AACT Resources to Help You Teach Chemistry Basics

By Kim Duncan on October 17, 2017

As chemistry teachers around the country head back into their classrooms and begin planning activities for their students, AACT will be highlighting resources from our high school resource library that can be used to reinforce topics in different units throughout the school year. We’re beginning the year with articles, videos, simulations, and activities that could be used to support a Chemistry Basics unit.

Laboratory Safety

Laboratory safety is an important topic for teachers of chemistry, many of who may not have had access to enough training. Before planning your lab activities and demos, read Keeping the Wow Factor, and Controlling the Risks, an article from the September 2016 issue of Chemistry Solutions. This article reviews the safety problems inherent in the “traditional” rainbow experiment and similar demonstrations, includes the responses from various organizations, and also provides safer alternatives. Another article that you might find helpful is There’s More to the New Safety Data Sheets than a Missing “M” from the May 2017 issue. This article aims to increase your comfort level with the new SDSs by describing the timeline, some changes over the past 5 years, the pros and cons of the newer format, related hazard communication issues, and information on other available resources. Finally, if you’re unsure of what to do with laboratory waste, read Managing Chemical Wastes in the High School Lab from the May 2016 issue. This article provides a solid starting point to determine proper disposal methods for high school lab waste and includes a Quick Disposal Reference Guide that you can download, print, and hang in your chemical prep room.

One of the first topics that many chemistry teachers cover with their students is safety. Use our What Not to do in the Chemistry Lab activity to introduce laboratory safety and best practices and discuss these important topics with your students. During the activity students examine a cartoon of a chaotic chemistry lab and note the specific behaviors that are dangerous and unsafe in a chemistry laboratory setting.

Laboratory Reports and Measurements

Many chemistry students come to the class with a limited understanding of how to write high quality lab reports. Before your students start working in the lab, read Tools and Strategies for Teaching Lab Report Writing from the September 2016 issue of Chemistry Solutions for some ideas that will help your students with their reports. This article includes an accompanying lab, Investigating the Density of an Irregular Solid Object.

As your students start completing labs and using glassware, use our Measuring Volume Simulation to demonstrate the correct way to report volume measurements. In this simulation, students complete a 10 question quiz which requires them to analyze an image of a graduated cylinder in order to report an accurate measurement and determine the uncertainty value of the cylinder. The simulation uses several different sizes of graduated cylinders, each containing unique markings, so students will be challenged to analyze each individually.

Introductory Videos

You may want to start off the year showing one of the videos from our multimedia library. The Ancient Chemistry Video traces the history of chemistry from the discovery of fire, through the various metal ages, and finally to the great philosophers. Or you might pique your students’ interest in chemistry with the Arsenic Video and hear Sam Kean, author of The Disappearing Spoon, tell stories about arsenic, a deadly element that was once referred to as the "Inheritance Powder".

Introductory Topics

The topics of chemical and physical properties and changes, mixture separation, and endothermic and exothermic changes are often covered in a Chemistry Basics unit during the first few weeks of school. The following labs from our high school resource library can be used to help increase your students’ understanding of them.

  • In the Chemical and Physical Changes Lab students observe and analyze a number of interactions and determine if a chemical or physical change occurred. This activity will help students understand vocabulary related to chemistry, identify whether a physical or chemical change has occurred, and provide evidence supporting which change has occurred.
  • The Separation of a Mixture Lab allows students to devise their own method to separate a mixture of sand, salt, poppy seeds, and iron filings after they identify the physical properties of each and determine the appropriate methods for separating them.
  • Students determine whether mixing two chemicals is endothermic or exothermic in the Exothermic and Endothermic Lab. This is a quick, simple lab that allows students to witness endothermic and exothermic processes; one from a physical change, one from a chemical change.