Especially JCE—October 2015

Especially for High School

October was always the "big" one. That was the monthly issue that coincided with National Chemistry Week (NCW) when I was at the Journal of Chemical Education. In a past Especially for High School Teachers column, I compared the arrival of the October 2005 issue in the mail to receiving a Christmas gift. That year, it was filled with resources for sharing chemistry through “The Joy of Toys.” Those issues were a bonanza of articles chosen with precollege teachers in mind, including many that specifically matched the American Chemical Society NCW theme for the year.

The October 2015 issue, summarized by Mary Saecker in JCE 92.10—October 2015 Issue Highlights, continues in a similar vein. Tom Kuntzleman wrote this issue’s editorial “National Chemistry Week: A Platform for Scholarship.” At a minimum, take a look at the article for the fabulous photo of colorful flames, which ties in with the 2015 NCW theme “Chemistry Colors Our World.” Then, consider his point that participating in NCW is more than just flash and bang entertainment for kids. It can have a deeper impact on your own scholarship; he describes how NCW outreach connects to four scholarship-related domains, which apply to educators at all levels: discovery, integration, teaching and learning, and engagement.

Variations on the ‘Blue-Bottle’ Demonstration Using Food Items That Contain FD&C Blue #1” is another color-related piece from the issue. Staiger, Peterson, and Campbell describe how to use food items that contain Blue Dye #1 in the classic blue bottle demonstration. They used a blue Gatorade drink, blue SweeTART candy, and also dark green Nerds candies. The combination of the blue dye with a yellow dye in the dark green candies gave a twist on the blue bottle—it cycled between green and yellow as the blue dye was reduced to colorless, but the yellow remained unchanged. This article reminded me of a past JCE Classroom Activity (which Mary also listed in the Issue Highlights): “Out of the Blue,” which was also featured on the May 2003 cover (yes, those are my hands). Both are similar in that they use materials that can be purchased from local stores. The authors state, “Use of these familiar items can remove difficulties in assembling the demonstrations and can remove some of the mystique that can be associated with the demonstrations.”

Have you seen teachers at science conferences wearing element symbol pins that spell out their names? I have many times and was reminded of it when I saw Woelk’s “How Heavy Are You? Find the Answer in the Periodic Table.” You spell your name (if possible) using element symbols, then calculate the molar mass of your name, to see who wins the competition for the highest value. I calculated mine. ErICa easily beat AmY (shown in the graphical abstract), but wasn’t close to NiCHoLaS. My husband Jesse could be out of luck. But, in the article’s supporting information, Woelk shows that not being able to spell their names using available symbols resulted in some very creative thinking by college students when he used the activity as a take-home challenge. This could be a fun, short activity for NCW outreach, maybe with periodic tables as giveaway items. I have occasionally been using a Theo Gray periodic table poster with students in an elementary classroom. Such an activity could help to familiarize them with the elements and their symbols, while giving them a math problem and possibly an opportunity for problem solving if their name doesn't spell with the available symbols. Students could alphabetize the table and use it as an easier tool to search for letter combinations.

Wishing you a great National Chemistry Week and an engaging time any day of the year that you choose to use these resources.

This is the first in a new series that brings back the Journal of Chemistry Education’s “Especially” column. See an article in the October 2015 issue for which you’d like to share your thoughts as part of Especially JCE? Please add a comment or contact us through the request to contribute.