A Grand Summer Conference – BCCE


Summer conferences are a great way to get a load of professional development in science education while at the same time having a chance to meet other teachers from around the nation.

One of the premier summer conferences is the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE), which is coming up August 3-7 at Grand Valley State University near Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The BCCE is a national meeting sponsored by the Division of Chemical Education (DivCHED) of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Since 1970 the conference has been designed and planned for those who teach chemistry, from teachers who are just starting their careers to those who have years of teaching experience. It includes educators at all levels: secondary school science teachers, undergraduate and graduate students, and post-secondary chemistry faculty. This conference is an excellent source of materials, techniques, and chemistry content.

BCCE 2014 promotional pictures

The theme of the 2014 BCCE is “Empowering Chemical Educators for a Greener Tomorrow.” Via special symposia and workshops, the conference will highlight efforts in bringing sustainable chemistry to the classroom. In addition, there are nearly 300 sessions offered over the course of four days on topics ranging from “The Automobile and the Periodic Table” to “Web-based Resources for Chemical Education” to “Views from the Classrooms of Conant and Regional Award Winners.”

Summer is a time teachers like to spend with family and the organizers of BCCE have a number of extra events for attendees and their families, such as a lake cruise on a research ship or a ride on the Saugatuck Sand Dunes.  The Lonely Planet Guides recently named Grand Rapids and the Gold Coast area as the #1 tourist destination in the U.S.!

Professional development, meeting new colleagues, improving your chemical knowledge, fun time with your family? It all adds up to a grand time at Grand Valley State University.


Foy H. Moody High School students and teacher at the National NSTA Meeting in Boston

Foy H. Moody High School students and teacher at the NSTA National Conference

For most educators, presenting at a national education conference is a career achievement that only comes after years of teaching and learning.  But a talented group of ACS ChemClub students from Moody High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, did just that this spring.

The Presentation

The ChemClub co-presented a session at the NSTA 2014 National Conference in Boston, Mass.  Along with their teacher V. Dulip, they presented a session titled “A Demo a Week Makes Science Class the Peak”.

Participants included V. Dulip, J. Abrego, J. Baca, V. Cantu, J. Fryer, B. Kinch, E. Macias, and S. Parbhu.
students preparing their presentation materials & adjusting their goggles

Students preparing their presentation materials

During the session the group performed about 30 simple demonstrations with materials easily obtained from local stores. These demos were chosen to excite students’ interest and challenge them to do higher level thinking. The demos included making slime, bubbles, balloons, invisible glue, sinkers, floaters, color changes, and density. Sources for materials in the demos was explained, as well as how to get the maximum learning benefits from the demos. The session was well-attended and well-received by teachers.

Travel Highlights

The students got to listen to Bill Nye, Mayim Bialik (from The Big Bang Theory) and attended sessions by Texas Instruments (TI) and Vernier Software. They also visited the campuses of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). An ex-Moody and science club member gave a tour of the MIT campus.


In front of the famous McLaurin Building’s 150-foot-high “Great Dome” at MIT

Funding for the trip was provided by Harte Research Institute, Texas A & M University–Corpus Christi, CITGO Corporation, and a local engineering firm Govind and Associates.

Bravo HS ChemClub Wins Big at Southern California Chem Bowl

The Southern California ACS local section launched its inaugural Chem Bowl this year for local college students who are ACS affiliate members. The event was hosted at Pasadena City College on April 12, 2014. Coming up short one team of their goal they offered to let the ChemClub at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School bring a team of current students and alumni to compete.

The Team


The ‘Hybrid’ team consisted of Bravo students C. Lim (team captain), K. Tat, and W. Fong, all rising seniors and two alumni members, A. Situ and Z. Markos, who are currently enrolled at UCLA. Both Situ and Markos had previously been semifinalists in the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad. The team was coached by long time Bravo Science Teacher and ChemClub Sponsor Michael Morgan.


The Competition in the Lab

lab team
The ChemClub team works on a titration.

The competition started with a titration challenge. The team was tasked with determining the concentration of a weak acid with previously standardized NaOH. Proctors observed their technique and evaluated each team.

Teams then were challenged to build a voltaic cell from a collection of metals and judged on which one produced the highest potential.

The third challenge of the day was a “Chemical Obstacle Course” where students determined the intermediates in a multi-step organic synthesis and then had to run through a maze and bounce house to retrieve cards showing the compounds and deliver them via a pulley system over a water obstacle.

The final challenge involved interpreting both NMR and IR chemical spectra of organic compounds.

Chemistry Jeopardy Playoff Rounds

The three highest placing teams spent the afternoon in a fast-paced buzzer competition based on National Science Bowl and Ocean Bowl rules. Bravo finished the morning second overall behind the team from UCLA. In the buzzer competition Bravo took a commanding lead over their first challenger Cal Lutheran from Thousand Oaks, CA whose team included one of their former classmates. In the final round they faced the team from UCLA, which included several current classmates of both Markos and Situ.

The Awards

The perpetual trophy goes home with our team.
The perpetual trophy went home with our team!

Bravo finished the day with a commanding lead over UCLA and First Place overall. They were awarded a “Perpetual Trophy” (a 6 L Erlenmeyer Flask mounted on a wooden base) that they will hold for one year and their names will appear on the trophy for future generations to see.

When asked about his students competing against college students Coach Michael Morgan responded: “What did we have to lose? If we came in last, we lost to a room full of college kids. If we won anything, we beat a room full of college kids.”

Testing the Waters

One big environmental problem that seems a little distant from the Prince of Peace ChemClub in Clinton, Iowa, is a large “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, near New Orleans. The American Chemical Society (ACS) Illinois–Iowa Local Section gave a $100 grant to purchase testing materials to test creek and storm-drain water samples from the Clinton watershed for nitrates and phosphates. We wanted to know if Clinton is contributing nitrates and phosphates to the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone.”

Water samples for testing.
An assortment of water samples and recycled containers.

Why nitrates and phosphates?

In the coastal area where the dead zone is, high levels of nutritional nitrates and phosphates help algae over-grow. When the algae finally die, they settle and are decomposed by aerobic respiring bacteria. As a result, dissolved oxygen in the water gets used up, and there is not enough oxygen for fish—making it a dead zone.

Why Iowa?

Nitrates and phosphates get to the coast via the Mississippi River. Environmental Protection Agency testing has found that it’s the Upper Mississippi, above St. Louis, that contributes most of the nitrates and phosphates. These chemicals are routinely used to fertilize crops, especially nitrogen-greedy corn. Iowa.

Students tested the samples with LaMotte water-testing TesTabs. These tests use chemicals that change color: pink-orange for nitrates and blue for phosphates.
Students tested the samples with LaMotte water-testing TesTabs. These tests use chemicals that change color: pink-orange for nitrates and blue for phosphates.

What did we find?

The Prince of Peace ChemClub and all of the high school students collected water from creeks and run-off ditches all around Clinton to test on Earth Day. Nitrate was absent in drinking water, but detectable in waters running off into the river, ranging from 5 to 35 parts per million (ppm). All water samples, including drinking water, had 1 to 4 ppm phosphate. Test results showed that the Clinton area is adding nitrates and phosphates to the Mississippi River. Students used Google Earth to get the GPS coordinates of their water sample sites, so the data could be reported to the IOWATER online database. It was a great Earth Day, with some cool Chemistry.

The team of water testers.
The team of water testers.

Has your ChemClub tested local water? How do your results compare?

Books to Read


Hear the word “book” mentioned in connection with “chemistry,” and many of us might automatically picture a textbook packed with information about elements, stoichiometry, acids and bases, and the like. But what about fiction and non-fiction that you could pick up at the local library or bookstore? Some fiction weaves chemistry and other science directly into the story, while many non-fiction books are perfect illustrations of how chemistry relates to the world around us.

The JCE ChemEd Xchange blog post “Reading Non-fiction Within a Grade 10 Chemistry Class” by chemistry teacher Lowell Thomson focuses on how he’s using the non-fiction book The Case of the Frozen Addicts with his students. He says that the book “reads almost as a mystery novel – except it’s a true accounting,” telling a story of inadvertent use of designer drugs. In addition to reading the book, his students are engaging with the material through blogging, discussions, making posters, and using Twitter.

What about having a book club activity within your ChemClub to explore chemistry through fiction and non-fiction selections? For ideas on books to read, visit the ACS ChemClub Pinterest page “Books to Read.” You might start with a book that has a related movie; for example, the movie October Sky is based on Homer Hickam, Jr.’s book Rocket Boys. The article “Teaching Chemistry Using October Sky” highlights the science shown in the movie and could be used as a jumping-off point for discussion. Or, check out the Journal of Chemical Education’s annual collection of summer reading suggestions for teachers. What books do you think we should add to the Pinterest page? Maybe your your Club already does this? Tell us about it!