What could a high school chemistry teacher do with $5000? (besides buying computers)
July 22, 2008 4:44 PM   Subscribe

What could a high school chemistry teacher do with a $5000 technology grant? (The grant restrictions state that it cannot be used to buy computer hardware or fund after-school programs or summer projects.)

I am looking for project inspiration for the a Toshiba America Foundation 7-12 Science/Math Education Grant (PDF). Past winners are here, but few are chemistry-related. So far I am pondering biodiesel and also trying to come up with a way to mix up BASIC Stamps and chemistry, but any and all suggestions are welcome.
posted by chr1sb0y to Technology (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How about going for some of those neat little handheld units like Vernier sells? The little hand-held detectors can be set up with a wide variety of probes (temperature, pH, pressure, who knows what-all).

You can do lots of cool things with them that are much harder to do with traditional thermometers, pH meters, etc. I wouldn't be surprised if they come with some lab experiment protocols to get you started.
posted by Sublimity at 4:56 PM on July 22, 2008

How about setting up a CSI-style crime lab, with volunteered hours by local crime scene investigators and a collaboration with a biology teacher? I'm no expert but maybe somebody here can tell you what to look for with your $5,000.

Perhaps you could even run a competition to solve some sort of 'crime' on campus, with clues left behind for the students to analyze and provide theories/evidence on.

Or you could just buy a really large chunk of sodium :)
posted by onalark at 4:59 PM on July 22, 2008

And then a large body of water to throw that sodium into.

I like the idea of the hand units. I used those, from a different vendor, in undergrad courses a lot; you can do a huge variety of projects with them, just be sure to research the models you buy well. I'd also suggest some nice infrared thermometers, scientific calculators if they're not already required by your school, a spectrophotometer would also be pretty cool, even a used older one from a local university/laboratory.
posted by Science! at 5:10 PM on July 22, 2008

Oh, and whatever you decide to buy, try not to ever buy at list price. Call the customer service line for whatever vendor you choose and ask for the representative that covers your area. Then call that rep and introduce yourself and say that a someone at the local university gave you their name and that you're interested in X. Work with that rep to get a discounted price, it won't be as good as the local university/research lab gets but it should be better than list. Appeal to the rep's human side, you can't do that with a website.

Have fun!
posted by Science! at 5:15 PM on July 22, 2008

We made holograms in physics class which was pretty cool. Required a laser and mirror set up.

The Basic stamps sound cool, there is also the Arduino board in a similar vein
posted by bottlebrushtree at 5:20 PM on July 22, 2008

What's the environmental quality like in your area? How about some sort of "Community Members Test The Air" (pdf) or Clean Water Community Testing project. You could team up with the biology teacher, then ask student teams to design a project to investigate the health of some ecosystem via both biology and chemistry. For example, they could test the water for the presence of pollutants in your class and then in biology class, do fish counts or look under microscopes for invertebrate indicators of water quality. You could use the money to buy a variety of equipment like microscopes, GIS or GPS handheld units, GIS software, fish nets, and [whatever equipment you'd use to test for the presence of certain compounds]. Then, the following semester, in social studies, they can try to address any problems they have discovered while learning about government decision-making processes, environmental law, and citizen advocacy. You could potentially work with these guys to get off the ground.
posted by salvia at 5:36 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

You may be restricted to computer hardware, not not computer software, so software that models chemical reactions or whatnot (where you're not in a position to do those experiments in the lab due to expense or danger) might be a good fit.
posted by davejay at 5:59 PM on July 22, 2008

I'd seriously consider buying a spectrometer and the accoutrements. I'm not sure about pricing, but for $5000 you should be able to get something. It's so cool to see that different substances really do have different spectra! Really brings together a lot of important chemistry stuff, and gives folks a chance to identify different substances based on their spectra, etc.

OR maybe you could devise a project and lease time on an electron microscope.

OR find a project that uses the money to buy smaller, individual things for each student in a class (maybe juniors or seniors)
posted by amtho at 7:00 PM on July 22, 2008

I like the idea of a spectrometer, but any type except IR would almost certainly be way out of your price range. It would probably be a hit, though, at least with the more advanced kids. Hardly a day went by in my IBH chem class that we didn't ask our teacher for one. (This is true. We were a serious bunch of nerds.)

During my three years of high school chemistry, I never found the portable Vernier things to be particularly useful, though the kind that connected directly to the classroom desktops were in use almost constantly. It sounds like that would fall under the heading of "computer hardware," however.

If I was in your position, I'd probably something practical that I could use for a while, like vacuum filtration equipment or micropipetors or Geiger counters or something. It is only rarely that five grand falls from the sky, so I would try to make it last.

Maybe I don't need to tell you this, but if you do spend it on a one time project (biodiesel sounds neat), make it something that you personally find interesting. Doing a project on something the kids have seen on TV can be a neat way to engage them, but only if you think it's neat too. If you find the topic boring and would rather be doing something else, your students will notice, and their education will suffer for it. In my experience, genuine enthusiasm is a much better motivator than $5000 of flashing lights and whirligigs.
posted by Commander Rachek at 7:52 PM on July 22, 2008

No computer hardware? that's a weird stipulation.

What about robot gear?

They have a high-school special...$500 gets you a robot, the software, and entry for your team in the robogames.

Check out the video at www.revision3.com/systm
posted by AltReality at 8:19 PM on July 22, 2008

oops. link didn't work...

posted by AltReality at 8:20 PM on July 22, 2008

Weather station?
posted by electroboy at 8:41 PM on July 22, 2008

This is a mashup of what has already been suggested but how about a robotic dog that monitors pollution and toxins in the environment. It has been done before at UCSD.
posted by MS_gal at 9:39 PM on July 22, 2008

OK, when they set computer hardware as being out, what does that mean. Based on what you say, microcontrolers would be OK.

Make magazine had a bit on a home built spectrometer in issue 14 (I think) but you could probably go their design one better.

They also recently produced this book which might give you some ideas.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:45 PM on July 22, 2008

One of the coolest things I ever saw in a high-school chemistry class was... a lousy old dog-eared faded poster on the wall.

It was a poster of the periodic table of the elements, but instead of the usual coloured box for the text for every element, there was a photograph of an ingot of the element. Being able to see and visually compare the elements instantly transformed my understanding of them. (For example, until that point I assumed metals were the minority of the elements)

So I suggest you get a periodic table display that contains and displays real samples of every element, and/or some of their common uses, or minerals.

Let students hold identical-looking blocks of magnesium and tungsten and feel the relationships between electrons and atomic numbers in the table, and the cascading real-world properties they lead to.

I'm guessing that elements are considered too dangerous for classrooms these days. Which is a shame, since no much gets a kid's attention like "this speck of berylium here is enough to contaminate an area half the size of this city to dangerous levels" :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:49 AM on July 23, 2008

A used SEM?
posted by ian1977 at 5:26 AM on July 23, 2008

The Used SEM would be super sweet, but impractical to maintain and operate.

You might be able to get enough equipment and chemical precursors together to set a colloidal quantum dot growing station, which would be very complex and delicate, but the results are very spectacular. They're a good example of chemistry I think and are currently being researched by scientists, which is a bonus, and their Florescence does a good job of illustrating energy levels in a confined system.
posted by Large Marge at 6:34 AM on July 23, 2008

A biodiesel project is a great idea for student work. It could keep your students occupied for quite a while. There's a ton of teachable chemistry involved, it's fairly safe (MeOH is the only toxic component), and it's quite relevant in terms of today's high fuel prices and the US EPA renewable fuels strategy.

Biodiesel pilot plants can be had for that price, if you look carefully. Alternatively, you can easily construct one yourself out of parts.

That's just the start though. You should really consider doing testing on the stuff. There's lots of teachable skills there: cetrifugation and sedimentation measurements, titration, organic acid-base chemistry (acid levels are key to biodiesel quality), and glycerol and redox (Karl Fischer) titrations.

Equipment costs will be tight for 5k. You can probably leverage a lot of the glassware you already have, and buy a few selected pieces to do what you need. You could spend almost that entire amount on a new centrifuge, for example. There are almost-as-good or low cost options for almost everything you would need however.

If you want to take if further, you can do life-cycle assessments (LCA) as well: what's the environmental and social cost of biofuel production.

Memail me if you want more follow-up.
posted by bonehead at 11:42 AM on July 23, 2008

« Older My freezer is not cold enough   |   How to handle salary discussions before you have a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.