Chemistry on fire

2020 was composed of zoom classes and taking notes, but since the return to in-person school, the chemistry classes are finally getting to experiment with explosions and fire.

From setting students’ hands on fire to creating firebombs, Chemistry teacher Mary Lynn Zimpfer has been conducting more live experiments with her classes so that they can get the full science experience. 

“I think virtual instruction misses the magic of chemistry,” Zimpfer said. “There are cool videos that show things we would never have the resources to do in class but the feeling of ‘this is real, 

‘I can do this myself, or ’this applies to me’ is lacking.” 

During zoom classes in the fall, Zimpfer had to find ways to make the class entertaining but also effective.

“When virtual classes began in the fall I used a document camera and had students take notes exactly like I would in class, except I was not able to see if students were understanding or even listening to what I was saying,” Zimpfer said.

Since returning to school, Zimpfer has engaged with her students by conducting experiments.

One recent experiment she calls a ‘fire bomb’: filling a balloon with the gas produced from a zinc and hydrochloric acid mixture then putting it over a flame to watch it explode. Another experiment she refers to as setting students’ hands ‘on fire’ by mixing methane and water to create bubbles and then lighting a flame which catches the methane but the water protects the hands and  leaves no harm to the skin.

Sophomore and virtual student Ella Johnson is satisfied with the way Zimpfer is engaging both online and in-person students during the experiments.

“Mrs. Zimpfer is very clear in teaching new concepts and is easily accessible when I have questions,” Johnson said. “Though I haven’t been able to join in with the experiments, I believe that they are only a small portion of the overall chemistry experience.”

The in-person students in Zimpfer’s class are excited about doing more experiments.

“I honestly love face-to-face chemistry. I feel like I understand more and we get to do fun activities,” sophomore Genesis Moreno-Heredia said.

SMOKE SIGNALS: Mary Lynn Zimpfer puts a balloon on a flask that contains a mixture of Zinc and Hydrochloric acid. Zimpfer wears a headset to communicate with the online students while engaged in experiments. “Part of this activity and all of my classroom instruction requires interaction with students,” Zimpfer said. Photo by Megan Wise.

Zimpfer says virtual school limited her ability to connect with her students on a deeper level.

“If there had been no face-to-face students I would not have done this activity. It would not have been as interesting or entertaining if students weren’t participating. Even a student who doesn’t want to participate in the actual activity is watching their friends do it and interacting with them,” Zimpfer said.

During the experiments, the virtual students don’t have the option to do the hands-on activities. But Zimpfer has tried her best to make it visible and real for them.

“Even though chemistry is a challenging subject, it has been one of my favorite classes this semester,”  Johnson said. “Watching the experiments conducted in class is the only time I wish I could be back in person to take part in them.”

Megan Wise

Junior Megan Wise is the Managing Editor for BluePrints Magazine. After high school, Wise plans to study business marketing. Her hobbies include reading and playing bass guitar. This year, her goals are to improve the magazine, staff manual, and better organize the program for years to come. Her favorite aspects of the program are the community and the productivity of each staff member.