Twelfth graders, otherwise known as senioritis sufferers, can be a tough audience to reach. It can be hard enough to engage a group of restless seventeen year olds in a lecture on human reproduction, but keeping them in study hall long enough to memorize the periodic table of elements can be darned near impossible.
Still, if the AP success rate of your students will somehow determine your salary for the following year or the number of times you are assigned to detention hall and restroom monitoring details, you must find a way to achieve the impossible.
Motivation in the form of a bribe seems most appropriate. In order to make the bribe acceptable to parents and the school board, it is better to present it in the form of a contest involving prizes.
Here’s how it works: In September, present the bad news that, by May, it will be necessary for anyone hoping to wheedle their way out of a science requirement in college by scoring a 5 in AP chemistry, to memorize the table of periodic elements. This news will generate a chorus of grunts and sighs. Then tell them the good news.
In the 1960’s a very clever Harvard professor named Tom Lehrer, found a way to have fun with the periodic table of elements by putting it to music. This song is easily found on the popular video website,Youtube, performed both by Lehrer, himself, and by others. One version, in particular, is especially useful because it provides visual memory-boosters for each element, such as bananas for potassium and a cartoon skeleton for calcium. That video can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmwlzwGMMwc&feature=related
Lower the lights in your classroom and show a few of the better known Lehrer tunes like New Math or The Bomb in order to get them in the mood. These, too, can easily be found on Youtube. Then show the Periodic Table.
Once the lights are back up, announce to your class that there will be a talent contest in April whereby each of them will be given a chance to win a special privilege such as earning an automatic A on a big exam or better still, earning a pair of tickets to a hot concert, if he or she is able to perform Lehrer’s song without a mistake. Failing a perfect performance by any single student, the student who completes the song with the fewest errors will win the big prize.
Additional prizes must be offered in descending order to runners up in order to discourage, well, discouragement. In order to ensure that the class to becomes invested in the project from the very start, make your first homework assignment making a list of ten possible prizes for second through last prize. Make sure to encourage booby prizes for last place.
Check on progress from time-to-time by allowing volunteers to sing a few bars of the song in exchange for exemption from a homework assignment or pop quiz. (Hint: take along your video camera because scoring on the spot will be a bit of a challenge.)
If you still doubt that your students are incapable of memorizing so much material, ask yourself how long it took you to learn the words to Bohemian Rhaphsody when you were their age.