statistical analysis and visualization techniques.

Fall term approaching

The new term is coming fast and it is going to be an interesting one — I will be teaching mostly Thermodynamics, but there is also a new exciting course that I am working on together with the support of the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at Concordia (http://www.concordia.ca/offices/ctl.html; check out their really cool offerings for instructors!) —

An Integrated Science course for first year (non-CEGEP) students to explore different Science disciplines (chemistry, physics, biology, math) by working on a single topic, which in my case will be “Environmental Pollution”!

A new Advanced Data Analysis course

Last fall have have taught my first grad course (for Masters and PhD students) at Concordia; CHEM 498/610: Advanced Data Analysis.

The course is an introduction to data analysis using R and experimental design using Modde Pro and was given by 2 colleagues and myself. After an introduction to R and practice problems to gain some initial programming experience (Chemistry and Biochemistry students have little exposure to programming) we looked at preparation of (censored and non-censored) data before tackling topics such as regression, ANOVA, multivariate classification and regression methods…)

Grad students used their own data or chose suitable datasets from the public domain after discussion with the instructors!

Active learning strategies

Since spring I have been participating in the Saltise S4 activities on the development of Active Learning strategies.

While the majority of the work is focused on Organic Chemistry, I am learning a great deal about active and collaborative learning, while being able to contribute strategies for 2-stage assessments.

I am also hoping to contribute Analytical Chemistry questions to an innovative database of questions for (self) assessment and collaborative learning (MYDALITE), which not only asks for the correct answer, but also requires submission of a rationale and provides (correct and incorrect) rationales to students.

A new Environmental Chemistry course

Term has started and so has the Environmental Chemistry course that I have been designing during the last few months. The official name is CHEM 298 — Air, water and soil processes and targeted at students, who have at least completed the first of 3 analytical chemistry courses (who have a good knowledge of aqueous phase equilibria in addition to a solid General Chemistry knowledge).

We do a tour of atmospheric, water and soil chemistry followed by interfacial processes and the analytical tools necessary to monitor concentrations and transfer between environmental compartments.

I have quite a few students, who are really interested in the topic with some engaging discussions, quite early in the course. During a brainstorming exercise students have come up with a range of interesting topics that I will try address during the course.

For the term paper and group presentation (which are part of the assessment together with quizzes and a late midterm exam), I have invited the Science Librarian to give a presentation on search strategies, relevant databases and on how to structure search results. Together with peer review sessions of the paper outline (4 weeks into the term) and a draft (2 weeks before the end of term) it should ease students into term paper writing — for all students taking the course it is the first time that they are writing a term paper!

News on 2-stage assessments

I have now implemented 2-stage exams for all my courses (currently Analytical Chemistry 1 and 2, and Thermodynamics.

It’s been smooth sailing and the feedback from students has been very positive. They like that they know immediately, how they did on the individual exam and the fact that they can review the concepts with other students during the group stage.

There were a few issues to address during the implementation and apart from scheduling and training TAs, accommodating students writing with the Access Office for Students with Disabilities (ACSD) at Concordia has been the most important one. My priority is to have students writing the individual exam with ACSD write the group exam with the rest of the students together so that they can join the group they have been working with during the term. And support from ACSD has been great regarding scheduling individual start times so that all students are on time for the group stage at the common exam room. This has, so far, worked for midterms and finals!

Two-stage Exams

I have recently successfully tested two-stage exam s as part of the Analytical Chemistry course that I teach at Concordia. I chose the long 2 1/2 hour evening section to have enough time for teach step:

  1. Individual exam (1hr 15 min)
  2. Group exam (30 min)
  3. Discussion of solutions (15 min)

Feedback was overwhelmingly positive and I now work on expanding this assessment to all of the courses I teach, including the 1hr 15 min day sections, where I will most probably opt for a 40 min individual exam, followed by a 25 min group exam.

Canada-wide Science Festival

I was the departmental coordinator for the Canada-wide Science Festival, which was held at McGill this year. Geared at high school students it is also a great outreach opportunity for university departments to provide information to prospective students. 

Things got quite crowded during the day with the weather in a tank set-up being a magnet for students and teachers alike. 

A can of ice is placed in a rotating water tank. The temperature gradient together with the rotation creates flows (visualized with food coloring) that are strikingly similar to atmospheric patterns in the mid-latitudes, where the temperature gradient is caused by the warm regions near the equator and the cold poles.

There was also a display about how melting sea ice does not contribute to sea-level rise, but melting glaciers do. We also demonstrated the sea ice albedo effect with a lamp and thermometers placed near black and white paper.