In Class 10, Scientists at Work

Every day at Chapin, the thrill of scientific discovery unfolds in captivating ways. One example occurs in an innovative new course called “Laboratory + Research Methods” in which Class 10 students have the opportunity to learn how a professional lab functions and to conduct their own original experiments.

On a recent morning in Room 501T, anticipation filled the air as these students – who elected to take this STEM-focused class in addition to their regular Chemistry studies – prepared for the day’s assignment, which involved making custom solutions from concentrated stock chemicals.

After going over safety procedures and reviewing important mathematical calculations, Science teacher Elaine Pan, who is Chapin’s Coordinator of Scientific Inquiry and Laboratory Research, divided the class in two. Working in pairs, one group was charged with mixing cupric sulfate (CuSO4); the other, hydrochloric acid (HC1).

First, the students snapped safety goggles over their eyes, pulled on bright-blue disposable gloves and collected their equipment. From cabinets and drawers, they grabbed beakers, graduated cylinders, funnels and flasks. Ms. Pan distributed three small glass bottles to each pairing to hold their final results, along with containers of either copper sulfate, in the form of blue crystals, or hydrochloric acid, a liquid.

Quietly conferring with one another, the students went about organizing their stations. “I’ll get the labeling tape. Can you get the distilled water?” one asked her partner. “Are you getting a scale?” inquired another. Before embarking on their experiments, the students carefully read the protocol, making sure they understood each step.

Although Ms. Pan answered questions that arose and supported her students’ progress, she encouraged them to work independently and to be proactive about solving problems and making informed decisions – just like real scientists. When mistakes happened, like when a funnel was too narrow to allow the crystals to pass through, they came up with creative solutions. Quick thinking, adaptability and collaboration were key.

One group used syringe-like pipettes to drip precise amounts of HC1 into beakers. “Tell me when to stop,” a student asked her partner who crouched down to closely watch the liquid rise. On the other side of the room, others could be seen vigorously shaking flasks filled with CuSO4  and water until the contents turned iridescent blue. “It’s dissolving slowly but surely,” Ms. Pan reassured.

Over the class period, the students systematically weighed, measured and mixed their compounds and meticulously recorded their findings into science notebooks. To this writer, they looked every bit the curious and capable young scientists they were, investigating with purpose, diligence and joy.

“This is going to be the fun part!” exclaimed one as she got ready for an interactive step in her experiment. “We did it!” announced another after she and her partner successfully created their compound. This class’s enthusiasm and pride were contagious.

The hands-on skills and sophisticated techniques these Class 10 students are developing in this class, which also includes reading and writing scientific articles and analyzing data, will inform whatever STEM paths they choose to follow, throughout Upper School and beyond. Perhaps, one day, some will find themselves performing experiments in a professional science laboratory.  

Browse photos from the class below: