The Third Week:

We did some real chemistry this week. Almost too real, if you know what I mean. If you don’t know what I mean, read on. Students did the published experimental procedures that they found and selected the first two weeks of lab period. Students soon discovered that 1) significant modifications are sometimes needed to adapt the experiment to the equipment available in our particular laboratory, 2) sometimes the published directions are unclear or incomplete and certain informed guesses need to be made to complete the procedure, and 3) sometimes things don’t work out as indicated. Then, of course, there is the excitement (and sometimes disbelief) when the experiment does yield interesting and useful results. I think that the students discovered that it’s a little different performing an experiment in order to develop it into a classroom experiment as opposed to simply “getting it done” in a one-shot deal. They also realized that there are a lot of mechanical things like measuring procedures and handling techniques that need to be thought through. Further improvisation: the ice machine was broken on Wednesday. The students had to go outside and collect snow for their ice baths! The fun part for me is that I am not “the expert” here. I am discovering these experiments along with my students. Some groups need to go “back to the drawing board” and trouble-shoot their procedure, other groups have a successful experimental procedure in their hands. Real chemistry gets a little messy in more ways than one.

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