Chemical Education Today
Especially for High School Teachers by Erica K. Jacobsen
Photo by Diana S. Mason
Reality television programming has increased in popularity over the past few years. These shows create their drama by pitting participants against their environment and sometimes against each other. The public broadcasting system (PBS) recently aired their own offering, “Frontier House”. The twist: can 21st century people survive in the Montana wilderness for five months with only the conveniences people living in 1883 would have had? For more information, visit http:/ /www.pbs.org/wnet/frontierhouse/ (accessed May 2002). The reality of cooking with 1883-type supplies frustrated one participant. The camera showcased her failed attempt at pancakes. She then held up two glass jars containing baking powder and baking soda. Her thoughts? Who has any clue what these two things do? Trying to make goat cheese, she began by adding vinegar to fresh goat’s milk. Then she tried to “help” the process by adding several spoonfuls of baking soda. She admitted she didn’t really know what would happen. “A total science experiment” she said. The vinegar and baking soda reacted, foaming and overflowing the pot. A chemist would have known what would happen, along with the fact that baking soda wouldn’t help the curdling process. Should a person plucked off the street in 2002 know? How much chemistry does the average citizen understand about his or her world? What should be covered in a chemistry curriculum? How much can be covered? Approximately 75% of the juniors in the high school where I last taught enrolled in the single chemistry course offered. What percentage of those would go on to a college chemistry course? What percentage would major in chemistry or a related subject? Probably not a large percentage. As a result, a driving force behind my curriculum choices was how I could help my students to become aware of the chemistry of their everyday reality. Several articles this month focus on real world objects and ideas. Their authors integrally connect these familiar items to chemistry topics. In this way, students cover typical chemistry curriculum, but at the same time make science sense of the world around them. A high priority on many high school student agendas is sports. Modern Sport and Chemistry: What a Chemically Aware Sports Fanatic Should Know (p 813) highlights how chemistry has affected sports. It discusses sports equipment, medical items used to treat athletes, and performanceenhancing drugs. There is even a table of items used by the armchair athlete, such as soda and potato chips. Gooch (p 820) provides an interdisciplinary connection between history and chemistry. The course’s goal is to demonstrate the wide and positive impact of chemical technology on human affairs. Gooch’s teaching route is to march
Secondary School Featured Articles 䊕 Putting Reaction Rates and Collision Theory in the Hands of Your Students, by Andy Evenson, p 822. 䊕 Classroom Research: GC Studies of Linoleic and Linolenic Fatty Acids Found in French Fries, by Janice P. Crowley and colleagues, p 824. 䊕 Toward Better Teaching. 2001 James Flack Norris Award, by Dennis G. Peters, p 783.
through the battlefields of war, applying basic principles in chemistry along the way. While this course was developed for use at the university level, it provides room for adaptation to the high school level. Recent events such as anthrax scares and fighting in Afghanistan provide a connection many students will be familiar with. Students can readily identify with M&M candies and batteries. Birdwhistell and Spence (p 847) add a twist to the popular paper chromatography experiment that separates the dyes used in M&M candies. They use a hand-held UV lamp to investigate the fluorescence of the dyes on the chromatograms and on the candies themselves. Smith and Vincent (p 851) attempt to answer the question Why Do Some Batteries Last Longer Than Others? Different types of commercially available AA batteries are dissected and their innards tested for energy content. Even if the experiment described is not carried out, the article itself provides interesting information on the differences between batteries. The frontier cook mentioned earlier may have benefitted from the knowledge of the concepts presented by Chen and Yaung (p 848). Their experiment uses Alka Seltzer tablets and vinegar to determine the percent by mass of baking soda contained in the tablets. This simple procedure illustrates the basics of stoichiometry and the effects of a limiting reactant. The excellence of these articles lies in the fact that they not only share novel and interesting ideas to use in your curriculum, but that they also connect the use of chemistry to students’ own lives. With a little ingenuity you can make your chemistry classes reality programming for your students. Honoring Emory Recently retired Secondary School Chemistry Section editor Emory Howell and his wife Lois joined the Journal at the High School Day at the Orlando ACS meeting in April. Editor John Moore presented Emory with a farewell gift during lunch as a thank-you for his five years of excellent service. The gift was a bound copy of all of Emory’s Journal publications, along with a copy of his favorite JCE Classroom Activity (#23 “Magic Sand”, January 2000), topped off with his favorite JCE cover, March 1998 (see photo).
JChemEd.chem.wisc.edu • Vol. 79 No. 7 July 2002 • Journal of Chemical Education