The Best of ChemMatters: By Teachers, For Teachers

When I was a new teacher I was continually scrambling for good sources of lesson plans. Our textbook and lab materials were only marginally adequate, so I was forced to look for supplements. Going to meetings and conventions always provided an idea or too. But far and away my most valuable source for teaching ideas was my teaching colleagues.best-of-chemmatters

Given the continuing challenge of finding quality lessons to use in our chemistry classrooms, the timing for the publication of The Best of ChemMatters: Connecting Science and Literacy couldn’t be better. This is especially true as a result of increased expectations to teach literacy as part of our regular science instruction.

This book is a publication of the American Chemical Society Education Division that includes 12 lesson plans for high school science teachers that are based on articles from ChemMatters magazine that were highly rated by readers. Each lesson is designed to help students understand chemistry concepts and improve their science literacy, critical thinking and reading comprehension.

One of the best things about ChemMatters articles is the level of the writing, which is always aimed specifically at high school students. The writers keep in mind the amount of science a typical chemistry student might know and fashion stories around it. Another goal for each ChemMatters story is to relate academic chemistry to what happens in our everyday lives. The Best of ChemMatters accomplishes this and more. The lessons for each article have been carefully crafted by teachers like us. Each lesson:

  • Uses the popular Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate (5E) guided inquiry model.
  • Connects to standards, includes objectives, assessments, possible students preconceptions, lesson outlines, anticipation guides, reading guides and a wealth of related resources.
  • Serves as a springboard for teachers to implement ideas and create lesson plans to help students understand chemistry concepts.

ChemClubs can use the Best of ChemMatters in support of special club activities. You might base a visit to a local elementary school on one of the lessons and use the materials and resources in the lesson to train your students before the presentation. Or, perhaps you might use some of the discussion materials to conduct a mini-seminar for ChemClub members at one of your meetings. A mini-seminar could help enhance the regular learning going on in your classroom with a sort of supercharged homework session.

However you use the Best of ChemMatters, it is sure to be a valuable resource. We would like to hear how you might use this book or get feedback on how you have used it with your ChemClub or regular classes. The book is now available for purchase at the ACS online store.

ACS Webinar: Resources for National Chemistry Week

ACS recently developed a web seminar that took place September 15, 2016 on the NSTA Learning Center. The presenters were Erica Jacobsen, a chemical education consultant who develops materials for the American Chemical Society and Rachel Murillo, teacher of forensic science and anatomy/physiology at McBride High School in Long Beach, California.Cover Solving Mystery

This web seminar is in support of this years celebration of National Chemistry Week (NCW) celebration and its theme of Solving Mysteries Through Chemistry. NCW is an annual event that connects American Chemical Society (ACS) members with their community, schools, and others to share the importance of chemistry in everyday life.

The co-presenters shared resources useful for NCW, for integrating forensics into classroom curriculum, and for informal presentations to share science. ChemClub advisors will find ready-to-use demonstrations, lab investigations, videos, background information, and more. Although the resources presented focused on the middle school and high school levels, many can be adapted to earlier grade levels.

View the web seminar at the NSTA webinar archive site.To view the presentation slides from the web seminar and related resources, visit the NSTA resource collection.

Celebrating National Chemistry Week

lab-molesNational Chemistry Week is always an excellent chance to celebrate chemistry and help demonstrate to students and others the relevance of chemistry in our everyday lives.

This year’s theme for NCW is Solving Mysteries Through Chemistry, and I am particularly excited about the opportunities this presents for teaching some fundamental concepts about how we do science. Crime shows that feature forensic science are very popular on television right now. This helps ensure interest on the part of students to learn some of the basics of how chemistry is used to solve mysteries.

The answer to how does chemistry help solve a mystery is very simple. It is through the application of scientific inquiry.

Continue reading “Celebrating National Chemistry Week”

Mixtures

 

Mixtures Infographic

All of us realize we are surrounded by “stuff” or more precisely, matter. But getting a handle on the various types of matter around us is a different story. It is a little like walking down a shopping mall with stores that have no store signs labeling what kind of goods they sell. All you can do is look through the windows to get an idea of what they offer for sale.

To sort out the kinds of stuff that surround us, chemists look at the physical and chemical properties of matter and classify it in to various groups.

One of the largest distinctions is between pure substances and mixtures. Pure substances (or just substances) are homogeneous (that is, the same throughout) and have a definite composition, which means they have simple whole number ratios (by mass) between elements that make them up. These are the elements (like gold or carbon) and compounds,(like salt or calcium carbonate) that we tend to spend a lot of time studying in chemistry, because they are the building blocks for all the other types of matter we encounter.

Mixtures on the other hand are a bit messier. They are combinations of two or more materials. This means mixtures can usually be separated back into their original materials by physical processes. A good non-chemical example of a mixture is a jar of mixed nuts, or a drawer with miscellaneous kinds of screws, bolts and washers.

Solutions, suspensions and colloids are similar in that they are combinations of smaller amounts of solute in larger amounts of solvent. The main reason for the varying characteristics among them is the particle size of the solutes.

Emulsions are a special case. An emulsion can be made with two liquids that would normally not mix, such as oil and water. In the case of mayonnaise an egg yolk, which contains the emulsifier lecithin, is used to suspend the oil in tiny droplets. The lecithin coats the oil droplets so its “fat loving” side is on the inside with the fat, while the “water loving” side faces the aqueous solvent side.

Although solutions are often introduced with examples such as sugar dissolving in a pitcher of water for Kool-Aid, solute-solvent relationships can involve various phases beyond solids in liquids.

Air is a common example of a gas-gas solution and soda is carbon dioxide gas dissolved in liquid water. Hydrogen gas can dissolve in palladium metal as an example of gas-solid solutions. You might be wearing a solid-solid solution right now in the form of alloy metals used in jewelry. Similar phase combinations occur in suspensions and colloids. A nice challenge would be to come up with other everyday examples of various phases in solutions, suspensions, colloids or other mixtures.

Finding other examples could help sort out the messy mix of mixtures that surround us!

This graphic is a winning entry in the 2015-2016 ACS ChemClubs/ChemMatters Infographic Contest. Students, teachers, and other chem enthusiasts were challenged to take a chemistry topic and turn it into an original informational graphic. Entries were judged on originality, and the ability to convey accurate science details clearly and creatively. This infographic was conceived by Aaron Herrera and Emerald Rawls from Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton, CO.

Gifts for Geeks

chemists who say ni t-shirt
Think Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Smart kids tend to love the esoteric, and nothing quite fulfills this tendency better than an obscure academic t-shirt design.  The best-known model of this fashion(?) is perhaps the character Sheldon on the TV series The Big Bang Theory.  He is rarely seen on the show in anything other than a t-shirt.  Sheldon’s shirts feature designs ranging from a periodic tables to the double helix model of DNA.  He also sports designs from various comic book super heroes (Superman, The Flash, The Green Lantern) or obscure internet video series (TableTop, The Guild).

 
 
 

When I was teaching I used to receive a small catalog called the Journal of Academic T-Shirts.  It was filled with all sorts of designs from music, history and science.  It was always a hit when I passed it around in my science classes, and I occasionally ordered something for myself.

When it comes to geek chic, the more obscure the better, as just about anyone can come up with a Periodic Table shirt.  But, where can you or the ChemClub students buy such products?  Here are a few ideas.

Ah - The element of surprise t-shirtZazzle has a number of cool shirts on a page titled, “Chemistry Geek Gifts” , from  ‘Never Forget’ (the Sliderule) to Maxwell’s Equation.  There is also a shirt for ‘the element of surprise’ which features Ah! In the format of a chemical element.

The Think Geek site has a number of shirts and other novelty items, including a Periodic Table shower curtain and a Rutherford-Bohr model atom necklace pendant.

Shirt Woot! has a number of Schodinger’s Cat based shirts and tons of other esoterica. And finally, perhaps the best site of all, Café Press, which listed 288,000 results for a search on ‘science gifts.’ My favorite was one that said “Correlation ≠Causation”. Truer words have never been, well, spoken.