Inquiry For AP Chemistry

Vegas 2013 AP

I attended and presented at the National AP Conference in Las Vegas on July 18th and 19th! Adding Inquiry to the course is one of the major changes to how we will teach AP Chemistry.  I shared some resources and gave tips during my presentation. I am sharing those resource in this post.  I am also sharing items that I found especially helpful from presentations that I attended and conversations I had with other teachers. 

I polled the teachers that attended my session about Inquiry Activities and asked them to give me their major concerns about incorporating inquiry.  The overwhelming response was that most of the teachers are concerned about the TIME involved.  This didn't surprise me.  I had the same misgivings before I began transforming my own courses.  First of all, I hope that the teachers present will take small steps in changing their curriculum.  College Board is only asking us to incorporate 6 inquiry labs.  They are not asking us to change everything all at once.  Teachers can build the skills of their students and of their own by making small changes like removing the data table from a lab they are already familar with.  I shared a few inquiry activities that I hope some will try and I will share links to them below.  I focused much of my presentation on activities that are not only inquiry based, but they also incorporate three levels of representation.  I am happy that the College Board has chosen to focus on relating chemical concepts at a particulate level.  I have found that when I use these three levels of representation often and consistently help my students to find relationships between concepts through modelling the particulate level, I actually have more time to include activities that are more open ended and inquiry based.  The Bridle and Yezierski article I have linked below supports this focus.  If you are new to inquiry and/or the inclusion of particulate level modelling, I highly recommend the three Target Inquiry acitivities written by Chad Bridle and Dale Eizenga that are referenced in the article.  They are found in the supporting info of the article as well as the Target Inquiry Web site.  They are World in a Box, Change You Can Believe In and The Only Thing Constant Is Change.  These labs help train students to use and communicate with models.


Bridle, Chad A and Yezierski, Ellen J, Evidence for the Effectiveness of Inquiry-Based, Particulate-Level Instruction on Conceptions of the Particulate Nature of Matter, Journal of Chemical Education, 2012, 89 (2), pp 192-198.


The first activity that we looked at in Vegas allows for adding the particulate level modelling of a reaction that most of us already use to demonstrate the single replacement reaction between solid zinc and copper II sulfate solution.  The only added materials required are orange and white ping pong balls and white and black velcro spheres.  The ping pong balls represent the zinc and copper atoms.  The velcro allows students to see the transfer of electrons from  the zinc atom to the copper ion.


Classroom Activity #111: Redox Reactions in Three Representations, Ortiz Nieves, Edgardo l, Barreto, Reizelie, and Medina, Zuleika, Journal of Chemical Education, 2012, 89 (5), pp 643–645.


 I chose to share my Energizer lab from Target Inquiry because of the lack of an electrochemistry lab in the new inquiry based AP Lab Manual provided by the College Board. I hope that the lack of an electrochemistry lab in that manual will not lead teachers to believe that College Board does not think that the topic is important. They do. If you haven't already seen the lab, please see if it fits your needs. Again, it requires the use of all three levels of representation.


Along with talking about the lab, we also looked at how my curriculum has changed from traditional to inquiry in terms of my electrochemistry unit. 



Traditional                                                                   Inquiry

Lecture about electrochemistry                                   Energizer Lab

Teach Vocabulary                                                       Inquiry Battery Lab

Demonstrate Cell                                                        Electrolysis / Plating

Practice Math                                                              Concentration Cells

Draw and Label Cells                                                 Homework

Galvanic Cell Lab                                                       Assessment

Electrolysis / Plating Labs                                         

Concentration Cells



Of course, all the labs on the Traditional side were verification labs.  I have tried to add at least small pieces of inquiry into my revised curriculum.  I find that I spend about the same amount of time using inquiry as I did using traditional methods. 


Another activity that we looked at was shared in another JCE aritcle: Connecting Geometry and Chemistry:  A Three Step Approach to Three-Dimensional Thinking

Kelley J. Donaghy and Kathleen J. Saxton, Journal of Chemical Education 2012 89 (7), 917-920. We finally have a good way of showing students why methane is considered a "tetrahedral" shape.  The time required to have students build the kite is worth the effort.




YouTube videos – The Flipped Dr J


I found these videos while browsing  I found them useful as a demonstration to introduce equilibrium.  Required materials:  1000, 500 and 250 ml graduated cylinders, blue food coloring to help students see the water level, flexible tubing and a hemostat (I ordered one from for under $3) or other type of locking clamp. 

Graduated Cylinders Part I -

Graduated Cylinders Part II -


One new item that shows up in the new curriculum is that in Big Idea #1-Atomic Structure is that we need to incorporate data analysis. PES is a specific item that we will incorporate that many of us did not previously have resources to teach.  Check out thisYouTube podcast uploaded by Mrs. Portwood to support that topic. .  This video was shared with me as I chatted between sessions. 

As I already mentioned, I polled the teachers that attended my presentation about their concerns.  I will continue to look at the comments they shared with me as I blog and try to provide more resources as we move through the redesigned AP Chem curriculum.