Organic Chemistry Activities

Instructor: Heather Jenkins

Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.

Organic chemistry focuses on the study of carbon-based compounds, which exist all around us. Use these activities to help students understand some basic concepts including fundamental groups, polymers and monomers, and lipids.

Complex Carbon

Whether it's the fat in the potato chips they eat, the nylon in their backpacks, or the yeast in the bread they eat, students encounter organic chemistry daily. Organic chemistry is the study of carbon and the compounds in which it is present. When students learn about organic chemistry, they can better understand the world around them and the way different substances form and interact with each other. Let's look at some activities to help students learn more about organic chemistry.

Functional Group Models

Students will construct examples of compounds in different functional groups.

Materials

  • Diagrams of chemical structures
  • Play dough (different colors)
  • Toothpicks

Teacher Directions

  • Define ''functional groups'' for the class. Provide examples and diagrams of the chemical make-up of each functional group:
    • Hydroxyl
    • Amine
    • Ether
    • Carbonyl
    • Ester
  • Discuss the common compounds of each functional group, such as ethanol or ethoxyethane. Show students diagrams of their chemical make-up, while highlighting the presence of the functional groups.
  • Divide the class into small groups, and provide each group with different colored play dough and toothpicks.
  • Ask students to create models of the chemical structure of each functional group using the play dough and toothpicks.
    • The different colors of play dough will represent the different elements in each group.
    • The toothpicks will represent the bonds between the elements in each group.
    • For example, if students are creating a model of the hydroxyl group, they might use red play dough to represent the carbon group, blue to represent the oxygen, and yellow to represent the hydrogen. Using toothpicks, they'd then connect the carbon to the oxygen and the oxygen to the hydrogen.
  • Have students complete models of common compounds for each functional group using the same procedure.
  • When students are finished, have them share their models with the class.

Discussion Questions

  • How are the functional groups similar, yet different?
  • In what types of compounds would you expect to find each type of functional group?

Polymer Maps

Students will create a polymer map and identify its monomers.

Materials

  • Chart paper
  • Markers
  • Diagrams of chemical structures for common monomers and polymers
  • Access to print/online resources

Teacher Directions

  • Define ''monomers'' and ''polymers'' for the class.
  • Show students examples of chemical structures for monomers and polymers. Highlight the different monomers within the polymers.
  • Draw a Venn diagram on the board, and have students discuss how monomers and polymers are the same and different. Use their answers to fill in the Venn diagram.
  • Divide the class into small groups, and provide each group with chart paper and markers.
  • Have each group research a polymer and create a polymer map.
    • Students will research the chemical structure of a polymer, such as nylon, Kevlar, or polyethylene.
    • Students will draw a large diagram of the chemical structure of the polymer.
    • Students will then identify and label the monomers that make up the polymer.
    • Students will also research how their polymer is used in the real world and any interesting facts.
  • When students are finished, have them share their polymer maps and present information about their polymers to the rest of the class.

Discussion Questions

  • How were the polymers your classmates researched similar to or different from your polymer?
  • Where might you encounter polymers in your life?

Food Test

Students will test common foods for lipids.

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