Incorporating green chemistry into the classroom may seem like a challenge at first, but there are many opportunities for teachers to transform traditional labs and activities into ones that illustrate green chemistry principles. In some cases, a simple replacement of one chemical with another will suffice. In other cases, it may be necessary to look for completely different activities that cover the same sections of the curriculum.
This past year, the two of us tested out several established labs with our students. One of these was the Sharklet® lab. In this lab students explore Sharklet film, an innovation based on shark skin that prevents the growth of bacteria on surfaces. As the students did the simulation, they became so engaged that they did not want to go to their next class. They continued adding more and more clips to see how many could be held. They found the lab not only fun, but they learned much more about how chemistry ties into materials science and engineering.
Seeing this high a level of engagement was very rewarding for us. In addition to the high school resources we also used community engagement activities such as the biomimicry matching game and the green glue activity. The biomimicry matching game which involves matching specific animals with potential products inspired by the animals’ characteristics. This was a favorite of our students, especially since they were able to make a connection between biology and chemistry that they never knew existed. The green glue activity challenged students to create two glues and evaluate them based on green chemistry criteria. This was fun for them because it involves simple ingredients they can purchase at any market (powdered milk, vinegar, and baking soda), and they also can figure out what is happening because they are familiar with the materials.
Similarly, the LeChatelier’s principle equilibrium lab which uses tea, starch, and iodine led to a similar amount of interest. Students were able to see obvious color changes, using materials they have known for years rather than the carcinogenic chromate/dichromate equilibrium that many teachers have used. Whether the color change is from yellow to orange or from a tan to a dark brown, the principles are the same, yet students are not exposed to the harmful materials. In addition, by using store materials, students may be interested in trying other objects they have at home to see if similar changes take place.
These labs are great examples of what it means to make a chemistry classroom “green”. Students use materials they know, and the labs and activities are engaging. Our number one goal as teachers is to help our students succeed in class and in their futures, but they should also enjoy what they are learning. Making our classes “greener” can give our students outlets to further explore these concepts outside of school.