Rye Neck High School students in Kelly Cappa’s Advanced Placement Chemistry class recently conducted a laboratory experiment to determine the molar mass of lighter fluid. The hands-on learning experience served as a review for gas stoichiometry, the quantitative relationship between reactants and products in a chemical reaction, which the students studied earlier in the school year.

The inquiry-based project challenged the students to apply the knowledge they learned in class and create their own lab without any direction from their teacher. Having access to all of the equipment in the classroom, they made observations and tested out different ideas before constructing their procedure. One group of students used graduated cylinders and pneumatic troughs to collect gas through the displacement of water.

“At first students were uncomfortable with the ambiguity or lack of direction as they were much more accustomed to being told what to do,” science teacher Kelly Cappa said. “Ultimately, they figured out what data points they needed to measure, which led them to the procedure. Having ownership of the process gives the students a greater understanding.”

The experience allowed students to take ownership of their own learning and encouraged them to collaborate with their peers and think critically to solve a problem.