Beyond Benign

Lead Teacher Blog

Ann Lambert

How do I integrate green chemistry into my AP Chemistry course?

As a teacher of AP Chemistry, I know how it is to be heavy on content and short on time. Those AP students, however, are likely to be future chemists, so it is important that we instill in them an awareness of green chemistry and sustainability. Since students are typically passionate about environmental topics, and as the College Board has updated AP Chemistry labs to remove most of the problematic chemicals and guided inquiries, it is easy to weave green chemistry into your regular lessons. It is also important to remember that green chemistry is not a new branch of science, but rather a lens through which we teach and learn the chemistry principles that are in our existing curricula. This holds true both for a first-year course as well as AP Chemistry.

Throughout the year, I point out to students the “old way” that many labs were taught and ask them to identify how the “new way” is greener. For example, when we complete an analysis of alum lab, students find the formula of the hydrate by dehydration and identify the melting point. Then, instead of having students precipitate out the sulfate using a solution of a barium salt, I use a YouTube video that demonstrates the precipitation reaction. As a follow up, they watch a video of a barium swallow diagnostic test. I ask students to identify and explain, using the SDS, why we are not working with barium salts in the high school and discuss why the barium swallow is a safe and very important medical diagnostic tool. To give students the calculation practice the precipitation provides, I give them a set of data. This is just one example of how I weave green chemistry into my daily curricula.

At the end of the year, after the AP exam, I have several weeks left with my underclassmen. During this time, I have each student select a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award winning project and research it alongside the product or process it replaced. Each student creates a presentation that is given to the class. I have had students tell me that this activity was the aha! moment that tipped them towards deciding to pursue chemistry or chemical engineering in college!

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