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Experiments in DP Chemistry

Over the past 18 months all Diploma Programme (DP) teachers have been developing their courses. As the DP chemistry teacher, I had the lovely task of setting up the Chemistry curriculum, meaning I had to prepare the DP1  students for their Individual Investigation, their internal assessment in DP2.

By Geertje van Hal, Leader of Diploma Years and DP Chemistry

When designing a DP curriculum you start with International Baccalaureate (IB) ‘syllabus’ which clearly prescribes the content that should be taught in each DP course. For chemistry the IB also sets a minimum number of hours that need to be spent doing practical work, which is where the fun starts for most students (and for me!).

Coming up with experiments for the students has been a huge learning curve for me, as well as for Marianne Lauritzen, our technical assistant. Although the The IB sets a number of required experiments the students have to work on, it also allows teachers the freedom to fill in the remaining hours for practical work as they see fit. This meant that last academic year, Ms Lauritzen and I  spent quite a few afternoons in the lab trying out experiments. As the DP 1 students dived into topics like ‘energetics’, ‘kinetics’, ‘equilibria’ and ‘acids and bases’, I had to make sure they familiarised themselves with a variety of lab techniques, such as ‘calorimetry’ and ‘titration’, which they would have to apply in their chemistry assessments in DP2.

Individual Investigations

This school year the DP 2 students had to set up their Individual Investigations, an important part of the DP chemistry exam. For this investigation the students came up with their own experiment. All students started with a brainstorm, coming up  with  topics they would like to investigate. I encouraged the students to stick to their personal interest and instead of starting with a syllabus topic like ‘acids’, choosing a ‘product’ they would like to research. This resulted in a variety of topics like ‘the feasibility of alcohols as fuels’, ‘the neutralising capacity of antacids’, ‘the caffeine content of different types of tea’ and ‘the calories in a variety of crisps’. Throughout this process I monitored the students closely, especially on safety, while at the same time making sure it was their work.

Collecting Data

After everyone submitted a thorough research plan, we started collecting data. The students experienced that research really is a cycle which includes a lot of ‘failing’. The students tested and improved their procedures until they were able to collect data they could analyse. During this process, the students again worked independently, under the supervision of me, or Ian, the chemistry intern. They were allowed to ask questions, but we never told them exactly what to do. At this moment most of the students finished their data analysis. The students can look back on a huge learning curve, which was sometimes frustrating, but also a lot of fun.