Science Day Experiments With A Different Way To Teach

Wmc Symposium Offers Local High-schoolers Hands-on Examples

March 20, 1991|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — One of the "ooey-gooey polymers" -- slime, if you must know -- proved to be some trouble for 14-year-old Sharon Chen.

The Liberty HighSchool freshman followed instructions, using a wooden stick to mix poly (vinyl alcohol) and a sodium borate solution in a paper cup.

Despite constant stirring, the liquid was not forming into a slimy blob.

"Give it a chance," said Carol Rouzer, an assistant professor of chemistry at Western Maryland College. "You were just behind alittle bit. It'll get slimy."

The slime -- and later glop, an Elmers glue-like substance -- was the centerpiece of one of four lab experiments some 80 freshman conducted during the annual Carroll County High School Science Day at Western Maryland College.

Held at LewisHall of Science, the event, usually targeted at older students, is an effort to "make chemistry come alive for all our students," said Bradley E. Yohe, Carroll's supervisor of science.

As an extension ofclassroom activities, the symposium provides students the opportunity to perform experiments not performed in freshman chemistry and biology courses.

"Today, they'll see and hear things they normally wouldn't see in a classroom," Yohe said.

The symposium also reflects some of the changes that have occurred in Carroll's chemistry classrooms over the past few years. Teachers have moved away from hypothetical theories and textbooks to provide more hands-on experience, Yohe said.

About 80 percent of the county's juniors and seniors are enrolled in science courses. At some schools, the average is almost 100 percent. The national average, Yohe said, hovers around 30 percent.

And the emphasis at the symposium, not unlike in the classroom, centered on fun, such as pushing a long needle through a red balloon. Theballoon, like many other materials, is composed of polymers, a family of chemical compounds of complex, heavy molecules.

Dr. Donald Jones, a WMC chemistry professor, explained that he pushed the lubricated needle through a spot where the polymers had not been stretched tight. He said the demonstration was once a common trick performed by magicians.

Other activities included making Plexiglas and Bakelite,a substance used in plastics and cookware, among other things. Perhaps the most telling experiment involved the use of polymers to determine the amount of nicotine and ashes in different brands of cigarettes.

"Smoking is very bad for your health," concluded Amber Smith, a15-year-old Francis Scott Key High School student, after conducting the experiment with an array of beakers, test tubes, water aspiratorsand burning cigarettes.

Mara Comfort, also from Francis Scott KeyHigh School, said the experiment, which is commonly demonstrated during Saturday School for high school smokers, gave her a better picture of the ill effects of smoking.

"You always hear about how bad smoking is for you, but you don't really get to see the effect," the 14-year-old said.

Rouzer, who helped coordinate the symposium, said she hoped the experiments would encourage students to take more science courses and also alleviate any fears they may have about college and college professors.

"We are human beings and do have fun in theclassroom," she said. "I would hope that some of these students would come back in a couple of years."

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