Especially JCE: May 2016

I have no idea what the title is of the first Journal of Chemical Education article that I want to highlight this month. That’s because you haven’t written it yet.

JCE editor-in-chief Norb Pienta shares a call for papers for a special issue on “Polymer Concepts across the Curriculum,” with a submission deadline of October 24, 2016. Do you include polymer concepts and activities in your high school classroom? Have you given your own novel twist to previously shared polymer-themed demos or experiments? With the crush of content to cover in a given year, how have you made room for an “extra” topic like polymers? Or, have you gone all in and designed a high school course specifically dedicated to polymers? In her JCE 93.05 May 2016 Issue Highlights, Mary Saecker suggests writing an article as a summer project. In the last part of her post, she offers links to several resources useful to potential Journal authors. One of those is my commentary Become a Journal of Chemical Education Author (available to non-subscribers online) from several years ago. I outline obstacles you might encounter while preparing a submission, along with ways to overcome those obstacles. I’ll renew my particular encouragement to high school educators to submit to JCE. Consider polymers as one starting point.

Chemistry Throwdown

Reading the phrase “Role-Playing Game” in another article’s title brought to mind twenty-sided dice and Dungeons & Dragons. Further exploration into the article itself, Tournament of Young Chemists in Ukraine: Engaging Students in Chemistry through a Role-Playing Game-Style Competition (available to JCE subscribers), clarified the picture. The authors describe it in the context of science competitions and tournaments for middle school and high school students, with a long history of use in Russia and Ukraine. It starts with the release of open-ended problems well before the competition. They typically do not have a single solution, and some may not have a solution at all. Some examples from the article are:

Chronometer. Describe a construction of a chemical “stopwatch” that will work indefinitely and will produce a regular signal with a certain predefined time period.

Water Blanket. In the areas with hot and dry climate, the problem of water evaporation from the surface of open water reservoirs is very important. Suggest an environment-friendly and nontoxic composition and method of its deposition as an ultrathin layer on the water surface, which will prevent or decrease the loss of water due to evaporation.

Time Machine. How would you organize the production of the Aspirin pills in times of Julius Caesar?

The release kicks off a months-long period of intense preparation and research into possible solutions, using teamwork, literature searches, and discussions with science professionals. The tournament itself sounds like a chemistry throwdown, with solutions described during a presentation by a team’s Reporter, with questions taken from another team’s Opponent, with both of their performances evaluated by another team’s Reviewer. After discussion, the judges ask questions. Then it begins again, with another team sharing their solutions for critique and evaluation. The multiple skills brought together during such an endeavor are more than a competition—they are preparation for life after schooling, and not necessarily just those going into science fields. Researching a topic, developing creative solutions to an unexpected problem, working with a team, supporting your ideas, and presenting your work.

Intrigued? I was. The authors share a website with further information about the workings of the competition and sample solutions; it is currently only available in Russian and Ukrainian, but they also invite inquiries from those interested. I think it would be a sight to see, hopefully with young chemists rising to the challenge. For those who participate in other science competitions in the U.S., what do you think of this model?