It’s pHun. It’s a Gas. It’s Chemistry

I. Course description

Chemistry is all around us.  It’s in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the homes in which we live.  Chemistry is in us!  This course will take scholars on a journey from atoms to acids, from enthalpy to electrolysis, from ions to indicators, and from the nature of gases to the gases in nature.  Each topic evolves rapidly from fundamental to theoretical, but throughout the course a special emphasis will be placed upon the link between chemistry and the real world.  Scholars enrolled in this course should be prepared to experience chemistry through challenging, exciting, and fun activities designed to show the underlying edict of chemistry – Chemistry is everywhere!

II. Instructor

Nancy A. Fischer

  • Bachelor of Science in Education  – Southeast Missouri State University
  • Certification in Chemistry, Biology, and Mathematics
  • Valle Catholic High School – Ste. Genevieve, MO
  • email:
  • Missouri Scholars Academy Faculty – 1999-2000
III. Rationale for inclusion in a program for gifted students

The activities in this course are designed to embolden the chemistry neophyte and invigorate the chemistry expert.  Because the activities developed for this major are non-conventional activities, students who have already completed a general chemistry course will explore new topics and new approaches to familiar topics and will discover the correlation between traditional chemistry concepts and a wide range of real-life situations.  Chemistry novices will gain valuable knowledge and experiences that should enable them to move confidently into a traditional general chemistry course.

IV. Major topics covered
  1. Matter and Energy
    • atoms and molecules
    • density
    • specific heat
    • conductivity
    • polarity
    • enthalpy of reaction
  2. Gases
    • Boyle’s law
    • Charles’ law
    • ideal gas law
    • vapor pressure
    • gaseous pollutants
  3. Acids and Bases
    • pH scale
    • indicators
    • titrations
    • consumer applications
    • industrial applications
V. Pre-requisite knowledge

Scholars enrolling in this course should have a solid math background; a firm grasp of algebra is necessary to perform the mathematical analysis of lab results in this course.  In addition, students must be flexible in their view of science and must be willing to cast aside any misconceptions they have when faced with evidence that does not support their original ideas.

VI. Learning objectives

Students will be able to . . .

  • use the scientific method when investigating natural phenomenon.
  • determine the densities of various liquids and calculate the relative amounts of two of the liquids that must be combined to produces a solution having the same density as the third liquid.
  • determine the density and specific heats of unknown metal samples and use this information to identify these metal samples.
  • construct a simple conductivity tester using a film canister, LEDs, and resistors and use the device to determine the conductivity of solutions.
  • remove the zinc coating on two types of galvanized nails by reacting them with hydrochloric acid and determine the thickness of the zinc coating on the nails
  • relate polarity to the behavior of substances being separated by chromatography.
  • determine the relative reactivity of quicklime and compare the heat released in the reaction to that predicted from the enthalpy of reaction.
  • use thermochemistry concepts to determine the percentage of acetone in fingernail polish remover.
  • use CBLs to collect data and develop Charles’ law.
  • construct a PVC cannon and use it to develop Boyle’s law.
  • determine the chemical make-up of different brands of chalk based on density and reaction with dilute hydrochloric acid.
  • determine the molar mass of the gas found within Bic® lighters.
  • determine the percentage by mass of water in popcorn and calculate the pressure within the kernels just prior to popping.
  • access the AIRSData website to determine air quality in various counties within the state
  • use the energy harnessed within a 9-volt battery to electrolyze water and collect and test the resulting gases.
  • serially dilute HCl and NaOH and develop a pH colorimeter.
  • use a pH colorimeter to determine the pH of common household substances.
  • determine the effectiveness of antacids for neutralizing stomach acid.
  • determine the percentage of acetic acid in vinegar samples and the mass of vitamin C in fruit juice samples and compare these values to those listed on the labels.
  • standardize a sodium hydroxide solution and use this solution to determine the percentage purity of an impure citric acid sample.
VII. Primary source materials
  • Chang, R.  Chemistry.  McGraw-Hill, 1998
  • Fischer, Nancy.  VHS Laboratory Manual.  Valle High School, 1996
VIII. Supplementary source materials
  • LeMay, Beall, Robblee, Brower.  Chemistry.  Prentice Hall, 2000.
  • Holmquist, Randall, Volz.  Chemistry with CBL.  Vernier Software, 1998
  • Various materials obtained from workshops and from other high school and college chemistry texts and laboratory manuals.
IX. Computing and the Internet

Students will access the Internet periodically to find supplemental information and will use the Internet extensively for two of the activities within this major (one dealing with nuclear energy and the other with air quality within the state of Missouri).

X. Typical classroom strategies

A typical day in this academic major would be as follows:

  • 5 minutes Quick demonstration, discrepant event, or probing question to act as an opener for the day’s activities.  This accomplishes two objectives: it awakens the students and it primes them for the material to follow.
  • 15 – 20 minutes Background information for the first activity in the form of discussion/lecture (minimal) or cooperative group learning.  Time would also be spent relating this activity to previous ones so that scholars are able to get the “big picture.”
  • 5 minutes Pre-lab information regarding location of materials and special safety precautions.
  • 30 minutes Students conduct a laboratory investigation.
  • 20 – 30 minutes Analysis of lab results and discussion of how data from this activity correlates with other activities or information.
  • 10 minutes Introduction of a student project or background information and pre-lab for the second activity.  “Less time is needed to introduce the second activity since it covers the same or a closely related concept as in the first activity.)
  • 30 – 40 minutes Students work on a project or a second lab activity.
  • 20 – 30 minutes Sharing of student projects or analysis of lab results and wrap-up.

It is obvious that activities are the cornerstone of this academic major.  Lecture is minimized and, when utilized, would take the form of a discussion with as much information as possible being provided by the students with the teacher simply organizing the information so the topic at hand is approached in a logical fashion.  Students will often work in cooperative groups but care would be taken that all students become involved and that the groupings change often.