January 23, 2012

Pulling teeth on a monday morning

Period 1, Monday morning. They call it the graveyard shift, and there is one very good reason for that. The kids resemble the walking dead.

One boy admitted to me that he had gone to bed at 5am this morning, as he had been playing on his Xbox. God help me.

In the previous lesson with this group we had been doing complete and incomplete combustion. The kids were fabby. My plenary showed that every child that walked out that lesson were able to write the word equations for both processes, most knew how the products were identified and some could write balanced equations. Top marks, Year 9. You lot are super.

However, I forgot that during the weekends they melt their brains with tv and playstations and texting useless rubbish to their friend of the moment. So, by the time monday morning rolled around, they could barely remember their names.

As part of the previous lesson they all had to write a question and answer on a strip of paper. I typed these all up and added a couple of higher tier questions and gave the questions back to them as a starter. Considering they wrote the questions, I figured they would be able to answer them. Apparently not.

To cut a long story short, the entire lesson was a long-drawn out process of trying to gently coax out any surviving remainders of last week's lesson whilst attempting to learn about the composition of our curent atmosphere. I ended up having the following coversation with about 20 pupils...

"miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiisssssssssssssssss................... I don't geddit!"

"what don't you get?"

"I don't knooooowwwwwwwwwwwwww!" (Kids have an annoying habit of elongating their words into one long whine when they're tired)

"well unless you tell me what you're struggling with, I can't help you!"

"EVERYTHIIIINNNNNGGGGGGG!" (Anyone would think her life was coming to an end with the theatrical moan she expelled at this point, complete with a dramatic slump onto the desk. Surely her head hitting the desk with that force can't be good for the few living brain cells that have survived the weekend.)

"you are going to have to be a little bit more specific than that..."

"what IS combustion?!"

"Are you kidding?! we did this last lesson!"

"Did we?!"

"YES! Look in your book!"

"Oh yeah! So what is it then?"

"I'm not telling you! You've got a textbook and your workbook in front of you. Use them!"

"Can't you just tell me? That is your job."

"No way! I can't take the exams for you. What good would it do you if I just told you the answer to everything in class?!"

"Well, just tell me the page number in the textbook then..."

"No, look it up yourself."

10 minutes later, when I spied her piling up her diary, textbook and workbook to form a makeshift pillow....

"okay, okay, it's page 107.."

5 minutes later, when her neighbours' textbooks were being added to the nest...

" so what is combustion then?"

"Huh? what? concussion? I ain't go no concussion..."

"Combustion, you spoon, combustion! what is it?"

"oh yeah, errrr, I dunno"

"I'll give you a clue, bunsen burners facilitate complete combustion"

"Is it setting fire to stuff?"

"Err... yes alright you can have that one. So what is the word equation for complete combustion? We did this last week...you do know this... you know you do.... just think..." (Note my attempt at hypnotism)

" No idea miss" (okay, so the hypnotism needs some honing)

"Well what are the reactants? What do we put into the reaction?" (When I said the word 'reactants' I was met with a face that resembled a bulldog that is trying to stare down a fly which has just landed on his nose.)

"oh errrr, dunno miss"

"Come on, yes you do. What do we burn?"


"Hypothetically, what do we burn? You need three things in a fire triangle, what are they?" (Oh dear, silly me, there's that face again. I have mistakenly added another confusing factor into the equation...fire triangles. Quick, abandon that and return to combustion before she loses all conciousness!)

"Don't you burn gas miss?" (SUCCESS!)

"YES! Well done! Can you remember the name of the gas we use in school for our bunsen burners? No? I'll give you a clue..... errr.... it's called methane."

"Is it methane miss?"

"CONGRATS!" (I love that kids rarely detect sarcasm)

"Right, we're a quarter of the way there. Sigh. What do we burn methane in?"

"A bunsen burner."

"No. I mean what gas."

"Oh yeah. Methane. Ain't that what cows fart miss?" (Oh dear lord.)

"Yes. No. I mean....forget that. What gas does methane burn in? Fire needs this gas to burn....still not got it?.....We breathe it in and use it in respiration...."


"NO! What planet are you on?! Try again..."


"YES! so our reactants are........come on, we've just been through this, what are the reactants in combustion? Right, okay, we burn methane in oxygen. Got that?" (I'm not holding my breath.)

"Yep." (I very much doubt that.)

"So our reactants are on the left side of the word equation, then you put an arrow..... an arrow...... no you don't need to colour it in. Yes, it does look like a spear, well done. Stop colouring it in! So what is produced in complete combustion? You only have two products; one turns limewater cloudy and one turns cobalt chloride paper pink..." (Dammit, too many big words.)

"methane. oxygen! CARBON MONOXIDE! SOOT!!"

"You have named pretty much every substance involved in combustion except the two I actally want."


"Never mind. Ok, this is a gas we breathe out... "

"carbon dioxide?"

"YES!! and the other product is a vapour we breathe out..."


"OH MY GOD WE'RE THERE! Okay, so put it all together and you have the word equation for complete combustion. Combustion spelt with a C, not a K. And STION, not SHUN. Why have you drawn a little heart over the 'i' in 'dioxide'? Right, now try the word equation for incomplete combustion..."

30 seconds later and she's got her blazer over her head and is gently snoring...

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