The activities that follow represent the exploratory phase of the learning cycle approach. These activities introduce students to the behavior of gases in different situations so that they may draw their own conclusions before being given formal instruction in gas laws.
One of the challenges of teaching chemistry is making the invisible world seem real and relevant to our students. Labs present the best opportunity to demonstrate this, but too often we, out of necessity, begin each lab with a litany of "don'ts" (don't eat food in the lab, don't touch the acids, don't look at the bright light being given off, etc) and it is rather rare that the material we study in chemistry lends itself to an experiential approach. I put this lab together because I was so inspired by Chris' "smorg" concept. I wanted to see if I could generate the same kind of enthusiasm and elicit the "ah-ha" moments from my chemistry kids as he routinely does with his physics students.
The active engagement with the phenomena in this lab is important in helping students confront their own preconceptions and or misconceptions and allows them to test their personal theories. The hardest part is resisting the temptation to give students the "answers" because they are so excited and get deeply involved in developing such interesting (read wacky) explanations.
The fun of watching the kids jump up, shouting a Seinfeldian "Get out!" when someone actually breaks a meter stick in two, listening to the surprised shrieks of students who successfully propel a potato slug across the room and watching happy students munch popcorn while they try to figure out why the kernels pop are all worth the extra set-up time you'll need to devote to this lab. Give a few kids some mole money (extra credit) to stay after school and help you clean up. Have fun!