I tried something I’ve never tried before with my Grade 12 Chemistry classes today. I had the students perform a laboratory experiment just for fun. The students had NO lab report to prepare, NO written observations to do, NO lists of questions to answers. We made various esters [for you chem geeks, condensation of an alcohol with a carboxylic acid to make an ester]. Esters are organic chemicals that tend to have strong and pleasant odors. We made them for the pure pleasure of sampling their odors.
The students’ first reaction were “What do you mean, for fun? What will we have to hand in at the end?” This made me laugh, and it didn’t take long to get the message across about what I mean by ‘for fun’.
I then noticed something surprising happen. The students were entirely engaged in doing this experiment! I’ve never seen them so focused and interested in a lab before. I also noticed something that _didn’t_ happen that I usually see: they weren’t fussing over the littlest details, hoping they were doing everything perfectly right so that they get the ‘correct’ result from the experiment. They weren’t asking me at every step questions like “Is this the right amount of chemical? Is this what I’m supposed to observe? Do I mix the chemicals this way?”
We truly had a lot of fun. And I’m totally convinced the students ‘learned’ a lot more from this ‘fun’ experiment than I was expecting.