College-grade lab gives AP students edge
Scott Atkinson, a senior in AP chemistry at Delaware Hayes High School, pours a compound of chromium (III) ion into a test tube while fellow senior Austin McKenzie looks on during class Monday, Jan. 28. The students were conducting an experiment to measure the absorption of light using a spectrophotometer, a piece of equipment typically found only in college labs. Buy This Photo
Delaware chemistry students are learning to play with the big boys and girls by using equipment typically found only in college laboratories.
The Delaware City School District offers Advanced Placement chemistry courses that are modeled after first-year college courses.
Stephen Lehman, AP chemistry teacher, said the district has tried to create laboratories that are as close as possible to a real college setting.
One way Lehman has done this is by purchasing an instrument called a spectrophotometer, which he said is one of the few instruments used by colleges that high schools can afford.
"I chose to do this experiment with the spectrophotometer because I am able to provide my students with an environment that is closest to a real college laboratory," he said.
"We want to give our kids the best experience we can before they go off to college and do it for real."
Lehman said many of his students from past classes have told him the experiments they went on to conduct in college were the same ones they'd conducted in the classroom at Hayes.
A spectrophotometer measures the rate at which light passes through various solutions. The instrument can measure several hundred different wavelengths, Lehman said.
Students load test tubes filled with solution into the spectrophotometer, which passes light through the substance, then provides information regarding how light penetrates a specific solution. Various types and densities of solutions react differently as the light passes through the solution.
Students mix the solutions, as well as calibrate the machine, in order to create a graph they can use to analyze the results of different light-absorption rates.
In addition to having firsthand experience with the equipment, the students are at an advantage when they take the state's chemistry exam, Lehman said.
"There are questions on the exam about light and concentrated solutions, so it's good that the students have experience with it," he said.
Lehman said he has been building an inventory of equipment for his laboratory over the years. He said he asks for money to purchase different items every year; sometimes it's in the budget and sometimes it isn't, he added.
"We are building a program," he said. "It's a slow process to build our equipment levels, but the more equipment means more opportunities for students to get an idea of how things work before they go off to college."
Although some districts have cut back on the AP courses they offer due to state budget cuts, Delaware actually has increased its AP course offerings, Lehman said.
Hayes guidance counselor Jennifer Pollard said the school offers 11 AP courses and is proposing 14 courses for the 13-2014 school year. In 2009, the school offered seven AP courses.