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The M Fell Off

"Ms. Cimini! The M fell off!" When I heard that I thought the kids were joking.  My response was something like "So, there's an M just floating in the water?" I went over to investigate and sure enough, there was an M floating in the water.  Somehow, the M had come off the M&M intact and was just floating there. Everyone stared at it for a moment, took a few pictures then went back to dissolving M & Ms for science. Chemistry was happening. It was fun, fascinating and the students were learning.
The M fell off (look between the O and L)

Last year, I taught middle school chemistry for the first time.  I had taught regents chemistry years before and in teaching middle school chem for the first time I fell to a lot of the bad habits I had developed when teaching high school.  There were a lot of Power Points and worksheets. But this is my year of trying new things. This year I wanted to teach chemistry in a way that was going to make the kids excited to come to class and excited to talk about chemistry. So, I started my planning with an internet search and lo and behold I found an awesome chemistry unit from the American Chemical Society (www.middleschoolchemistry.com).  It was very detailed, included lesson plans, worksheets, readings, was hands-on and used fairly cheap materials.  Perfect! I was able to pick and choose what I wanted to teach them and in what order.  And the kids loved it. And I loved it.

Here's what I learned (both the science and the pedagogy):

  • Why sugar is soluble in water but not in mineral oil.  The short explanation is that water is a polar molecule.  This means that parts of it have a negative charge and parts have a positive charge.  Sugar is also polar.  When these two polar substances are mixed together, the polar water pulls the polar sugar molecules away from one another and the sugar disperses in the water.
  • Getting kids to understand this is WAY harder than I ever expected.  And every time I thought they were getting it, the assessments smacked my I'm-an-awesome-teacher ego down a peg or two.
  • Kids like learning about chemistry. And they love doing chemistry even more.  This one I knew already but it was a great lesson to learn again.  
  • I have a lot more to learn about chemistry before I can be truly efficient at teaching it.  Chemistry is hard to teach to kids because they can't see most of what you are talking about.  Getting a 13 year old to visualize something that is too small to be seen is a monumental feat (one that I have only partially achieved).
  • As fantastic as this treasure trove of online resources was for this unit, I have some work to do to make it work best for my students and myself.
  • I need a way better end of unit project.  I had the students profile from a household object like shampoo or lotion.  They has to research the chemistry of the ingredient.  They were interesting to read but I kept wondering what they did to tie my unit together and what the students got out of them.  I think that end of unit project is going to need some reworking.
  • Oh, and I learned that I don't really want to know why the M fell off and didn't dissolve with the rest of the candy coating.  I think I may not want to eat too many M&Ms after that.
  • Also, I need to figure out more teacher demos that involve setting things on fire.  Man, the kids LOVE when set things on fire, but then again, don't we all?
So, overall, a positive experience for students and myself but a long way from perfect!

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