Great learning opportunities

Tolles Career and Technical Center instructors Cathy Mehl’s chemistry students paired up with Mike Liston’s outdoor careers tech lab class to explore ethanol. This partnership was made possible through Ohio Corn & Wheat’s grant program, which provided distillation equipment to these teachers.

Mehl and Liston had several goals for this activity:

  • Showing students how most chemical processes are multi-step versus simple one-step reactions. The chemistry students were able to write reactions for each day. They were further able to recognize how many chemical processes are completed by a team of people rather than just one person being responsible.
  • Reflecting to students where everyday products (such as fuels) come from and what is required to make these products available. Students noted that it was much more than simply paying at the pump.
  • Observing student’s process skills at managing a complex lab task in teams. Many teams used techniques such as labeling and creating data tables on their own.

Students covered all of the ethanol labs in different groups. While some students made ethanol from corn mash, others did corn fermentation in a bag or nutrient testing. Everyone participated in the What is renewable diesel? lab, producing climate-stable diesel fuel for agriculture.

“This fits nicely into my curriculum because students named ‘climate concerns’ as their number one issue of importance last August. We have been relating much of our curriculum to this issue,” Mehl said.

“This lesson applies three concepts students have already learned: types of reactions, balancing equations, and limiting reactants. It helps illustrate the newly-introduced concepts of enthalpy of reaction and stoichiometry. We can discuss the delta H of the reaction for ethanol burning versus other fuels and trace carbon through the system. Finally, it provides a way of assessing end-of-the-year student process skills including argumentation and lab practices.”

“It was a big success—even the parts that were not successful created great learning opportunities!” Mehl said.