Saturday, September 10, 2016

My First Week at Woodstock Academy

I love my new school! And take a look at my chemistry team! The picture says it all. Caroline and Mel are enthusiastic about everything and so much fun to be around. These two women have helped me with everything from finding the coffee to taking attendance. They have helped me figure out all those little things that you just know how to do at work, with a huge amount of patience and kindness.
The chemistry team at Woodstock Academy! 
I suggested that we do the classic copper and nitric acid demo on the first day as an exciting introduction to chemistry. Caroline jumped on the idea and decided to do it with her classes too. I've done this demo many times without a hitch, so we decided not to try it out before class. Doesn't this sound like the start of every failed demo story? 

We started the demo on the bench, just like I've always done before...
Caroline and I set the demo up on the lab bench for her A-block class first thing on the first day of school. We decided to do it together the first time through so she could learn how to do the demo. We got the apparatus set up and made the basic solution for bubbling of the brown gas. The first problem we noticed was that the reaction was going too slow. We had the wrong concentration of nitric acid. This demo requires concentrated nitric acid to work. I ran back to the acid cabinet and found the big bottle with the partially corroded label. "Let's try this one, it smoked when I took off the lid. It must be the right stuff."  Caroline added the concentrated to the reaction flask causing a vigorous reaction to start right away. Check, this is the strong stuff.

Right away I noticed a big problem: the brown gas started leaking out of the flask rather than bubbling through the solution in the graduated cylinder. We made the decision to relocate the whole thing to the fume hood. Working together, Caroline and I picked up the whole set-up and moved it to one of the hoods, where we conducted the reaction for the rest of the day.

We decided to move to the fume hood when the brown gas started leaking out of the flask.
We quickly realized that the tube was clogged. Caroline decided to prep another round bottom flask to run the demo again, meanwhile I cleaned out the tube. Note to self, check the tube next time! (This never happened before, so I didn't think to check the tube.) Our second run worked great and the kids were excited to see the penny react to form many beautiful colors. At the end of the day the three of us had a good long laugh about the crazy start to the day, and our total commitment to making the reaction work.

The view from inside the fume hood.
Taking a photo of the demo with iPad for the write-up.
Woodstock Academy is a one-to-one iPad school. Much of my week was spent figuring out how to do all the things I used to do during class with my computer from my new iPad. I made frequent visits to the tech office to tackle technology questions every day this first week. The guys in the office showed great patience with me as I worked through all the stages of the iPad transition. They were also extremely helpful with the adoption of my iBook this year. Getting the iBook ordered and on everyone's iPads turned out to be quite a journey. I learned all about the business office, the tech office, iBooks, Apple's ordering system, and more.

First Day selfie of my A block class.
The best part about my week was getting to know my students. These delightful young people are curious and eager to learn.
My D-block class, minus many of the international kids who arrived late.
My enthusiastic C-Block class, not shy even on day one.

I started the kids on a lab design activity on the first day. They jumped right into the first experiment in which they designed their own procedure to isolate and measure the mass percent of mixture of sand, salt, and water.

We jumped right into a group activity to design an original experiment.
Before we started doing lab work the kids went on a lab equipment scavenger hunt. They had to go through the lab looking in drawers and cabinets to find lab items they will use this year. It was a hunt for me too because this was the first time I had a minute to look around the lab myself. I couldn't give them much help finding things because I was still learning the locations myself. In the first block no one could find the first aid kit. By the third block of the day of the scavenger hunt we located it in the cabinet by the door. B-block had a good laugh when we found the faux cabinets at the top of the lab that don't open. No chance I could use them anyway because they are way too high to be useful to a short person like me. Several times I exclaimed things like, "Hey, we have a whole set of condensers." I was very excited to find a cabinet full of 1000 mL graduated cylinders, my favorite lab glassware.

Fake cabinets? We found these during the scavenger hunt.

It was a scavenger hunt for me too! This was my first look into most of the cabinets.
Separating and massing a mixture of sand, salt, and iron.
It felt good to get into the lab with my students on Wednesday this week. Being in the lab is where I do my best work with students. I enjoyed watching them work through the separation steps and consider the purity of their samples as they worked. We ran out of time for the last step so we put the salt water in the drying oven overnight. In the morning we were greeted by beautiful salt crystals. They were so gorgeous that some of my kids were inspired to enter the Nation Crystal Growing Competition that starts in October. (more to come about that later)

I couldn't resist a first lab day selfie.
Serious about evaporating off the water to recover his salt.

These beautiful salt crystals formed overnight in the drying oven.

I ended the week with a fun demonstration of the distillation of cherry coke. The result of the simple distillation also surprises the students. The strong smell of the cherry flavoring in the first fraction is impressive. This demo finished off our discussion of separation techniques and gave us a good platform for discussing physical properties.
Demonstrating distillation with cherry coke.
It took my several days to figure out how to get coffee.
Starting a new job is exhausting! I sighed with relief at the end of each day this week. I'm still figuring out the daily schedule, the layout of the building, and many other day-to-day things that everyone else knows. It took me until Wednesday to find the Keurig machine in the faculty room. But just as I was celebrating this small victory, I discovered that the machine doesn't work. I was on the verge of giving up on coffee altogether for that day, but Mel and Caroline encouraged me to go down to the cafeteria to use the good Keurig. Getting that cup of coffee felt like a huge accomplishment on Wednesday morning. Friday afternoon came and I was completely spent from the four-day work week. When I got home my dear husband asked me out for dinner to try a new place in town. Much to my delight, three of my adorable new chemistry students were working at the restaurant. It feels good to be more integrated into the community with this new teaching position. After a good nights sleep and a morning with my spinning guild, I feel refreshed and ready to jump into week two.

This interesting mushroom family was growing right by the parking lot exit.

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