Weekly All School Bulletin
"Candle in the Wind" Chemistry Lesson
As the teacher opened the door to his chemistry lab, ten sophomores quietly entered the darkened room to the music of Elton John's "Candle in the Wind." They noticed the flame of a candle flickering just below a picture of a "romantic dinner" and it captured their attention.
"What does this have to do with chemistry?" students wondered.
Then Mr. Kopecky suddenly asked, "What is flame? What is fire? You might think that you know - but do you?"
The students took turns guessing what the flame is with responses ranging from "really hot air" and combustion reaction" to "burning energy" or "glowing gases." The agenda for the lesson was becoming clear: they would be experimenting with candles to figure out the mystery of fire.
This "romantic" lab was the final experiment in the unit on Chemical Reactions that the class has been studying for the last two weeks. This experiment provided a vivid example of combustion reaction - the most recent type the class learned about. As the students broke into their lab pairs, they worked together to figure out the many "mysteries" of the burning candle: "What is the role of the wick? Where is the flame the hottest? How is the smoke of a burning candle different from the smoke of the just extinguished flame? Where does the burned wax ultimately go?"
While some students were intrigued by the "jumping flame" trick, other groups were puzzled by the dark smear that is left on an index card, as it was slowly moved through the middle of the candle's flame.
As the students observed their candle's behavior and gathered evidence to support their original hypothesis about what a flame is, they raised questions such as: Is it just energy, particles of some matter, or both? It was becoming clear that the "answer" was more complicated than it seemed and to figure it out would take a while. Perhaps, even longer than it takes for the candle to burn out...
Students shared their ideas at the next class meeting when all groups presented and discussed their completed particle diagrams of the burning candle experiment.
~ Mr. Kopecky
Upper School Science Chair & Science Teacher