Surprise Sub Lesson: Generic Legos & Google Docs

About three months ago I did something I often do but I am embarrassed to admit:

I assigned a "sub lesson" when absent, asked students to submit evidence of completion, and then...

...wait for it...

DIDN'T EVER LOOK at the document!

Yes, I suppose it's a combination of my confidence in the accountability created by having students submit images via a collaborative google doc, and the pure hecticness during the school year. More of the later. 

Anyhow, here I am, sitting at some random cafe enjoying my summer and cleaning up my Google Drive, and I stumbled upon a Google Doc that contained a sub assignment I had asked my students to do when learning about balancing ionic compounds.

I have been striving to incorporate more inquiry into my sub assignments, and this was my first stab at it.

A little bit about the lesson: 

Mega Bloks building blocks "Big Building Bag"

(Image credit: Mega Bloks)

My 4-year-old twin boys were gifted a set of HUGE, generic legos, and I had a thought! See image right:  

While my kids quickly realized that they were not "real" Legos and went on to doing whatever 4-year-old twin boys do, I saw a potential sub lesson! 

In my chemistry class we had just got done learning about the Periodic Table of Elements and how positive and negative ions form. I had yet to introduce the idea of ions transferring electrons to form balanced ionic compounds. Hence, the entry point for inquiry! 

I was to be gone the next day of class, and I decided to cut all the legos into blocks of 1, 2, or 3, bumps (not sure what the correct term is?), that, in my mind, represented the +1/-1, +2/-2, and +3/-3 ions. It is a common activity to have students form ionic compounds by fitting them together correctly.

But, my students did not know this. Hence, the entry point for inquiry! 

After placing all the pieces in the center of the room, I emailed my sub the following prompt: 

Ask students to model the formation of Ionic Compounds using this document. Ask them to insert images of their models into the document. 

To be honest, I had know idea what they would produce, as the prompt was very open-ended in general, let alone for a sub assignment. 

Back to the point of this post. When I looked at their was blown away. They completely nailed the activity. Shame on me for not even following up with them the next day in class...It is so easy to lose track of the most important things as a teacher at times.. Embarrassing, but true.

Below is screenshot from the shared google doc where they uploaded their responses: 

Screenshot of red and blue blocks forming aluminum sulfide

(Image credit: Ramsey Musallem)

cross posted at

Ramsey Musallam teaches science and robotics at Sonoma Academy in Santa Rosa, California, with the aim of fostering inquiry-based learning environments fueled by student curiosity. He presents widely on sparking student curiosity and teaching with technology. Musallam is a Google Certified Teacher, a YouTube Star Teacher, and a Leading Edge Certified Teacher. Watch his TED talk here and read his blog at