Friday Funny!

This week we thought we would change things up and share these videos of our employees reading mean tweets!

Green Chemistry Primer – Reaction Efficiency, Percent Yield, and Atom Economy

Happy Earth Day!

Chemistry often gets a bad reputation when it comes to keeping our Earth green and healthy. “Chemicals” are added to food, they are in our water, they are referred to in association with being bad or harmful. While biology usually gets the nod as the “green” science, the “green chemistry” movement has given form to principles for improving chemical processes – such as using environmentally friendlier solvents, or reactions in which catalysts reduce energy expenditure. One key aspect introduced at the general chemistry level is reaction efficiency.

Whether chemical reactions are used in industry or the academic laboratory, a key factor is the efficiency of a reaction. In fact, millions of dollars of research funding has gone into improving the efficiency of reactions. In this article, we give a brief overview of two concepts in measuring reaction efficiency – percent yield and atom economy.

Students of general chemistry commonly encounter percent yield calculations – determining how much product was obtained in the lab relative to the amount expected in perfect reaction conditions.

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For example, if you generated 15.33 g of product, but expected 17.41 g based on your starting amounts, you would have this percent yield:

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Here’s a baking analogy: You follow a recipe for 2 dozen cookies, but your kids eat enough cookie dough that you end up with just 22 cookies, or roughly a 92% percent yield.

In addition to percent yield, there is a second measure of reaction efficiency – atom economy.  Atom economy measures the percentage of the mass of products theoretically produced by a reaction versus the desired goal product. This metric of reaction efficiency differs from percent yield in that it is based on the theoretical reaction – not on lab data. In essence, atom economy is how much extra “stuff” you create that you don’t want – even under perfect reaction conditions. Thus, let’s say we were trying to create “G” in the following reaction:

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E and J are byproducts of the reaction – we have created materials that we don’t need. To calculate atom economy, we need the molar masses of the products, as described below:

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In our example above, we have molar masses of E as 44 g/mol, G as 78 g/mol, and J as 18 g/mol, we would calculate atom economy as:

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These are the basics of two metrics of reaction efficiency. If you are interested in giving these a try, search for assignment Reaction Efficiency (Assignment ID # 7097680) in WebAssign, which offers a few questions. Beyond this, you can learn more about the “12 Principles of Green Chemistry,” by Paul Anastas and John Warner.

Friday Funny!

math teacher food fight


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How Collaboration is Just a Modern LMS Away

Check out this article that was recently published in eCampus News. It was written by WebAssign user Michael Lafreniere, an associate professor of environmental engineering technology and mathematics at Ohio University – Chillicothe. Michael will also be presenting at our WebAssign Users Group Meeting on June 25-26. Register today to hear him and other professors talk about teaching, learning, and using WebAssign.

Developing “collaboratories” in mathematics thanks to multi-tooled LMS’

Today’s colleges and universities are quickly turning to alternative pathways to traditional teaching and learning approaches, especially for core courses such as developmental mathematics and algebra—and collaboration enabled through modern Learning Management System (LMS) functionality may be one way to accomplish this rejuvenation.

Leveraging today’s key methods and technologies can create collaborative spaces that enhance student learning and outcomes. A teacher can recapture time spent on traditional lecture and create opportunities for exploration of concepts that lead to increased student engagement and mastery level learning—all while accommodating individual student learning pace variations and asynchronous learning.

LafreniereThe technology to help accomplish this form of pedagogy can be brought together in what is being called the “Collaboratory Approach” or simply “Collaboratory.” The term collaboratory is credited to William Wulf for interacting and sharing via software as early as 1989 (Wulf, 1993).

Today, the software is a web-based application commonly known as an LMS. With an appropriate LMS, video delivery, conferencing integration, and white board integration with digital inking capabilities, a teacher can collaborate with colleagues and students through the broadcast of synchronous instruction and learning activities online and in-class. The teacher can facilitate collaborative, shareable, personalized note-taking spaces, as well as track student engagement across multiple sections—class and student level insights that assist the teacher much like intentional formative assessment.

At the end of the course, the same data collection can be used in the creation of student portfolios of learning outcomes, which are ideal for course and program improvement, as well as, accreditation.

The goals of an LMS-enabled collaboratory, specifically for developmental mathematics and college algebra include the ability for online learning so that every student can “come to the board” without ever leaving their seat (or coming to campus).

Which means a STEM-proficient online assessment system

Online assessment is a primary driver in the design of this collaboratory approach, given the high effect size of improvement for effortful practice with testing (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014; Hattie & Yates, 2014).

For STEM courses like mathematics that come with a significant reliance of symbolic characters, a system that can accept and assess such information provides valuable fidelity to the discipline, time savings, and a greater volume of student engagement.

WebAssign is a great online assessment system, because it affords the highest symbolic and mathematical fidelity needed for student engagement beyond the standard assessment (e.g., types like multiple choice and true/false). It also comes with high-fidelity symbolic capabilities from Maple, Mathematica, and MATLAB—along with embedding capabilities that enable integration of a variety of publisher’s e-content. This e-content can incorporate technical simulations, e-book materials, and student learning support tools like “Watch it” videos; all applications pertinent to learning mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering.

The WebAssign online assessment system also serves as the hub of activity through which students engage and collaborate on items like homework, in class activities, quizzes, exams, video lectures, simulations, and problem-solving.

CollaborationThe ability to write and share

Second to the assessment system in the collaboratory LMS approach is a need to write by students and teacher using digital ink, given the benefits known (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014). OneNote, DyKnow, or PencilPad can be used to connect teacher and students’ digital writings with others during engagement activities where symbolic mathematical representations are crucial for increasing the mathematical fidelity of their conceptual understanding.

Problem-solving can be shared in real-time, whether a student is present in-class or attending online, through the use of digital ink. Each student is “coming to the board” to contribute and share their approach in problem solving. This conveyance of digital notes from the teacher and students’ collaboration is shared and saved for all in real-time.

Being able to couple tools like PencilPad and DyKnow on an LMS, a teacher can also ascertain the cognitive fidelity of the student’s work via a recording of the digital inking activity. For example, whether sequences are correct from start to finish or filled with intermittent “false starts” or “tangential efforts,” the writing, erasing, and writing is all there for the teacher to evaluate.

In WebAssign, data collection on a student’s digital writings now includes assessment and insights at the question-, assignment-, and class-level with both quantitative and qualitative data types. Educators can see how much a student writes as a measure of engagement (Kamin, Capitanu, Twidale and Peiper, 2008), as well as taking what a student digitally writes and analyze it for correctness via computer algorithms (Hatfield, 2010). Two such promising tools are FluidMath, and MyScript.

A means to flip

Flipped delivery of lectures is often used in the collaboratory approach. To ensure student engagement, as well as provide the teacher with formative assessment data, the flipped delivery of lectures is embedded in WebAssign using such online tools as YouTube or EdPuzzle.

This monitoring and assessing of student lecture viewing provides key mid-level data to reduce misconceptions and develop greater conceptual understanding–leading to greater gains in disciplines like mathematics. Given the time savings from flipped delivery of lectures, a teacher can collect and analyze student writing with digital assessment capabilities or good ol’ fashion “by hand.”

Pooling capability for high stakes

Since class time is spent on concept development and building procedural fluency from these concepts, the LMS should help the teacher build questions (to occur in initial assignments, through exams, and culminating on a final exam) around material learned. From this, mastery of the content by a student (or whole class) can be tracked and displayed in the collaboratory.

As for high-stakes assessments such as module or chapter exams, these are offered in a campus testing center under proctored conditions. Exams can be taken multiple times in this format to further promote mastery learning. Given the randomization and pooling capabilities of a modern LMS, students get a greater range of questions tied to concepts, which can significantly reduce the possibility of academic misconduct.



Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., III, & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Hatfield, J. J. (2010). A method for automating the analysis of tablet PC ink-based student work collected using dyknow vision. In R. H. Reed & D. A. Berque (Eds.), The impact of tablet PCs and pen-based technology on education: Going mainstream (pp. 57–64). West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press.

Hattie, J., & Yates, G. (2014). Visible learning and the science of how we learn. New York: Routledge.

Kamin, S. N., Capitanu, B., Twidale, M., & Peiper, C. (2008). A “teacher’s dashboard” for a high school algebra class. In R. H. Reed, D. A. Berque, & J. C. Prey (Eds.), The impact of tablet PCs and pen-based technology on education: Evidence and outcomes (pp. 63–71). West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.

Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 0956797614524581.

Wulf, W. A. (1993). The collaboratory opportunity. Science, 261(5123), 854–855.

Friday Funny!

Have a better math/science/teaching joke than this one? Email us to have it posted as one of our future Friday Funnies!

Friday Funny!

statistics meme


Have a better math/science/teaching joke than this one? Email us to have it posted as one of our future Friday Funnies!

Instructor Spotlight: Dr. Anne Triplett

Featuring the innovative work of our outstanding faculty users is something we love to do here at WebAssign. This week we are spotlighting Dr. Anne Triplett. Anne is taking a sabbatical from teaching this year and will be writing a collection of sports-themed questions for WebAssign! We are very excited to have her working with us and recently spoke with her about her education background and teaching philosophy.

 Anne TriplettWhat is your educational background and teaching history?

In 1997 I graduated from The University of Oregon with a PhD in pure Math. I then taught at the University of Maine at Farmington for three years before coming to the University of Mount Union. I was fortunate to be able to do some teaching while I was a student, so I knew that was the path I wanted to take.

What is your teaching philosophy?

Make it real! If I am teaching probability, I start with expected value and do some actual games in class. This shows the students that counting arguments are useful. When doing weighted averages, I use quarterback ratings from football as an example. Sometimes I will start a mathematical topic with an example that is somewhat unexpected, so the students can become familiar with an application before they actually understand the mathematics. I try to teach concepts by relating them to real-life situations, when possible. I believe that all students are capable of learning, but that learning takes place more effectively when students have understood contexts and applications.

What teaching practices do you employ to get your students engaged in learning?

I try to use as many examples as I can from different disciplines. In a precalculus class, I may use examples from sociology or psychology. I always try use examples from sports and music. I hope never to give the students the feeling that my class is being taught in isolation from other disciplines. Math relates to every discipline on a college campus.

I also provide rapid feedback to students through frequent quizzes, tests, and other assessments. In class, I ask students questions and expect the participation of all students, whenever possible. I frequently ask students to work out problems on classroom whiteboards, and I assign graded WebAssign homework every day. I have many office hours for students, and I make certain that my students are aware of campus tutoring that is available to them.

What are your best practice suggestions for using WebAssign?

I like to use different forms of assessment. Some quizzes are in class and some are timed assignments on WebAssign. My assignments are due at midnight the day before every class. In this way, it is not likely that students will try to stay up until 4:00 a.m. the night before the assignment is due. I assign problems from different sources. The result is that the student will see different ways to ask for the same information. For example – find y’, find dy/dx, find the rate of change of y w.r.t. to x, find the slope of the curve, etc.

One thing that I always thought was odd when I was a student, is that teachers would tell us to get a head start on studying and not wait until the last minute, but they would only conduct reviews in the last class before the exam. This makes it likely that students will wait until the last minute to begin preparing for the exam.  If I give an exam on a Friday, then I assign a review on WebAssign the Friday before the exam, and I make it due on the Thursday before the exam at noon.

I make sure that “Practice Another Version” is enabled after the due date, so that they can work out the tough problems again. I believe that this helps to prevent a lot of procrastination. I send a gentle reminder to start the review early. Having the students see the review early shows them what material they are responsible for in enough time for them to get help if they are behind.

What role does technology play in your teaching?

I use the usual things like Excel, PowerPoint and Mathematica. But, I also have the students Google different topics and see what they find. For example, I might ask: “How many YouTube videos are there on integration by parts? Watch two of them and tell me what you think.”

What do you plan to achieve during your sabbatical?

I will be writing questions with a sports theme that require different math skills. Although many books have been written on the connections between mathematics and sports, I have not found one that provides many useful examples for students who do not have a strong interest in mathematics. Creating a collection of sports-related questions that teach basic skills and are both interesting and useful is at the heart of my sabbatical project.

The questions that are typically available for statistics classes are basic and uninspiring, dealing mainly with mean, median, and mode. Writing my own types of interest-based questions would help to provide students with more relevant content and more interesting delivery of the material. I have also found that most of the sports-related questions are focused on baseball, basketball and football. However, there is some very interesting mathematics in sports like cricket and bowling. So, on my sabbatical, I will need to learn about some sports that I am not currently familiar with.


We want to hear from you! Do you use similar teaching methods to engage your students. Will this collection of sports-themed questions help your students learn? Respond in the comments section below.