Flexing the Left Hemisphere: What Burkies Learn in Chemistry Class

In our June 2018 News & Views issue, we asked Science teachers and Burkies to share examples of work their class work. Below is a project sample.

TEACHER: Lindley van der Linde
COURSE:  Chemistry

One of the reasons I was drawn to teaching is because I always loved school. As a student, I looked forward to the hands-on lab days. I felt like I was learning a skill that I could apply to the real world. When I was in graduate school one of the most educational and rewarding life experiences was not the coursework, but designing and conducting my own research as the basis for my Master’s thesis. As a science teacher at Burke Mountain Academy, I try to incorporate a complimentary hands-on experience with each unit. This includes having students pose a research question, create a hypothesis, explore how their research builds on current knowledge, gather data to test the hypothesis, display the data, analyze the data, and write about the significance of what they see (ie. employing the scientific method), and its application to the real world.

In Chemistry one of the first labs I introduce is basic: trying to have students find the density of certain solids and liquids. Such a lab introduces students to follow a procedure while familiarizing them with the glassware, physical versus chemical properties, the metric system, significant figures, and the difference between precision and accuracy. Unanticipated challenges that arise are, how does one measure the volume of irregularly shaped objects? How to find the mass of a liquid? What are the fundamental flaws or errors that arise in the prescribed procedure? Are there examples of objects that would not lend themselves to easily to finding their volume? Because density cannot be measured directly, students must employ their math skills, using the correct units, to solve for density. When writing the follow-up lab report not only do students need to summarize the purpose of the lab, but also how this lab fits into the current unit. Could knowing the density of an unknown material help us identify it?

Nicholas Czarnik ’20

Throughout the year my class has explored all the parts of chemistry, whether it is the Periodic Table, the atom or just plain old chemical reactions. With each unit, our teacher included a lab for us to do so that we can get a hands-on experience and greater understanding of what we are learning. As novices in the chemistry lab, my class started the year off with a simple experiment on finding the density of elements and understanding different physical or chemical characteristics of certain elements and their groups. Later on in the year, we did a more interesting and more difficult experiment. We reacted copper through multiple reactions, changing its form from pure copper to copper(II) oxide and then to copper(II) chloride and finishing the lab again with copper. Throughout the year, our class has quickly progressed to take part in more difficult challenges and more applicable to real life. I can’t wait for the end of the year when we will be making explosions, through a thermite reaction during our Redox unit.