Friday, September 25, 2015

Scenes from the Hood

I love taking pictures of my students working in the lab. I can't help myself. When the kids are really getting into an experiment I want to capture it. As soon as they start to work, I pull out my phone. This week I started a new series I'm calling "Scenes from the Hood". I decided to try to take pictures of my students doing lab work from the inside of the fume hood. I've had the hood in my room for only one year. It still feels like such a luxury item. The novelty has definitely not worn off yet. Why is ventilation a luxury item, you ask... Don't get me started! Let's just celebrate the fact that now I have it and I can do more interesting chemistry with my students because of it.

Ventilation in the chemistry lab is an important part of a safe environment. Keeping the air clear is a matter of personal care for a chemistry teacher and the students. As a teacher, I am in the lab at least 6 hours a day, compared to my students 80-minutes. I am so happy to have a safer work environment with proper ventilation in the lab. Anyone who doesn't have good ventilation, you can go to Flinn's safety training for a short video about the importance of ventilation that you can use to support your case with administrators.

This week my Chemistry Honors students did the Pomfret School classic: The Iron and Sulfur lab. It's an awesome start to our lab work because of the flames, the smells, the breaking of the glass test tube, hydrochloric acid, heating with the Bunsen burner, and iron filings/magnets. I can't think of any other lab that "has it all" like this one. Add to that the fact that they are all scared to do anything because of the lab safety talk, and you have a pretty memorable experience for the kids.

Here are my "Scenes from the Hood" shots for the week.
These two are watching the bubbles in the gas producing reactions of Fe and FeS with HCl.

Wafting the gas to observe the smell (rotten eggs comes to mind).

These girls are looking into the fume hood for inspiration.

I love the photos my students include in their lab reports, not to mention the ones that end up on Instagram and Facebook.

And what about all the other fun pics I took? Here are a few photos of my new students investigating the chemical and physical properties of iron and sulfur.

The nicest looking iron sulfide pellet of the week! 

Look at the glow of this chemical reaction.

And then the plunge into cold water to shatter the test tube. Awesome.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Highlights from Week One

Here are some scenes from my first week of school for 2015-2016. Selfies are a required part of Day One for each of my classes, along with a warning that they will all make the blog throughout the year.
Two of my AP chemistry students who are happy to identify the ions in their solution.
My AP chemistry class started off with the study of precipitation reactions. I thought this was a nice place to start to get them back into the practice of writing chemical formulas and balanced equations. They worked through their first POGIL from my new AP chemistry book from Flinn on net ionic equations. The week ended with a qualitative analysis experiment to identify ions in a solution. 

Rock band? No, my D-Block chemistry class with Tim Rose my co-teacher (the one with the beard).
In my Honors class, we started with some "real world" chemistry. I opened the week with a ChemMatters "Open for Discussion" article about caffeine. As part of the group discussion, I asked the students to propose an experiment to determine the amount of caffeine a type of food. I designed this question with a specific answer in mind. To my surprise and delight, the student in my class came up with a wide range of ideas for quantifying the amount of caffeine in a drink. I was reminded that prior knowledge is a valuable part of the learning process.
Two kids working together to write their first lab report in class using a shared Google Doc.

A serial dilution of food coloring, an analogy for the concentration of a contaminant in drinking water.
Another part of the week's homework was a reading about toxicity. I wanted to start off the year with a different perspective of the substances they encounter. LD-50 ratings of everyday substances, like water, make for an interesting calculations. It takes about 9 liters of water to kill the average 10th grader.

My AP Chemistry kids sporting our new goggles that I won at ChemEd.

F-Block chemistry is all smiles.
On a personal note, my oldest son started 9th grade this year at Pomfret School. After a long wait, he finally started classes this week. He had a good first week with his classes, but the highlight for him was the Outdoor Adventure team.
My baby boy starting high school this week at Pomfret School.
My husband and I work together at the school.  Brian is the AP and Honors physics teacher, making us one fourth of the science department here. Even though we work in the same department, he teaches in another building which prevents our paths from crossing much during the class day. Many of our students have us in back-to-back years in their science classes, and a few lucky kids have both of us in the same year. 
My husband and I make up 1/4th of the science department at Pomfret School! Day One was a family event.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

NEACT 76th Summer Conference

Members of the NEACT Executive Committee
Mel Govindan opens the day with a warm welcome.
The NEACT 76th Summer Conference was a fun and action-packed one day event at Clark University.  The day started with a welcome from Mel Govindan, the NEACT President, for the approximately seventy participants. He enthusiastically greeted the new faces in the crowd along with many long-time members of the group.  Prof. Nancy Budwig, the Associate Provost and Dean of Research for Clark University, also welcomed us to her beautiful campus.  Clark provided us with a great location for our one-day workshop with lecture halls, classrooms, lab space, and a banquet for dinner.

Prof. Nancy Budwig from Clark University made us all feel right at home.
Mary Christian-Madden introducing Sr. Mary Virginia Orna
Sr. Mary Virginia Orna entertaining the crowd with her scientific story telling.
Our first speaker of the day was Sr. Mary Virginia Orna from the College of New Rochelle. Sr. Orna has an impressive list of publications and accomplishments in chemistry the include non-profit organizations, government service, industry, and of course teaching.  She entertained us with her unique style of story telling that blends together historical events, scientific discoveries, and the people behind the chemistry.  Her first talk was titled "Historic Mineral Pigments: Colorful Benchmarks of Ancient Civilizations".  Sr. Orna took us on a journey through time, looking through the lens of pigments.  She painted a colorful picture of how ancient civilizations around the world incorporated pigments into artwork.  The lecture had a feel of a wonderful travel log, as she shared her experiences traveling around the world to see the ancient artwork first hand.  Our group was captivated by her breadth of knowledge and deep understanding of the chemistry behind the enduring pigments from ancient artists. You can read about her study of pigments and color in her book The Chemical History of Color (a few lucky folks got to take home a signed copy of her book as a door prize!).

After our morning in the lecture hall with the whole group, we split into smaller groups for three rounds of concurrent sessions.  The offerings included technology applications in the chemistry classroom, lab activities, research talks, lab safety, and a trip to the local art museum.  The choices for the day provided topics of interest for participants from a wide range of teaching environments. I chose to attend one classroom strategy workshop, the safety talk, and one lab workshop.  Sr. Orna offered to give another talk about the "Undiscovered Elements" of the periodic table, based on her book The Lost Elements.

You can read the descriptions of the concurrent sessions on this google doc: Short Program Descriptions.
A group of teachers working together to computer simulations from Concord Consortium.

Daniel Damelin from Concord Consortium led a workshop on using modeling in the chemistry classroom

Dr. Jim Kaufman presented an excellent talk about lab safety.

Participants are experimenting with redox reactions that produce color changes with different indicators.

Dr. Mathangi Krishnamurthy from Fitchburg State University led a lab program.

The group gathered for the annual NEACT banquet, where we were treated to an Italian themed meal. We all enjoyed time to discuss the workshops from the day and to get to know our fellow chemistry teachers over a relaxed meal. At the banquet, Kathy Siok was awarded the John J. Swistak Award. This award was in recognition of Kathy's work behind the scenes for the summer conference every year, along with her many years of service to NEACT in a wide range of roles. It was a pleasure to join in thanking Kathy for all of her dedication our group.
Kathy Siok was the recipient of the John J. Swistak Award for 2015 in honor of her years of service in NEACT.
The day ended on a high note with one more talk from Sr. Orna titled "Fashion, Pharmaceuticals, Food and Fun: the Chemical History of Color". This talk was the perfect complement to the morning talk about pigments. Her creative discussion about the application of color in modern culture gave us a new perspective on the objects around us. Once again, her fluency with both the chemistry and history, punctuated by her research excursions, made this an inspiring ending to a wonderful day.

Now it's time to look ahead to next summer! The 77th NEACT Summer Conference will be going back to the usual four-day format. Plans are already in place for an exciting conference at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, Mass. The theme for the conference is "Chemistry, Naturally". Look for more information for presenters and participants on the NEACT website. Here's a link to the flier for Summer 2016. I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Making Friends at ChemEd15

Jean and I met in Texas at ChemEd'07.  She's my Canadian doppelgänger and my biggest fan.  Catching up with Jean is always the highlight of my week at ChemEd.
The best part about ChemEd is reconnecting with friends and meeting new people. This week was no exception.  Here are a few of my ChemEd friends, both from previous years and new this year.

We met Ben at the registration desk from the very start of the conference.  Here we are getting a little silly at the tailgate party on Friday night.

Micaela, Tim and Alyssa worked together to test the thermal conductivity of different metals in the chemistry of food workshop.  ChemEd was a great bonding opportunity for Tim, Micaela, and me before the year starts.  (bad pun, sorry)

Yvonne is a new friend from Canada.  She's the Canadian Chemistry Teacher of the year and runner up in the So You Think You Can Demo competition this year.  Her daughter came to ChemEd for the kids camp.

Kathryn and Jen are both friends that we meet at ChemEd13.  Jen, another Canadian friend, is always up for anything fun going on at the conference.

Kathyrn, Liz, and I are all part of the "Chemistry Teahcer and Mother of Three Club".  We enjoyed a fun lunch together sharing stories about teaching and raising kids.

I met Stacey in the BWI Airport.  She noticed my science t-shirt while we were waiting at the gate for our flight to Atlanta.  She asked "Are you a chemistry teacher?"  We both had a good laugh. I was very happy to see that she was leading a workshop on ChemMatters.  You can read more about her workshop at this link.

These enthusiastic chemistry teachers came out for our workshop on chemical reactions.  It was great fun to share ideas with these experienced chemistry teachers.  Melissa (second row, second in from the left) came all the way from Australia for ChemEd15.

I hope to collaborate with these folks throughout the year through the BaseCamp website for the ChemMatters workshop.

Monday, August 3, 2015

ChemMatters Workshop at ChemEd15

Workshop leaders Kathleen, Marta, Steve, Susan, Stacey, Lisa, Kathleen, and Patrice
ChemEd is a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with chemistry teachers from around the world.  When I looked through the program for ChemEd15, "Advancing Scientific Literacy with Inquiry Lesson Plans Using ChemMatters Magazine"  jumped out at me.  I love the ChemMatters magazine, and I never quite do enough work on scientfic literacy with my classes.  The inquiry lessons piece also a hook for me.  The workshop was led by Kathleen Cooper, Marta Gmurczyk, Steve Long, Susan Cooper, Stacey Haas, Lisa Culberson, Kathleen Chesmel, and Patrice Pages.  I was thrilled to join this group of enthusiastic teachers to create new lessons that incorporate articles from ChemMatters.  Not only did I walk away with a lesson of my own, but I also joined a network of teachers who are working with these same resources in their classrooms.  Through the Basecamp website, all the members of this workshop will continue to collaborate throughout the school year and beyond.

Lisa, Lynda, and I working in a small group on "Why Cold Doesn't Exist" lesson.
There were five articles that we could choose from for the workshop.  We split up into small groups to work on an article of our choice.  I decided to work on the article "Does Cold Exist" because I love my thermochemistry unit.  Lynda and I joined Lisa, who was our group leader, to collaborate on a lesson that uses the article as an integral part of the work.  We spent most of our hour talking through the thermochemistry activities that we do with our students.  We had fun stitching together pieces from all of our units into a more complete experience for our students.  The article served as an important launch pad into our thermochemistry unit.  What I realized while working with them is that the ChemMatters article can effectively replace the text book reading on heat and energy.  The article developed not only the basic terminology, but also particle diagrams and graphical analysis of some specific examples of heat exchange.  You can take a look at our lesson at this link.  Thank you, Lynda for finding time after the workshop to type up our work.

After we worked for an hour on our lessons, the whole group came back together to share and discuss our ideas.  Each article tackled a different piece of the chemistry curriculum.  The range of topics in the magazine articles, along with their engaging text, make them a good fit for high school science classes.  I have set a goal for myself to use one ChemMatters article for each unit throughout the school year.  With the five from the workshop, I'm about a third of the way there!

These were the articles we worked on during the workshop:
How Toxic Is Toxic
by Brian Rohrig (December 2014)

Why Cold Doesn't Exist
by Michael Tinnesand (Oct 2013)

I met Stacey at the BWI airport on the way to Atlanta, and then reconnected in her workshop.
Smartphones, Smart Chemistry
by Brian Rohrig (April 2015)

Salting Roads: The Solution for Winter Driving
by Doris Kimbrough (Feb 2006)

The Death of Alexander Litvinenko
by Audrey Keown (April 2007)

If you go to the ChemMatters website, you can find teacher resources for many of the most recent articles with "ready to use" lessons that you can adapt to your students.  The folks at ACS are eager to get these great resources into teachers hands and into chemistry classrooms.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

AACT High School Ambassador Polls are Open, Please Vote for Me!

I've thrown my hat in the ring for the High School Ambassador position for the new Governance Board of the AACT.  I'm excited to take on this position to help shape the growth of this new organization.  If you are a member of AACT, please consider voting for me for the High School Ambassador position.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Pizza Box Spectroscope

The pizza box spectroscope in action.
How many times can you say spectroscopy in one week?  When we make these awesome spectroscopes, I'm sure I come close to 100 times!  I love this fun spectroscopy project that I got from ChemEd13.  Ed Escudero led a hands-on workshop in Waterloo called "Make and take: construct an inexpensive and calibrated spectroscope."  I went home with my own pizza box spectroscope and a great project for the atomic theory unit.  I hope he'll do the same workshop at ChemEd15 for anyone who wants to give it a try.

The pizza box spectroscope is a great way to add a quantitative experiment to the classic atomic spectra observations that we all do in class.  With this project, my students can take accurate measurements of the wavelength of light and use their measurements to identify unknown elements.  Gone are the days of just looking at the pretty colors of the atomic spectra (which is fun too, don't get me wrong).  My students can take measurements that are as good as 1% accuracy from a pizza box!  You can read about constructing the pizza box spectroscopes here.

The pizza box spectroscope has a diffraction grating at the eye hole (closest to the eye), a slit to let in light on the opposite side of the box from the eye how, and a plastic rod running through the box.  The plastic rod is the critical piece of the spectroscope.  Each rod is scored so that it has one vertical notch on it.  The notch on the plastic rod can be aligned with a color in the atomic spectrum, which allows the student to determine the wavelength of the colored line.  The slit can be illuminated by shining a flashlight on the end of the plastic rod, to make the measurements easier and more accurate.  
Testing their viewing of the continuous spectrum.

We used the mercury lamp to calibrate the spectroscopes.  But before I turned on the mercury lamp, I had the lab groups test each other to make sure they were all seeing the same thing.  We opened a shade in the classroom and looked at the continuous spectrum from the sun.  One person in the group put the white mark on a color and passed the box to their partner without telling them what color they chose.  The other partner had to look through the spectroscope and identify the color the mark was pointing to in the box.  This little warm up exercise was very helpful to make sure everyone could see the colors in the spectroscopes and use the white mark on the plastic rod for measuring wavelenght.

The mercury lamp calibration.  You can see the rod, and the white dot from the slit pointing to the green line.
Next we used the mercury lamp to calibrate the pizza boxes.  The students used the known wavelengths of the three prominent lines to take the initial measurements.  Once they aligned the slit on the plastic rod to a color, the students measured the length of the rod sticking out the of the box.  With three data points, they plotted a calibration curve for their box.  There are two important points to mention about each box:  the students have to measure from the same side of the box each time, and they cannot switch plastic rods with another box.  Either of these changes will render their calibration curve useless.

Working in the dark to calibrate the spectroscopes.

I only have one spectrum tube lamp in my class, so we huddled around it to make measurements.  These pictures of the lights shining on the end of the plastic rods are so cool.  We spent about a week on this project total, including building the boxes. 

Students are measuring an unknown element with the pizza box spectroscopes.  Groups work together to view the spectrum and light the rod with a flashlight for each measurement.

The students were very proud of their pizza box spectroscopes.  I love the low-tech nature of this project because they can build their own instrument "from scratch".  I think this is the only chance they have all year to calibrate an instrument.  I usually calibrate the pH probes for them because it takes too much time and can be a little fussy.  Nothing else we use really needs to be calibrated.  This spectroscope project is a great way to show my students an important step in getting good data.
I can't get enough of this fun project.  

After the mercury tube, I put in the hydrogen tube and have them measure the prominent lines.  I could look at the hydrogen spectrum all day long; I love the colors.  This is when the kids get really excited by their percent error.  Most are less then 5% accurate!  (I get pretty excited about the results too, I won't lie to you about that!)
The hydrogen spectrum with a continuous spectrum "noise" in the background.

The cell phone flash lights are so very handy during spectroscopy week.  We end up working in the dark for several days because they are all working on different measurements at different paces.  With only one lamp, it limits the number of elements we can view at once, so the kids just adapt and work with their flashlight apps to measure the length of the rod as needed.

Students used their iPhone flash light apps to measure the length of the plastic rod.

The last phase of the project is identifying unknown elements.  I put several different tubes in for them to test.  They have to measure three lines from each to make their identification.  Of course, they also realize that each spectrum looks different, so the measurements become the confirmation of the identity, and helps them choose between the elements that look close to their observation.

Here's the helium spectrum with the slit aligned with the yellow line.
I have a set of R-Spec spectroscopes that we use for the astronomy class that I plan to add to the spectroscopy week next year.  After finishing with their own spectroscopes, I will give them a chance to collect data with the R-Spec cameras.  The lab work with the electronic equipment will be more rich with the foundation they get from building their own spectroscope.  I'm actually thinking about expanding spectroscopy week into a term elective for advanced science students who want to design their own experiments using spectroscopy techniques.