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Figure 1. Graphic created by teacher and shared with students in advance, in order to stir interest in the activity.

During this unique time in education, when a global pandemic is forcing teachers to explore innovation and technology, educators are looking for new ways to engage students without meeting them face-to-face. Online meeting platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet can be used to bring students together without physical contact.

Many teachers’ strengths lie in their presence in the classroom; however, where they can connect with the students through chemical demonstrations and class discussions. How does a traditional classroom teacher effect learning without the physical interaction? Some options are to produce video instruction and create online discussion forums, but both of these approaches lack the kinesthetic component in which many students thrive.

There is much support for kinesthetic learning across all disciplines. It has been shown that movement in the classroom adds to student learning, creating better application of knowledge and longer retention.1 It is also shown that student interest can be stimulated by active learning.2 To provide a way for students at home to physically participate while practicing chemical safety can be challenging — but it can be done!

A new teaching strategy

A successful new strategy that I began using while teaching high school organic chemistry from home is an online meeting scavenger hunt. It offers a chance for students to work in teams while kinesthetically learning, involving cognition ranging from the simple to the complex. Additionally, the activity builds teamwork and promotes shared ideas.

In the activity, I tasked students with finding as many objects as possible (from a 50-item list) within their homes over a short period of time. Each item on the list had some relation to the material we had studied throughout the year. For example, when asked to find “a substance that contains an organic compound for which you can write the formula,” some students drew from their memorized formulas for common substances such as sugar or vinegar, while others found a substance and used the internet to determine its formula. We then reviewed all 50 items to determine whose objects qualified are correct examples — and recognized the winning team.


I invited my students to join with me in a Google Meet at a designated date and time (Figure 1). Once all of the participating students had joined, I instructed them to each get a large bin to gather their items, and shared the rules of the activity (Figure 2). Students divided into teams, with a group chat set up for each (if you are using Zoom as the digital platform, you can set up a breakout room for each team). This permitted the teams to work cooperatively, sharing ideas about what objects could be used. I then shared the list of scavenger hunt items, and told the students they could take a photo or screenshot of it to carry with them as they searched their home for specific objects. I instructed them to set an alarm for 20 minutes, at which point they had to return to the meeting. When I said “go,” the hunt was on!

Scavenger Hunt Rules

  • Gather as many of the items as you can during the 20-minute time limit.
  • No objects may be used more than once.
  • No digital images may be used unless the photo is taken during the scavenger hunt.
  • All objects must be “G-rated” and cannot be controlled substances or potentially hazardous.
  • 1 point is earned for each item found.
  • 3 bonus points are earned for any item found that is not found by the other team.
  • You may communicate with your own team members, but not with the other team.
  • The team with the highest point total wins!
Figure 2. Rules for the hunt were shared during the activity introduction.

Based on the nature of the activity, it’s difficult to fully control issues related to cheating, communication between opposing team members, etc. Although I reminded students about the Honor Code, this hunt was presented as completely optional, so only bragging rights were at stake.

Creating the List

An excerpt from the list I used with my organic chemistry students is shown in Figure 3, and the full list and answer key are provided in the accompanying classroom resource document. For best results, your list should include items ranging from easily accessible to scarce. Several just for fun” objects should also be included, such as, “An object you can spell with the periodic table (Ex: S-O-C-K), excluding this example.” The list should also vary in levels of learning tasks, from lower-order skills such as knowledge, to higher-order skills such as analysis and critical thinking.3

Here are a few of the examples that prompted the most post-activity discussion:

  • A food item that contains an alkaloid with the formula C8H10N4O2
  • An object that represents your plans after high school
  • A mixture that contains (Z)-3-hexenal
  • A substance that contains C6H11NO3S, allicin

Since it was a competition, many of the students were analyzing the validity of the other team’s objects, offering feedback. Their genuine interest and engagement during this part of the activity was quite obvious.

Excerpt from the Scavenger Hunt List

  1. A drawing of a compound with 7 degrees of unsaturation, 1 oxygen, & 1 nitrogen (may be drawn today)
  2. A substance that contains beta-carotene
  3. A substance that contains C10H20O – provide the common name of the molecule in your substance
  4. A substance that contains C6H11NO3S, allicin
Figure 3. Some examples of the scavenger hunt items. View the entire list here.

The Scavenger Hunt

During the 20-minute hunt, I stayed in the meeting. In my experience, students occasionally came back to the screen to ask a question. Although the students were not directly instructed to do so, they determined the most effective approach was to have one student on their team use the internet to determine possible items that met the list requirements. That person would then convey these items to other students in the group for them to retrieve, usually through a group text or chat.

Figure 4. An example of a PowerPoint slide used after the scavenger hunt to share possible answers and generate discussion among students. Image created by author.

Reviewing Answers

When the time was up, the students returned to their screens and were not permitted to use any other items that they had not already found. I then shared a PowerPoint I had previously prepared that showed acceptable answers and examples, as well as applicable molecular structures and pictures, for each item on the list.

For example, one item was “Something that contains C55H72O5N4Mg,” which is the formula for chlorophyll. Due to the magnesium in the formula, a student may have remembered that we discussed this molecule during our introduction to organometallics or during our aromaticity unit, but they surely would not be able to recall the actual chemical structure.

Another example is shown in Figure 4. In addition to addressing a safety concern about alcoholic beverages, the slide let students see other examples they may not have considered, and prompted discussion on the different types of alcohols (e.g., isopropyl vs. ethanol), and how much ethanol in a substance makes it a controlled substance.

I went through each item, asking the students to hold up their objects so all could see them. Item by item, I scanned the screen to validate each student’s objects, while the students kept track of their own points. At times I asked individual students to defend why they chose a particular object, and encouraged class discussion about the various submissions and relevant class material. Finally, we tallied the points and declared a winner.

Some of the interesting objects submitted by the students included:

  • A substance that contains methyl salicylate – Several students used muscle rub ointment or mint candy
  • A food item that contains an alkaloid with the formula C8H10N4O2 – We studied alkaloids this year and this is the formula for caffeine.
  • A substance that contains acetic acid – This is the acid in vinegar, so the objects varied widely. As long as it contained vinegar, the object was accepted.
  • A food that contains an ester – Many of the fruity flavors we experience are caused by esters, so a wide variety of fruits were accepted.

When going over the answers, my visual presentation offered them a chance to see the structure and provided another learning experience to reiterate key chemical concepts.

Some lessons learned

Resources. In order to conduct this activity, it is imperative that all students have access to technology with a webcam. This could be a computer, phone, or tablet. The teacher must be proficient at using screencasting technology to project the list and the answers. When using a meeting platform, it is very helpful to have a grid view set up so that all participants can see each other.

Modifications. This lesson could focus on a single chapter, a unit, or a yearly review. The larger the pool of chemistry knowledge from which one can draw, the easier it is to create a list of items to gather. However, you don’t need to restrict your list to only the knowledge that students have acquired during the current year. Because of the cumulative nature of chemistry knowledge, a scavenger hunt could also include concepts students learned earlier.

Another modification could be for a subject area. My scavenger hunt was done with my organic chemistry students; however, this could easily be done with first-year chemistry students as well. Take each topic that you learned and create an item to be found that would force the students to critically think about that topic. For example, if you ask a student to find “A substance with a density greater than 1.00 g/mL”, they will need to recall the definition of density, determine a qualitative way to compare densities (placing their object in water), carry out an experiment, and draw conclusions about the results. Other examples of items include: an object for which you can name three physical properties; an object longer than 2.5 dm; a substance that contains a pure sample of an element; and a substance whole melting point is below room temperature.

If a student is physically restricted, they could use the internet to find photos or screenshots of only items they know they have in their home. This lesson could also be adjusted to fit almost any age group or a range of ages, modifying the list or awarding bonus points when younger students are competing against older students.

Our activity took a little over an hour, including 10 minutes to introduce the lesson and go over the rules, 20 minutes for the actual hunt, and 40 minutes to go over the students’ objects. If less time is available, the number of items on the list can be decreased.

When I used this activity in my classroom, I conducted it as an optional assignment for two sections of my organic chemistry class. With this in mind, the two teams were created based on the students’ class periods (Period 1 vs. Period 4). Having approximately 50% class participation, each team had 11 students. Teachers can pre-assign students to teams in whatever way works best.


My students enjoyed the camaraderie of competing on a team and seeing their classmates. At times, they were able to show off their personalities with their choice of objects. Between my 22 students, 434 items were found, including five items that were found by only one of the teams (earning bonus points!). The individual scores ranged from 14 to 31. There was only one item was that no one could find.

Five days after the activity was over, I surveyed my students to get feedback. When asked if this activity reviewed this year’s material, the responding students averaged 7 out of 10. They also responded with comments such as, “I thought it was a fun way to connect what we learn in class to the real world applications of the molecules we spend so much time studying,” or “Collaborating with my classmates and discovering new things about commonly used items in my house was great.”

My hope is that kinesthetic learning will help these students remember this activity longer and with more depth. If we had simply held a class discussion about the concepts, it would likely have been soon forgotten. Physically moving about to gather the items and holding an object in one’s hand while discussing its chemical and physical properties adds greatly to the educational experience for many. Even when the world opens up again and we are back with our students in the classroom, I expect to use this activity again, and give more students the chance to participate and join in the fun of kinesthetic learning.


  1. Lengel, T., Kuczala, M. The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning through Movement. Corwin: Thousand Oaks, CA, 2010.
  2. Sesen, B., Tarha, L. Promoting Active Learning in High School Chemistry: Learning Achievement and Attitude. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2010, 2(2), 2625–2630.
  3. Adams, N.E. Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive learning objectives. J Med Libr Assoc. 2015, 103(3), 152‐153. doi:10.3163/1536-5050.103.3.010 (accessed Aug 20, 2020).

Photo credit:
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