Reflection: Real World Applications Voltaic cell lab - Section 5: Application


When I watched the video of me working with students to understand the voltaic cell, I felt like a bad teacher at first. It seemed like I was doing a lot of the work. On further reflection, however, I recognized that my students were working hard as well as they struggled to understand how the electrochemical cell worked.

This in turn causes me to reflect on the importance of labs. This lab was a culminating event for the unit. I wonder if I had allowed students to conduct this lab at the beginning of the unit if it would have helped some students to understand redox reactions better. Redox reactions are about the transfer of electrons, and when a light bulb lights, electrons are moving. Perhaps if I let students experience this transfer earlier on in the unit then redox reactions would make more sense to them. This is the argument I learned in graduate school--students should do a lab first and then work to try to understand it.

On the other hand, I know from experience that when I let students do a lab without the conceptual background, they sometimes wonder why they are doing the lab. They tell me that they are doing the lab for a grade, but they do not understand why. In this lab, I know that many students appreciated that electrons were being transferred in our voltaic cells because we spent time learning about redox reactions before we did the lab.

I think there is room for both approaches in the chemistry classroom. Some labs, like the lemon battery lab, can be justified to students by saying something like "We are doing this lab because I want you to start thinking about electricity--and it is fun!" Other labs, like this one, highlight how a lab can be used as a culminating event to show understanding of more complex topics.

  The Purpose of Labs
  Real World Applications: The Purpose of Labs
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Voltaic cell lab

Unit 8: Redox reactions
Lesson 6 of 7

Objective: Students will be be able to build and characterize important parameters of a voltaic cell.

Big Idea: Voltaic cells consist of two half-cells. At the anode, oxidation occurs, and at the cathode reduction occurs. Electrons flowing from the anode half-cell to the cathode half-cell can be harnessed to do work.

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