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A Peek Inside Ms. Honkala’s Class: AP Chemistry at BHHS

A Peek Inside Ms. Honkala’s Class: AP Chemistry at BHHS

As 11th and 12th grade students enter Julie Honkala’s Advanced Placement Chemistry class, the slide on the projector informs them of their goals for the day: a warm-up, which entails a review of previous lessons, an introduction to their labs on intermolecular forces and chromatography, and the completion of two labs. The warm-up is led with a review of intermolecular forces by Ms. Honkala, who models their complexities on the white board. She notes that a data table from a past AP exam is part of the review, helping them understand that this is the kind of material that students will see on the exam at the end of the year in May. The questions are tricky, and Ms. Honkala discusses how they should go step by step to analyze them thoughtfully. She reminds students that there are similar practice questions on Canvas for further review.

Students then launch into two labs, and Ms. Honkala explains that rather than teaching measurement and calculation, these labs are about observing and thinking. She asks, “What can we infer about the formula? What does the data tell us about the compounds? How are the materials attracted to one another?” The students gather around lab materials that include beakers, deionized water, acetone, food dye, a stirring rod, and NaCL for one lab, and Grape Kool-aid, a non-polar Sep-Pak C18 column, deionized water, isopropyl alcohol, and syringes for the other. Lab #1 is all about investigating intermolecular forces, and lab #2 is about column chromatography, which functions to isolate single components of a mixture. Students get to work by following lab instructions, and “oohs” and “aahs” ensue as the experiments progress. Ms. Honkala circles around to the lab groups, each composed of three or four students, providing helpful tips and prompts when students are stuck. Phrases and questions such as: “did the salt all dissolve?” and “was that all green before the salt was added?” help students determine if they are on the right track. 

As the 90-minute class wraps up, students have completed most, if not all, of the lab write-ups, and have a solid understanding of the lab goals. Krish Mahajan (grade 11) explains that one of the labs “helped us understand that as we add alcohol, we can see how polar or non-polar the substance in the cartridge was.” The visual nature of these hands-on experiments help abstract concepts come to life!


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