Friday, October 06, 2006

Mole Madness

This week we introduced the "mole", which is a unit of measurement in chemistry. A mole represents a very large number - 6.02 x 10^23 particles to be exact - so chemists use moles to compare quanities rather than writing huge numbers in scientific notation. To help the students understand how big a mole really is, I found an activity online that has 10 questions for them to research and solve. For example, one mole of pop cans stacked on top of one another would reach from here to the sun and back how many times? Students worked individually or with one other partner to solve their problem. I had items in the room for them to measure and also had the internet for resources. It was a great problem solving activity and (hopefully) helped them visualize how big a "mole" really is. I a dork or what?!?


Karl Fisch said...

No, you're not a dork. Although coming from me . . .

Let me attempt to "push" your thinking a little bit. I'm not trying to be critical, I just want to explore this a little more by asking questions. (Since I have so few answers, I enjoy asking questions.)

You said it was a "great problem solving activity." Exactly what "problem" did they solve? I understand that they solved the 10 "problems" in the activity, but that's not quite the same as solving a real problem.

They "hopefully" have a better idea of how big a mole is, but how can you find out if they do?

Finally, is it really "research" to go out on the Internet - or to books for that matter - to find the answers/facts they need? If they are answering questions that have answers that are readily found, is that really "research?"

Again, I don't mean for this to sound critical (feel free to stop by and kick me if it comes off that way). And I certainly think this sounds like a more engaging activity than the way most chemistry teachers would try to accomplish the same task. But I'm not sure that - in the end - they have a better grasp of hog big a mole really is or why chemists use it.

Barbara S. said...

I disagree some with what Karl said (so he can come kick me?). I think the activity was a great way for students to explore (construct?) their knowledge of just how large a mole is. It certainly must have been an engaging activity! It may not have been research in its purest sense, but it was a good problem solving activity (says the old math teacher...). Did you discuss with them their problem solving strategies (ie, breaking the problem into a smaller problem? How did they search for the info they needed?) either before or after the activity? I think I would plan on using it again with future classes!

bkitch said...

Wow, a mole is really big. As a non science person, I didn't know that :)