Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mole Art

My new mole is making friends in class.
As a new teacher I thought that I would never be like my quirky science teacher colleagues, but after nearly twenty years of teaching chemistry, I have developed a weakness for “Mole Art”.  I love the element of fun that mole art brings to my teaching environment.  My students get a little glimpse into my soul when I bring in a new hand-made mole to decorate my classroom. 

Milli Mole
It started about seven years ago when I discovered a stuffed mole pattern in ChemTopic Labs Volume 7:  Molar Relationships & Stoichiometry by Flinn.  The pattern is very easy and quick to make.  I made three immediately: a custom designed mole for every chemistry teacher at my school.  The department chair got a mole in school colors with a “P” on the side for Pomfret.  My other colleague got a mole made out of her college school colors, adorned with flowers so everyone could tell it was a “she-mole”.  I named my first mole Milli, and I even gave her a rabbit fur hat (made out of fur that fell off of our rabbit pelt when I was demonstrating the polarity of water).  I manage to find reasons to have my mole in class throughout the year. I bring her out on the first day that I introduce the mole, and then again when my students learn molarity. 
The image of a one molar solution will always stay fresh in their minds when then think of Milli sitting in a one-liter beaker.  But wait, I can double the concentration by adding one of her mole friends to the beaker.  The site of the two moles crammed into a one-liter beaker always makes me laugh out loud.  My students quickly realize that not only do I like to make things by hand, but I also enjoy bad jokes! 
A one molar solution!

My new Mole Doorstop, the latest addition to the mole art collection.
My latest mole creation is a wonderful mole doorstop, which was inspired by a great book called Faux Taxidermy Knits by Louise Walker.  This fun book is a must read for every knitter.  The mole doorstop was very fun to make; and it knit up in just one day!  When it is finished, the mole is emerging from a mound of dirt as if to say hello to everyone.  The base is filled with rocks to weigh it down so that it will function as a doorstop.  I made the new mole just in time for the start of the mole unit.  On the first day of the mole concept, I split my class into small groups to do the POGIL activity called “Relative Mass and the Mole”.  (POGIL Activities for High School Chemistry by Laura Trout)  One of my students came up to the front of the room and brought the mole back to his table for inspiration.  I saw him with his arm around the mole during class, as if he wanted to include the mole in the group discussion.  When the novelty wears off, I’ll put him to work as a doorstop, but for now he is located on the front table to greet my students when they come to class for more mole calculations. 

A two molar solution!

In addition to the mole doorstop and the fuzzy mole friends I have made, I also have a handsome mole mobile hanging in the room.  I call it the molebile.  Two years ago our Head of School charged us to “make your space your own” at the start of the school year.  He said, “Give your classroom some personality and make it a fun learning environment”.  I knew exactly what I had to do:  make more moles.  For this mole art piece, I used the same stuffed mole pattern from Flinn to make a set of moles in bright colors. 
The original "molebile".
I have bins of fabric scraps for just this kind of spontaneous project.  I found some antiquated glassware in our stock room to serve as the perfect vehicle for the bright moles.  I always enjoy the moment when my students finally understand the molebile, usually a few days (or weeks) after I introduce the concept. 
The second "Molebile" I made for my friend in the lab upstairs.

Mole art is just one of the ways that I try to make chemistry a fun and memorable experience for my students.  I never underestimate the value of a good sense of humor in the science classroom.

The class mole, Bernard Martin, is giving some inspiration during the mole test.

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