Crystal craziness in Clifford’s chemistry class

Each semester my grade 12 chemistry students work hard to grow beautiful crystals. Working in groups of three or four of their choosing, students receive 100.0 g of a compound.

I provide very little detail (only a "skeleton" procedure) — it is up to the students to fill in the pieces with research. The time limit is three weeks. The best crystals are off to the National Crystal Growing competition to be judged (see next article).

Crystal growing is a uniquely valuable experience as it manifests all of the hallmarks of scientific enquiry within one meaningful activity. Following are the many reasons why such an activity is useful.

  1. Students have the opportunity to work on a long-term project that they alone are required to research and to which apply their knowledge.
  2. Students feel the predictable and necessary stress of failure (sometimes repeatedly) usually (but not always) followed by the euphoria of success.
  3. Students take ownership of a project: maintaining equipment, coordinating schedules of the group, etc.
  4. Students learn the process of “trial and error” (one year a group even tried to sing to its crystal — but weren’t terribly successful, I might add).
  5. Students become rather obsessed with their crystals — they come by the chemistry room first thing in the morning, at lunch, and even after school to check how their “baby” (i.e., their crystal) is doing.
  6. Students talk to everyone about their crystals — their peers, younger students, their families, and even the family dog. By the end of the three weeks, many people end up coming by the chemistry room to check out the progress (to date no dogs have come by!)

Success can be measured many different ways (e.g., when former students come back to visit the chemistry room they often ask, “Are you crystal growing this year?” I always answer in the affirmative, and we then take a journey down memory lane). In closing, I believe the following words by Galileo very eloquently state the case for crystal growing in the chemistry classroom, “You cannot teach a man anything; you can onThree students standing in front of periodic help him discover it in himself.”

This year we had a group of students come in tenth at the National Crystal Growing competition. Pictured above is the winning group, Jessica Fisher, Damien Sharpley, and Jasmine Vo (also in the group, but missing from the photo, is Brandon Golding). Look on the next page to see the crystal #10 from this group.