4,000 Pages of Code: Chemistry Goes Online

The COVID-19 shutdown has caused most schools in America to move to remote learning. As Providence Country Day School was readying for this transition, science teacher Klaus Amburn was not worrying about whether or not the materials for his chemistry classes could be moved online. He already knew the answer: they could, because he'd already done it.

Amburn, who also teaches computer science, has spent the last eighteen months painstakingly writing more than 4,000 pages of html code in order to build a chemistry website for his PCD classes. The site includes multiple open source chemistry text books, randomly generating quizzes so students can practice as much as they want, links to educational videos, a streamlined and color coded periodic table highlighting different features, and even chemistry games.

The idea for creating a chemistry website occurred to Amburn when he was reflecting on ways to provide more resources to students while also encouraging them to take responsibility for their learning. To Amburn, this responsibility is not only important to students' success in chemistry, but to their lives beyond the classroom. The concept therefore became a central component to Amburn's website.

"Making sure you understand something, and pursuing a subject with integrity, that is part of life," Amburn says. "The point of having my work online is to give students the tools to take personal responsibility for their own learning."

In order to give students these tools, Amburn created randomly generating quizzes—in other words, unlimited new quizzes—that provide ample opportunity for students to practice until they get their answers right. For added incentive, correct answers earn points, and students can take quizzes as many times as they want until they've earned the score they want.

"Everything is transparent," Amburn says. "Knowing how to achieve twenty points is what counts as having achieved mastery on a topic. Being able to do so on a number of quizzes is what it means to achieve mastery at this level of study. You can practice until you get good. You can earn your way."

Before COVID-19 the website was already a success, with Amburn seeing increased motivation among his students to practice and master the subject matter. With PCD's recent move to remote learning, however, the additional benefit of the website has become clear: the materials for Amburn's classes were already online and the transition has gone smoothly.

And whether you're scientifically inclined, simply curious after reading Sam Keane's The Disappearing Spoon, or just looking for a new online game to pass the time during COVID-19, Amburn's website is open to the public beyond PCD students. Anyone can go to the website, dive into what Amburn calls "the craft of chemistry," and pursue that perfect score.

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