From: Kirk Hunter <kphunter**At_Symbol_Here**TSTC.EDU>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Pyrotechnics in the Teaching Lab- For what purpose?
Date: Fri, 27 Jan 2017 13:37:28 -0600
Reply-To: ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**PRINCETON.EDU>
Message-ID: CAADjF_-Jcmcd8QEJ61oqjKP_JBSwOPLa-ffByO8Pw2VACJ_1Eg**At_Symbol_Here**

Greetings all,

You've hit one of my pet peeve topics! I quit doing any pyrotechnic demos long ago for my classes or for college "outreach" activities. Yes, they are exciting - for all involved! However, my fear was that students/audience would attempt to do these demos at home (some did!) not fully understanding the hazards nor take the appropriate safety measures. So, a critical self-assessment of the purpose of the demos ensued. What was I trying to demonstrate? What message was I sending? I stopped doing them altogether. I could not do these activities with a clear conscious, not to mention the mixed messages.

To continue on my rant..... I cringe when I see "science demonstrators" on TV shows that do these pyrotechnics. Many times kids are doing the activity. The host has no idea what to expect. The result is almost always a "near miss." In addition these demos are large scale (let's make a mess!!). They might be visually attractive for a viewing audience, both live and broadcast, but they are just that - theater - potentially dangerous theater.

When people see a demonstrator do an "act" and/or blow stuff up, it is often interpreted as "real science." Little consideration is given to the chemistry involved or to the safety. Consequently, students enter into our chemistry programs, in both high schools and colleges, with a distorted understanding of what chemistry really is. Chemistry is at once an experimental/observational science and a quantitative science. Yes, Suzie and Johnnie, there's math! And, yes, you can be severely injured or even killed doing experiments if you do not follow appropriate safety precautions. No, we do not blow stuff up - and, hopefully, neither will you. I do agree that math is a deterrent to entering students, but it doesn't have to be!! (I'll refrain from another rant.)

What do I do now? Any "public" demo that I do is based on water. There are so many great activities that can capture the imagination as well as get the audience to think as a chemist might think. Yes, it is still theater, but it is theater with a purpose. I have fun with it. My message is that water is an incredible molecule that can open up the wonders of chemistry to those who will explore it. Why do things dissolve in water? How does it happen? Why does water expand when it freezes? Why does water have a higher bp than methane or H2S? Then there are bubbles - glorious bubbles! The list goes on and on.

If I want to do a demo in the classroom, I find that videos are just as effective. And, there are some very good ones out there! I can pause, make commentary, and replay. The point of a demo is to illustrate a concept, right? So, the only reason in my mind for a "live demo" is the WOW factor. But, now you have to deal with safety issues, prep and clean-up, waste disposal, etc. No thanks! (I don't have a graduate assistant to do that dirty work.)

A personal story - What got me interested in chemistry was my Dad - he was a physician who majored in chemistry as an undergrad. When I was about 10, I had a little rocket that was powered by vinegar and baking soda. (I also had a little boat with the same propulsion mechanism. Anybody else remember these or am I too old?) Getting the proper ratio of vinegar and baking soda to get the maximum CO2 production and maximum altitude was by trial and error - until Dad showed me the chemistry and the stoichiometry. (I didn't know that's what it was, but I also learned about limiting reagents in the process.) But I now had a reproduceable method of fueling my rocket or boat and the math to go along with it. I also learned about triangulation to determine the altitude. (Thanks, Boy Scouts!) Math with a purpose!

Isn't "spiced-up driver's ed" now called the X Games?

Kirk Hunter
Department Chair
Chemical Technology and Pharmacy Technician Programs
Texas State Technical College
3801 Campus Drive
Waco, Texas 76705
(254) 867-4859 (o)
email: kirk.hunter**At_Symbol_Here**

On Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 8:49 AM, Alan Hall <oldeddoc**At_Symbol_Here**> wrote:
Rob et al,

I like your tounge-in-cheek reply: You train a new bunch of Evel K. clones and turn them loose on the roads instead of training young folks to drive safely, and whadda you get? Buncha moronic dysfunctional so-and-so's.

It is true that you have to know something to learn something. I remember how we had to learn all the gas laws in USAF Flight Surgeon's School and you had better know them to take care of patients with dysbaric syndromes.

But total emphasis on math etc.before students get to see what good can be done in the lab is contraproductive.

Geez, in my day in Medical School, we had to put up with 2 years of rote memorery basic science before being allowed to see a patient, and seeing patients was why we went there in the first place. University of Hawaii Medical School got it right a few years later: All students first were trained to me EMT's and then Paramedics, and then they had the rest. Much better and all of them were better physicians for it.

Knowing what good learning is can produce better learning.

2 cents worth.

Alan H.Hall, M.D.
Medical Toxicolost
ClinicalAssistant Professor
Colorado School of Public Health

On Tue, Jan 24, 2017 at 12:10 PM, ILPI Support <info**At_Symbol_Here**> wrote:
I think without a doubt the big turnoff is all the math. First year chemistry is full of a lot of gas law equations, acid dissociation constants, etc. It's there for two reasons. First, these are all fundamental concepts that form a foundation - you have to learn the alphabet to know a language. The second is that it's easy to test because it's all math questions, and keep in mind that as a standard service course you have hundreds if not thousands of students each semester that you need to have an easy way of giving homework, tests etc. P-Chem (which is most of freshman chemistry) rocks for those kinds of situations. In fact, based on personal studies and those of my colleagues, the single biggest predictor of success in freshman chemistry is the ACT math score. Very strong correlation. And on top of that, with ACS curriculum standards, you end up cramming every possible thing into the course, and it proceeds at a rapid fire pace. Fall behind, and you're toast.

But along the lines of what Ralph brought up, you have to be a really dynamic and/or engaging teacher to explain to the audience why each of these occasionally mind-numbing topics has relevance to Real Life=E2=84=A2 and to let them know that you as a scientist, do not sit around in a lab all day determining solubility constant of lead iodide etc. A companion to that is that many high school teachers weren't formally trained as chemists and may not understand that very well themselves. This subset is insecure in their own knowledge/mastery and it telegraphs through. They end up teaching a fear of chemistry. And for minorities it's even worse, the lack of role models runs all the way from kindergarten up to the PhD, narrowing massively the whole way.

Rob Toreki

BTW, I want to recast my early analogy on this topict from making meth to driver's ed. Driver's ed is really boring - we could spice it up a lot if we could do stunts like they do in the movies - that would interest kids a whole bunch more. Why don't we do that? Yeah, that's the ticket-.

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On Jan 24, 2017, at 7:36 AM, Stuart, Ralph <Ralph.Stuart**At_Symbol_Here**KEENE.EDU> wrote:

I never had one of my chemist colleagues tell me they were attracted to a career in chemistry because of a pyrotechnic demonstration in middle school, high school or college.

Another aspect of this question is how many students are turned off by the hazardous nature of working with spectacular chemistry? Is this possibly part of the reason that less than 20% of the students who take first year chemistry go on to take more advanced chemistry courses?

- Ralph

Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Chemical Hygiene Officer
Keene State College


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