A Cooperative Learning Project for General Chemistry: Fertilizer and Water Quality Melanie M.

Cooper and Eddie Case Clemson University The laboratory curriculum for the General Chemistry sequence at Clemson University was modified several years ago to incorporate principles of constructivism and cooperative learning. The two-semester lab program has students working in groups of 3 to 5 students on three open-ended projects each semester. Students are given a problem to solve and then spend the several weeks developing and implementing a plan for solving the problem. At the end of the project students are required to submit a written formal report on the project and/or give an oral report on the project. While the lecture portion of the Beginning General and Organic Chemistry sequence (which serves our non-science majors) is taught utilizing many of the principles of constructivism and cooperative learning, the laboratory curriculum remains mostly prescriptive and confirmational. We have developed an environmental based project which is cooperative in nature for use at the end of the first semester of the course. In this project, students research the major ingredients of commercially available fertilizers including the macronutrients, secondary nutrients, and micronutrients. Further, they are to find the sources for each of the three macronutrients. Once identified, they must determine procedures for confirming the presence of the macronutrients in a sample of fertilizer and, if possible, the percent by mass of the macronutrient present. Students test their procedures on known compounds provided in the laboratory and, once satisfied with the procedures, use them to test the fertilizer. Finally, to investigate the possible impact of the use of fertilizer on water supplies, students develop a model for application of the fertilizer to soil and for testing for the presence of the macronutrients in groundwater. Students complete the project by giving an oral report on their findings. Completion of this project reinforces such concepts as chemistry of solutions, qualitative and quantitative analysis, ions and ionic compounds, precipitation reactiosn, and environmental chemistry. Laboratory procedures which are utilized may include flame tests, gravimetric analysis, vacuum filtration, and qualitative tests for ions. A copy of the project follows. FERTILIZER AND WATER QUALITY Fertilizers are commercially available for a variety of specialized applications: for lawns, house plants, gardens, and farming applications. One fertilizer application that has been of particular interest has been the use of fertilizers on golf courses. It is feared that the large quantities of fertilizers used to keep fairways and greens lush and beautiful are also damaging surface and ground water supplies around the courses. Fertilizers do, in fact, contain a number of compounds that may cause specific problems

Use this model to determine if these nutrients may be present in groundwater after their application. Your team has been hired to address these concerns.ces. Determine the nutrients most commonly present in commercially available fertilizers. ³how much is too much?´ and ³how much fertilizer stays where it¶s put?´ You have been assigned to a group of researchers working for a local golf course. 6. 3. Once this is determined and the sources are identified (urea or an ammonium salt. Determine the sources for these nutrients in commercially available fertilizers. solubility. Remember. and a phosphate salt. You may want to investigate properties such as odor. students use a computer based resource. students begin the search for tests for these compounds. and others. and phosphorous. Secondly. respectively). 7. he has heard that the government may soon pass regulations on how much of the nutrients present in fertilizer can end up in ground water supplies. First. students are fairly well prepared for the larger project presented here. The question then becomes. Determine for which of the macronutrients can you perform qualitative and quantitative tests. He wants to know if the stuff he has bought really contains what it says it does. Urea and ammonium can be determined qualitatively by adding 6M NaOH which produces a strong smell of ammonia. Known Compounds Samples of compounds which contain the macronutrients found in fertilizer are available in the lab. open-ended projects. Most begin by going to the internet to find the required information regarding the nutrients in fertilizer and their primary sources. although it . potassium. The owner has several concerns about the use of fertilizers on his course. secondary nutrients. Perform these tests on the fertilizer(s) provided by the golf course owner. The nutrients present in most commercial fertilizers which are identified as macronuttients are nitrogen. GOALS 1. K2O. The presence of potassium can be determined using a flame test. Results Having already done a couple of short. In our labs. You will find these fall into three categories: macronutrients. and micronutrients. Super ChemLab. you have a limited supply of your fertilizer so you will want to test your procedures before you carry them out on the fertilizer itself. 2.in water supplies if they are present in high enough quantities. 5. he does not trust the manufacturer. 4. Practice these tests on known compounds. You may use these to determine properties of these compounds which may be useful in developing qualitative and quantitative tests. Develop a model for determining the amount of these nutrients entering the groundwater supply.clemson. single lab period. which is available online at http://chemed.edu/SCL.

. We have also found that students become more adept at approaching and solving problems as they do more open-ended projects. This is evidenced by the decreased amount of guidance required for projects such as this one done near the end of the semester. students again run water through the soil and collect it for testing. they are more likely to spend more time doing research and investigating what is actually happening as they do the experiments. we plan to investigate how students in labs based on this type of project perform in the lecture section of the course compared to those in more traditional.will be masked by the presence of sodium in the fertilizer. Because they are not presented with a list of steps they must complete in order to leave lab. the lab. this is a frequent response to questions regarding what they liked best about the labs. We have found that students will spend more time on this type of project than those more prescriptive in nature. and chemistry in general. prescriptive labs. We would also like to determine how it affects their attitudes toward the course. The most common model developed for simulating application of the fertilizer is to apply it to a sample of potting soil and collecting the water that runs through. As we develop and implement more of this type project in the labs for the Beginning General and Organic Chemistry course. Most discover that phosphate and ammonia are present in the water. After allowing the soil to dry between lab periods. Phosphate ion can be determined gravimetrically by precipitation. In fact. students express a particular interest in the projects which involve real-life situations. In laboratory evaluations conducted at the end of the semester.

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