Saturday June 6th, 2017

The POGIL project recently awarded its first SPUR+ grant.

The POGIL project recently awarded its first SPUR+ grant (see https://pogil.org/about-the-pogil-project for more information) to Rob Whitnell (Guilford College)  and Ashley Mahoney (Bethel University) for their SPIRAL: Strengthening the use of Process, Inquiry, Reflection and Application in the Laboratory project. The following is an interview about that preliminary results of that project with two of the participants, Gail Webster (Guilford College) and Craig Teague (Cornell College). The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

"I participated in this project because of the great people.  I knew they would have a lot of good ideas, both in general and regarding specific labs"

Why did you participate in this project? What were your personal objectives or goals?

GAIL: I routinely teach a two-semester general chemistry sequence that uses POGIL in the classroom, so I wanted to work on developing labs that incorporate more inquiry and process skills for my students. The literature suggests that increasing inquiry in entry-level college chemistry courses improves student learning and makes lab a better experience for students. My personal goals were to take labs that we already use in our courses, and work with others to improve those experiments. I am looking forward to more feedback from colleagues as those labs are used at other institutions.

CRAIG: I participated in this project because of the great people.  I knew they would have a lot of good ideas, both in general and regarding specific labs.  I think this group can have significant impact on the introductory and general chemistry lab scene.  Another personal objective is to take things back to my own campus for class testing and then full implementation.

What were the team objectives?

GAIL: The team objectives were to provide an atmosphere where we could brainstorm ideas, do our writing in a focused atmosphere, get immediate critiques from peers, and produce drafts of POGIL labs that will be ready for testing in the 2017-18 academic year.

"I was with the mighty team of three in Greensboro."

How did you work (in person, over skype)? Was it effective?

CRAIG: We worked both in person and over Zoom (I think it was Zoom).  I was part of a group of three meeting in Greensboro, NC and there was a larger group meeting in St. Louis.  Most of the time was spent with our subgroups, but we had regular and scheduled check-ins via Zoom.  I think this structure was effective.  We certainly got a lot of labs drafted over the weekend.

GAIL: I was with the mighty team of three in Greensboro. We each worked individually, but at time, each of us would stop and ask questions of each other, share what we had, and solicit advice. We met online with the St. Louis folks Friday evening, Saturday morning/late afternoon, and twice again on Sunday. Our Greensboro team also moved around a bit on campus. We worked in a classroom, in the library, and in a study lounge. It was nice to have different areas available to us to think and to write. We set goals as a large group about when we would be at a stopping point to share our work, and I thought it was very effective. We have about 14 labs that are in the process of being reviewed!

What was your process?

GAIL: We developed a document that had “essential” and “desirable” characteristics of a POGIL labs. Those characteristics were based on work by Frank Creegan and also by the POGIL-PCL team. Authors screened their labs against that document, and then a reviewer did the same and provided comments.

"The soap lab is a fun synthesis lab where students use different fats and all end up with a soap."

What experiments did you choose to work on and why those?

CRAIG: For me personally, for the most part I wanted to work on restructuring labs we already do.  I wanted to flip existing labs around into POGIL labs.  My college already has the chemicals and equipment necessary to run these labs.  With that said, there are labs that we don’t currently do that look really appealing to implement at my college.  Win-win.

GAIL: I chose two experiments: “How do we predict which ionic compounds will dissolve in water?” and “What are some properties of soaps made from different starting materials?” Both are labs that we currently do in the first semester of chemistry. The solubility lab is where students develop the concept of soluble and insoluble and where they learn to write net ionic equations. I wanted to get the lab to a better place so that students aren’t overwhelmed with doing a lot, but rather that they learn a lot and can apply what they’ve learned outside of lab.
The soap lab is a fun synthesis lab where students use different fats and all end up with a soap. They use the time that the reaction is heating to essentially do a POGIL activity about how to interpret line structures of organic molecules. In these labs, student learn a lot, and I think that’s why I was interested in improving the level of inquiry and process skill development in them.

What are some of the experiment topics you worked on, or what are the titles of some of the experiments? Do you have any experiments you would be willing to share?

GAIL: Our SPUR+ team is planning on presenting our work at PNM and soliciting folks willing to test our labs, so yes, we will be sharing labs!

CRAIG: We want to share, but I’d like to check with the project leaders first and, for some, the original authors of the non-POGIL labs we currently do that I’m turning around.


  • Gibbs energy and entropy from urea dissolution
  • Effect of pH on solubility
  • How do we predict which ionic compounds will dissolve in water?
  • What are some properties of soaps made from different starting materials?
  • Titration curve
  • How do we know if a reactant will completely disappear in a chemical reaction?Calorimeter hypothermia
  • Densities of liquids and solids
  • Which foods have the highest energy content?
  • What is the shape of a molecule?

What aspects of the experiments make them guided inquiry experiments? – in other words, what criteria did you set up and why? Also what defines a general chemistry experiment?

CRAIG: This is an interesting question.  We started with a rubric that was developed for a different but related purpose, then we both evaluated labs against this rubric and refined and updated the rubric throughout the weekend.  I think this is a strength to our approach, which is like the approach we followed in the POGIL-PCL project.

GAIL: We incorporated criteria from the POGIL website (based on Frank Creegan’s work) and the POGIL-PCL Project. (Blue = essential, Green = desired)

Characteristics of Inquiry Experiments

1. The experiment begins with a conceptual question.

2. Outcome of the experiment and concepts developed are known to instructor but not students.

3. The learning objectives incorporate the knowledge and skills needed for students to answer the conceptual question.

4. Each experiment will focus on at least one process skill such as teamwork, oral and written communication, management, information processing, critical thinking, problem solving, assessment, experimental design.

5. students will use critical thinking and/or problem-solving skills to develop a hypothesis and/or a conclusion that integrates available information and can be convincingly justified.

6. Students are expected to observe, collect and process information (describe, tabulate, summarize, calculate).

7. Students are expected to engage in problem solving and/or decision-making with regard to experimental design.

8. Students are cued to share or interact with each other.

9.  Each experiment should contain safety information in the student handout and instructor notes, as appropriate. The experiment should use the least hazardous chemicals that allow students to achieve the learning objectives.

10. Experiments are either Learning Cycle or Application activities. (Compare https://pogil.org/uploads/media_items/characteristics-and-types-of-pogil-activities-1.original.pdf), with each experiment concluding with reflection on concepts learned or ideas for future research questions.


Why work as part of a larger team instead of working individually?

GAIL: It’s fun to work with a larger team! There’s a richness of knowledge, experience and diversity in a team that cannot be achieved by working alone. Also, we were committed to working with each other for the weekend, and it’s easy not to hold yourself accountable. When you have others depending on you, the accountability factor increases, and that’s a good thing.

CRAIG: Many reasons:  new ideas, chance for wider implementation at a variety of institutions, accountability to other faculty members (e.g., I will review your lab against the rubric by x date; I will update my draft labs based on review feedback by x date).  Plus, it’s way more fun!  Collaboration is really important.