September 2014 | Tech Tips
ChemMatters: A Wealth of Information
By William Bleam Jr. and Stacey Haas
Classroom Activities, Literacy
You are about to receive your first issue of ChemMatters, and its accompanying Teacher’s Guide, as part of your AACT membership. ChemMatters, a publication by the American Chemical Society, is a valuable classroom resource. The magazine provides articles that describe chemistry’s role in students’ daily lives and discusses societal issues that are addressed, solved, and sometimes caused by chemistry. The Teacher’s Guide, available online, makes an already comprehensive resource all the more useful for your students—and you.
Two recent education changes that affect many teachers, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), involve the incorporation of literacy skills into the science classroom. The goal of these standards is to integrate literacy and science by focusing on reading and writing in science as well as help students articulate evidence-based explanations to help them better understand various scientific phenomena. For each issue of ChemMatters, correlations to CCSS and NGSS are available as part of the Teacher’s Guide.
Content Features of ChemMatters (four issues per year)
Five feature articles—Articles that explain the chemistry behind topics that are relevant to students’ everyday lives (e.g., sunscreen, methane and global warming, ice cream, sinkholes).
Open for Discussion—The pros and cons of a societal issue in a scientific context, leaving the issue open for discussion.
As a Matter of Fact—An infographic about a chemistry topic.
ChemClub News—News of what some of the more than 600 ChemClubs across the country are doing and how your school can join the ChemClub program to share in the rigor and fun.
Ways to Use Feature Articles in the Classroom
To introduce a topic
The abstract nature of chemistry concepts makes it vital to hook students into a chemistry topic with a scenario that is applicable to their lives. ChemMatters helps you do that. Each of the feature articles is written with a strong storyline to help students make connections between chemistry and their everyday lives while piquing students’ interest in learning more about a topic. An example is “The Crash of Flight 143” by Peter Banks (October 1996). The article presents a real-life scenario where engineers failed to use proper units to calculate the amount of fuel needed for a flight. As a result, the plane crashed but, surprisingly, no one was injured.
Students are often shocked that something like this could happen, especially with all of the advances in today’s technology. The article provides a great springboard into a lesson about proper measurement, and you can teach the skills of dimensional analysis. Students are engaged in the topic of measurement and more invested in learning the process of dimensional analysis as a result.
In addition to being able to apply measurement skills in a lesson, the article also addresses the need to measure fuel at low temperatures. Students can brainstorm about why they think taking measurements at low temperatures is important. They also can make connections between this idea and their prior knowledge that particles move more when heated and can eventually lead to a phase change. Students can brainstorm in small groups about two or three standard operating procedures on which they would insist if they were in charge of the airplane. Because the article doesn’t directly address these ideas, the exercise satisfies CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.6, which requires students to analyze a written scientific piece.
In the middle of a unit
ChemMatters articles can tie chemistry concepts and lab applications together. Here is how “Graphene: The Next Wonder Material?” by Michael Tinnesand (October 2012) does it. After being taught periodic table basics and the general properties of metals, nonmetals, and metalloids, students can read this article and ponder what it means for an element to have a general property.
The element discussed in the article, carbon, is a nonmetal—based on its location on the periodic table—but various forms of carbon can take on other properties. In a lab investigation, students can test carbon rods and compare and contrast their findings with the properties of graphene described in the article. From the lab, students will be able to conclude that carbon rods are conductive, like graphene, yet incredibly brittle. When the students detect this, the images from the article of the molecular structures of graphite and graphene can be reviewed so they can see how the structures of each of these substances correlate with properties of being brittle or strong.
A possible follow-up activity to this lab investigation would be to give students six mystery elements and have them classify the samples as metals, nonmetals, and metalloids based on what they know about the general properties of the elements and what they learned about graphene. One of the mystery elements could be carbon. After these investigations, students can think further about whether carbon should be reclassified as a metalloid and then debate how many metallic properties a nonmetallic substance should have to be classified as a metalloid.
The ChemMatters article also has an accompanying video online that shows the process of separating layers of graphite by using tape to reach a single layer of graphene. After watching the video, students can use tape to collect fingerprints from various items so they have some hands-on experience about what this process looks like.
More information about this lab can be found online in the ChemMatters Teacher’s Guide. The Teacher’s Guide contains background information for each article, as well as various labs, activities, and extension projects. It also contains multiple correlation guides that illustrate how each article can be used to meet various standards from NGSS and CCSS.
As an end-of-unit assessment
Authentic assessments are becoming more important today as the educational focus shifts toward increasing critical thinking skills so students can apply information in a real-life context, not just parrot back facts. Using a ChemMatters article as an end-of-unit assessment requires students to apply their knowledge of various chemistry concepts to answer a series of questions about an article by extracting relevant information. Such use of ChemMatters articles also directly relates to CCSS because students are reading and processing new information.
Because ChemMatters articles are closely linked to concepts taught at the high school level, it is easy to design follow-up questions to these articles that require students to use both literacy and chemistry skills. For example, “Chemical Profiling: Tracking Down the Source” by Jay Withgott (April 2002) discusses how various organic products can be traced to their origin because soils around the world have different isotopic ratios of carbon and nitrogen.
This article discusses how isotopic ratios are essentially fingerprints for plants, so it addresses topics covered in a unit about atomic structure. Students can read the article for homework after learning about atomic structure, and they can answer a set of questions. Then you can ask students to write down the three isotopes discussed in the article and complete a table for these isotopes to compare and contrast the numbers of protons, neutrons, and electrons; nuclear charge; electron configuration; atomic number; and mass number. Next, you can tell students the three naturally occurring isotopes of carbon and their percent abundances so they can calculate the average atomic mass of carbon. Similar activities are included in the Teacher’s Guide.
ChemMatters articles are written to be used with any level of chemistry students. The articles span a breadth of topics, allowing teachers to find articles of interest to all students. ChemMatters allows teachers to incorporate real-world examples in instruction, particularly with the many resources that are available online as part of the Teacher’s Guide.
The Teacher’s Guide
The Teacher’s Guide editorial staff spends hundreds of hours on each issue—so busy teachers like you don’t have to—searching for materials that you can use in your classroom for your own development. The staff is composed of either still-active or recently retired chemistry teachers who have clocked many more than 100 years of combined chemistry teaching experience. They have extensive involvement in running teacher workshops, so they know what teachers need and find useful in their classrooms, and they incorporate the best materials for you into every Teacher’s Guide.
The editors research the topics that the five feature articles are about in each issue of ChemMatters to help you:
- assess student learning, with prepared student questions and answers provided for each article;
- prepare students to better understand each article, with reading strategies and anticipation guides;
- correlate articles with National Science Education Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and Common Core State Standards in the form of three different correlation guides for each set of standards;
- know more about the topics in the articles than your students via extensive background information;
- understand where the articles’ topics best fit your curriculum via a detailed list of connections to chemistry concepts related to the article;
- be better prepared to address student misconceptions and to field potential in-class questions posed by students after they read the articles, using lists of possible student misconceptions and anticipated student questions with suggested answers;
- challenge students in a fun way with a puzzle and its solution;
- choose from a wealth of in-class activities that are available on the Web, including demonstrations, lab activities, and lesson plans;
- make outside-of-class projects and individual research available to students who want to do more;
- find related ChemMatters articles from the past 30 years, which are available on a DVD as well as other print materials listed in a references section; and
- access an extensive but carefully selected, annotated list of websites of additional information for you and your students for further enrichment on topics contained in the articles.
The background information within the Teacher’s Guide provides an advanced and thorough perspective of the topics covered in the ChemMatters article. History about the topic is included here, as well as recent scientific developments in the field and additional information on specific sections or topics within the article. For example, in "(Under) Arm Yourself with Chemistry” by Malory Pickett (April 2014), related topics included deodorants, antiperspirants, sweat and armpit chemistry, aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease, and aluminum and breast cancer. Freely available online photos and illustrations are used, so they can also be used in the classroom to liven up the text.
In in-class activities, editors provide teachers with vetted online resources involving lab activities—either wet lab or computer simulations—with specific student directions and teacher notes for each activity. The section also includes ideas for student activities involving further investigations suggested by the actual ChemMatters articles. The activities frequently include lesson plans, PowerPoints from other teachers, or other multimedia.
As you look through the Teacher’s Guide, hopefully you will find materials that work for you, help you make use of the excellent articles in ChemMatters in your classroom, and make those articles more relevant for your chemistry students as you help them discover the wonders of chemistry. ChemMatters and its accompanying Teacher’s Guide are a valuable combination that can make chemistry more exciting for your students and for you.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. “Common Core State Standards for Science & Technical Subjects: Grade 11–12.” National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington, DC, 2010.
Banks, Peter. “Crash of Flight 143.” ChemMatters, October 1996.
Tinnesand, Michael. “Graphene: The Next Wonder Material?” ChemMatters, October 2012.
Pickett, Maolry. “(Under)Arm Yourself with Chemistry.” ChemMatters, April 2014.
Withgott, Jay. “Chemical Profiling: Tracking Down the Source.” ChemMatters, April 2002.