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Tools - Student Portfolios in a "Writing Intensive" Chemistry Course

Catherine Middlecamp
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Department of Chemistry
1101 University Ave.
Madison, WI 53706
email: chmiddle@facstaff.wisc.edu
(608) 263-5647

Chemistry 108 is a 5 credit introductory chemistry course for non-science majors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It focuses on the "real world" connections between science and society, using the textbook Chemistry in Context, a project of the American Chemical Society. In the spring semester of 1999, it was offered for the first time as a "writing intensive" course, thus fulfilling a university-wide requirement in communication. As part of this writing requirement, students kept a portfolio. Reproduced below are sections from the course syllabus that describe the writing portfolio:

In addition, 21 samples of student work have been posted (with the students' permission). {This web site shows the spring 1999 syllabus and general information used for this course. To see the spring 2001 syllabus, click here.}

Portfolios in Chemistry 108
You will develop a portfolio in Chemistry 108. A portfolio is a collection of your work that reflects your best efforts as a writer. It shows both your growth in writing skills and allows you the opportunity to reflect on your learning. Your portfolio will hold your weekly assignments, both the finished product and your rough drafts, and the Reflective Activities.

Weekly Writing Assignments
Each week you will need to write and submit work from one the following three categories:

    Connections - making the link between chemistry and your daily life
    Consider This - weighing the more complex issues of science and society
    On The Web - using the resources of the web to extend an idea or principle
These are due each Monday and must include at least one rough draft completed at least a day prior to your final version. Your drafts may be hand-written, but the final copy must be typed. Note that you usually will have time in lab to work on this weekly writing project.

By the end of the semester, you will have completed 15 of these assignments for your portfolio, 5 from each category. Midway during the semester, you will submit your best work (including revisions) for grading. At the end of the semester, you will turn in the entire portfolio.

Here are your weekly assignments. Remember - you have your choice. You only need to do one of these each week. However, by the end of the semester, you will need to have completed 14 assignments - 5 from each of two categories and 4 from the third.

vector.gif - 284 BytesConnections
qmark.gif - 229 BytesConsider This
WWWICON.GIF - 2786 Bytes On the Web
The Web of Chemistry
What Do Chemists Argue About, ...?
Writing Tools on the Web
What is Radioactivity?
Evaluating web sites
Yellow Dust: Uranium Mines
Is Radon Treated Differently?
Radon Detectors
Radiation Sickness
Storage of Nuclear Waste
50 years from Trinity
Your CO Contribution
CO Close to Home
CO Detectors
A Beginner's Guide to Ozone
Ozone: Friend or Foe?
The Search for Spock
UV and You
UV-A, UV-B and UV-C
The UV Index
CFC's at Home
Questions at ChemCool
CFC Substitutes
Simply Tetrahedral
A Tetrahedral World
Molecules in 3D
Adding to the CO2 Level
CO2 Tax
Global Warming Skeptics
You & Your Car
The Corn Connection
A Poster That Connects
A Controversial Poster
A Poster Web Link
A Day (or Two) With Plastics
Bottle Cap Questions
Sports & Polymers
The Scoop on Soap
Sapo Hill
Home-made Soap

Each week, you will turn in your portfolio piece, including at least one rough draft that shows the editing you have done. You may turn it in at the end of lecture either on Friday or on the following Monday. Please place it in the box with your TA's name on it in the front of the lecture hall.

Grading will be on a 5 point scale. You will receive 1 point if you turn the exercise in on time.Thus, we highly recommend that you turn in your assignment each Friday. A second point will be awarded for the rough draft that shows significant editing and corrections. This need not be done by hand - two different drafts from a word processor is fine. You will not receive any credit for the assignment if it does not reach your TA by noon on Tuesday. However, if you are ill for an extended period of time, we will make arrangements for accepting late work. Note: if you are sick over the weekend or sick on Monday, contact us by phone or email. Go ahead and send in the work you did prior to becoming ill and we will give you partial credit.

Points also will be awarded for the quality of the written work as follows:

3 points
The essay is well-organized at the paragraph level. Sentences are smooth and carefully crafted. There are virtually no errors in punctuation, spelling, grammar or usage. Words are chosen with precision. The essay sounds like it was written by a human being for another human being. The essay is tight, not wordy. The chemical content is first-rate in all regards.
2 points
The essay is well-organized, but the paragraph structure is sometimes disjointed or unclear. The essay may have a few awkward passages and some errors in punctuation, spelling, grammar or usage. At times, the language may be too general and it may lack the precision of a 3 point essay. None of these concerns, however, is glaring or highly distracting. The chemical content is correct, but perhaps not complete or relevant.
1 point
The essay is basically well-organized, though some paragraphs may be disunified or misplaced. Generally, though, the essay shows that the writer has followed a logical plan. The writing is competent but wordy, general or imprecise. Sentences may sometimes be constructed awkwardly, but their meaning is clear. Grammar, punctuation and spelling are not highly distracting, but there may be some errors. The chemical content may be inadequate or contain errors.
0 points
The essay is poorly organized. Some parts may be so confused that their meaning is not clear. Words may be imprecise, inappropriate, incorrect or vague. These errors distract the reader. The chemical content contains errors and is inadequate.

NOTE: By the end of the semester, you will have completed 14 of these assignments, 5 from each of two categories and 4 from the third. Midway during the semester (before you leave for spring break), you will submit the first 7 portfolio assignments. Revise any one of them, and it will be regraded for 10 points. At the end of the semester, you will turn in the entire portfolio, again with one of your pieces revised.

Reflective Activities
The reflective activities allow you some choice. During the semester, you need to complete three of these. You may select from different categories or all from the same. The idea is to be self-reflective, that is, to take the time to think about something you are learning (or not learning) and write about it. These can include the following - feel free to suggest other activities of your own:

Course Point System
Points: 5 for each weekly writing assignment (Connections, On The Web, and Consider This) for a total of 75 points, 10 points for each reflection activity for a total of 30 points, 10 points for the mid-semester evaluation of your portfolio and 10 for the final evaluation.
Thus, there is a total of 125 points possible (about 15% of the total possible points).

Quizzes 150 points     15 points/quiz
Hour exams 300 points 100 points/exam
Weekly writing work 125 points 10-15 points/week
Writing Projects 100 points  
Final exam 200 points
TOTAL 875 points

Grades are not assigned on a curve and you are not competing with your classmates for a grade. Please recognize that these point allocations for lab/quiz activities are estimates; if for some reason something extra is added or something does not take place, the scale will be adjusted appropriately.

At the end of the semester, each person's grade will be assigned as follows:

A 810-875 points
AB 795-809 points
B 720-794 points
BC 700-719 points
C 620-699 points
D 580-619 points
F         below 580 points

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