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A guided inquiry-based approach to the freshman chemistry laboratory.

An inquiry-based approach to the freshman chemistry laboratory creates excitement and demands critical thinking. Instead of solving a puzzle with all pieces given, the students must discover the missing pieces and then solve the puzzle. Our approach involves a crime scene where a drug dealer, known for cutting his cocaine with a pure household white powder, was found dead in an alley. A trace amount of cocaine mixed with an unknown powder was found on a handgun in a nearby dumpster. Three suspects were caught with packets of impure cocaine and brought in for questioning. One piece of evidence that could help crack this case is the identity of the white powder that was mixed in the samples of the cocaine. Students are provided four samples of the unknown pure white powders separated from each of the suspect and victim's cocaine. Their job is to determine who is most likely guilty as well as the identity of the unknown white powders using techniques learned in the laboratory. These techniques include solubility analysis, density determination, observing a melting point, and measuring conductivity. Based on experimental data, students are able to compare the samples to determine the guilty party as well as to compare their data to known values to help conclude the identity of the unknown pure white powder. An inquiry-based laboratory forces students to rely on mastery of techniques and discovery of unknowns to solve the problem. Students are challenged and show greater ownership in the solution of the problem.
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Author:Yousefzadeh, Matt; Rogers, Amy L.
Publication:Bulletin of the South Carolina Academy of Science
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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