Throw the phrase “chemistry class” at someone to get their reaction. What do you predict it would be? A chalkboard full of stoichiometry problems? Wading through the atomic masses on the periodic table? Bubbling beakers? Something else? In any case, I’m guessing his or her first answer would not be, “Creative writing.”
The genesis of this paper started with a request from a former student, Thomas Kuntzleman, now a professor of chemistry. He asked if I would consider submitting my thoughts about ‘big ideas’ in chemistry. In his email he attached a paper that I had written for the Journal of Chemical Education six years earlier1. That article was submitted the year after I retired and was a response to a submission questioning the utility of the Principle of Le Châtelier.
I am a very firm believer that the world of physical science can be visualized and is an excellent medium for teaching students to model and to picture what happens at the molecular level. The first topic we decided to explore was balancing chemical equations. This seems like such a simple topic to chemistry teachers but I have found that it can be quite challenging for many of my inner city students. The first thing they ask me for is a list of rules that they can follow. We can discuss the problems of algorithmic teaching in a later post! For the time being let’s talk about how to get students to understand why they need to balance equations and discuss what we can call “Conservation of Atoms”.
Chemists Celebrate Earth Day
The April 2016 issue of the Journal of Chemical Education is now available online to subscribers. In honor of Earth Day 2016, the April issue includes a variety of content that provides ideas and suggestions for bringing environmental chemistry to students on the topics of: water quality; climate science and greenhouse gases; atmospheric chemistry; sustainability, green chemistry, and environmental awareness; and energy storage technology. Also in the issue are articles on: outreach and public understanding; teaching organic chemistry; physical chemistry; exploring biochemistry with proteins; research experiences in the laboratory; educational resources.
Each year we work on specific heat of materials and the heat of fusion of ice. These are two labs that are typical for most chemistry classrooms. Most of the experiments involve a simple calorimetry experiment that uses a styrofoam cup and provides generally good results. There tend to be a couple of key ideas with all of these experiments.
This year in the midwest United States, winter has been a fickle friend. I haven’t seen the same amount of snow or ice as in recent years, but I still made sure I was prepared for it at our home. I went to my local big box hardware store in December and contemplated buying rock salt (NaCl), and NaCl/calcium chloride mixture, or just calcium chloride. Growing up my dad had switched entirely to calcium chloride because it was less damaging to the brick pavers leading to our porch and backyard. In fact, calcium chloride is generally much safer toward plants and soil than NaCl. Even though calcium chloride is much more expensive than rock salt (it was about twice the cost for 10 pounds more), that what’s I chose. Why?
We all have plans. As teachers we plan every week and worry about time, depth, amount, types of assessment and state mandates. Most importantly, are the kids learning? We give it our best shot. Sometimes, we have to go to plan B.
Over the past two years, I have immersed myself in designing mobile games for organic chemistry: founding a company called Alchemie and building a team to develop these games. The first of our games is called Chairs! (The exclamation point comes from the fact that an app called Chairs already existed in the AppStore.) The game Chairs! is what we call our proof-of-concept. Folks were a bit incredulous when we told them we design games that make learning organic chemistry intuitive and fun.
From the misconceptions fostered by the biology textbooks using the phrase “high-energy phosphate bond” to idea that energy comes in different forms, the Modeling community recognizes the challenges of teaching the energy concept and has developed a way of talking about energy designed to help students construct a consistent and cohesive model.
Students choose a topic and select items to incorporate into a periodic table. Students explore trends related to their own topic and relate to the trends on the actual Periodic Table of Elements.