Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy!

In the popular TV series “The Magic School Bus,” the teacher Ms Frizzle, the consummate elementary school teacher, encourages her class to do science by saying “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”  Organic chemistry lab has the potential to be an environment where the thrill of discovery is accompanied by an opportunity to participate in hands-on science. A part of the attraction of doing organic chemistry is the excitement of doing potentially dangerous activities in a controlled environment. Let’s face it, the most memorable times in Organic Chemistry laboratory are times when a violent chemical reaction happens or almost happens. Distilling liquids, shaking a separatory funnel, refluxing a reaction mixture, adding acid to a carbonate solution, working with volatile solvents, and using strong acids/bases are all potentially dangerous activities that involve a certain level of skill to perform. I am not advocating the exposure of students to dangerous situations. This reflection, instead, seeks to emphasize that the traditional basic techniques performed at a “macro” level still have an important role in Organic Chemistry laboratory. (image from http://www.theadventureschool.com/tag/mr-frizzle/

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