Spring Fever, Stoichiometry and Specific Heat


What am I doing to help kids achieve?

How do I know when they are there?

What is the evidence?

  From the looks of things, we are all in the same boat. Spring fever. I had two groups of students. Both are ending 3rd quarter, looking out a window at the first nice weather we have had in weeks. Most are already planning their spring break vacation and some have left early. Notice, not much talk about chemistry. The curriculum said it was time for stoichiometry for one group and specific heat for another. Just what the kids wanted to do (read with sarcasm).
  I pulled out an activity from an old friend, Bill Ignatz. The kids came in. My first question was, "Who wants to cook and eat smores in chemistry?" Hmmm...let's see...doing worksheets or eating chocolate, marshmallows and graham crackers? No surpise 99% of the kids wanted smores and were more than willing to beat up the one percent who voted "no" (not to worry...I nipped that in the bud..don't want the classroom to turn into a political campaign rally...). Here is the deal, each student had to provide me the exact amount of money it would cost me to buy all the materials at the store. Now, for most of my students I am convinced they eat about five meals a day and weigh about 10 pounds. To them, a smore would be like drinking nectar from the gods. Quickly the questions started coming. "How many students?" 56. "What makes up a smore?" I provided the "balanced equation" for a smore. One large graham cracker, one marshmallow and two small pieces of chocolate yields one smore. "How many graham crackers in a box? How many pieces of chocolate in a bar? What is the cost per box and package?" Pretty soon, we had a real live stoichiometry problem. Although we did not use traditional chemicals, it tasted better and the students used the same types of proportions, factor labeling and thought processes to solve the problem. We also had a tutorial on using bunsen burners. They had to successfully set the burner on fire and not their lab partner. I am happy to say, they succeeded. Overall, the majority of the students nailed the number ($16.86) and showed their work. Thanks Bill Ignatz...I know what some of you are thinking. Eating in a lab? I cleaned everything and sprayed all the tables down with a 10% bleach solution before the lab. I know I went rogue but it was worth it....
  Next came another group of students who were doing specific heat. They were tired and so was I. We had just found the heat of fusion of ice so they knew how to use a calorimeter (FYI - cheap garage sale coffee pots are great sources for hot water). I showed them what the materials they had available, said I would provide a metal and they had to find the specific heat and ended with "Good Luck". This lab is all over the internet. Students quickly found a reasonable procedure. The day after they got the data I put a wide variety of metals on the board with their specific heats and told them that they may have one of them. One student said that her specific heat was similar to one but her sample appeared to look like another. Another student decided to also take the density of the material as a second way to identify the metal. A third student thought that his specific heat was similar to silver so I must have given him about 60 grams of silver (hmmmm.....not likely...). Overall, the majority of the students did well.
     To use a baseball analogy, we are rounding third and heading for home.  It is difficult to teach during great weather and when kids are starting to dream of summer.  This can be a great time to have the courage to try new things and ask new questions...and maybe have a smore or two...