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Holy Mole-y, That Was Fun!

Authored By: 
Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez, Science Teacher
Stuffed Moles

What specific lessons do you remember from your school days?  I remember Mrs. Gallegos letting us watch Romeo and Juliet after reading the book in English class.  In Spanish, Sra. Huerta celebrated Cinco de Mayo with a Hispanic food pot luck.  The cat dissection in Anatomy and Physiology is a memory I won't soon forget.  I can still recall the first 20 digits of pi thanks to the competition held in math class on Pi Day.  However, while I remember the fundamentals Mrs. Gibson taught me in high school Chemistry because I use them every day, I can’t say there are any lessons from that class that particularly stand out. 

The high school science curriculum is rigorous.  We are preparing students for college.  Unfortunately, there aren’t many chemistry holidays where high school science teachers can be creative, go a little crazy, and throw a party.  We chemists are a sad bunch.  As a Chemistry teacher in my 17th year of teaching, I know that many of my students will not go on to be chemists.  They’ll enter the exciting world of finance, law, the arts, marketing, fashion, or maybe even teaching.  They may never remember how to balance oxidation-reduction reactions, but it is my hope that something from the class will stick with them.  If my annual Mole Day celebration is what they remember, I’m okay with that. 

In 1980, a Chemistry teacher wrote an article in The Science Teacher proposing celebration of Mole Day.  A mole is a unit used to measure the amount of a substance.  One mole is equal to 6.02 x 10^23 atoms, therefore, Mole Day is celebrated on October 23 from 6:02 am to 6:02 pm.  Get it? 6.02, 10/23.  (It does not take much to amuse a chemist--just search the web for “chemistry cat” to see the plethora of dad-joke-caliber humor about the elements of the periodic table.)  The National Mole Day Foundation was created in 1991 with the goal to get everyone excited about chemistry.  Each year they come up with a new mole-centric theme and encourage teachers and students to celebrate.  I started celebrating Mole Day with my students in 2007. 

Our celebrations allow me to reinforce the conceptual with real world examples, and it gives me the opportunity to see the creative side of my students.  Students bring in mole-themed food.  I’ve had simple cupcakes that say Mole Day, cookies that had the value 6.02 x10^23 written on them in icing, and a cake that had a mole coming out of it.  Someone brings guacaMOLE and waterMOLEn every year; I make Mallomar moles and we always have pizza, because, well, pizza pi.  My favorite contribution of all time was the student who brought raviMOLE.

In the week leading up to our celebration, the students are encouraged to make a stuffed mole for extra credit.  This is where I really get to see them flex their creative muscles.  Some students have never sewn a stitch in their life!  The fruits of their labor are always quite interesting and entertaining.  I’ve had zombie moles, Star Wars character moles, Molezilla, Nikki Mole-aj, a student who put his younger brother’s actual tooth (a MOLAR) in a pirate chest carried by a pirate mole, and Morocco mole and a Rastafarian Bob Moley, just to name a few.  I can’t wait to see what this new crop of students turns in this year.

Here are some of the memorable ways we have observed the Mole Day occasion here at Beekman.

2007 Theme - Remember the AlaMOLE

We went to Dos Caminos (a local restaurant) with electronic balances and avocados.  We equated the mass of one avocado to be the mass of one mole, then calculated how many moles and atoms were in our first scoop of guacamole.

2008 Theme - MOLE of Fortune

My husband created an actual wheel for the students to spin.  Depending on which wedge their spin landed on, they either won a prize or had to complete a mole calculation.

2009 Theme - MOLAR Express

We went to Le Tren Bleu at Bloomingdales, a restaurant in an actual train car!  We did a calculation similar to the one we did at Dos Caminos, but since it was an upscale restaurant, I think we did the calculation with asparagus.  The electronic balances did get some odd stares from the ladies-who-lunch crew.

2010 Theme - MOLES of the Caribbean

The students wore eye patches and had to calculate the moles and atoms of salt in sea water samples.

2011 Theme - MOLES of the Round Table

The students had to calculate the moles and atoms of air in their inflatable swords.

2012 Theme - MOLAR Eclipse

We watched the 2009 film Moon while eating moon pies and astronaut ice cream.  We calculated moles and atoms of samples of marshmallow filling and cubes of freeze-dried ice cream.

2013 Theme - AniMOLE Kingdom

Students played several carnival games including Wack-A-MOLE and we watched the 2011 Matt Damon movie, We Bought A Zoo.  Our eyes were too teary to do any more calculations that day.

2014 Theme - MOLE-O-Ween

We carved pumpkins and calculated the number of moles and atoms of pumpkin seeds in our ghoulish creations.

2015 Theme - May the MOLES be With You

We all dressed up as Star Wars characters and watched the original Star Wars.  This was one of my favorite groups of Chemistry nerds!

2016 Theme - EleMOLEments of the Periodic Table

Free-for-all-theme!  We watched the first Fast and the Furious movie and calculated the amount of NOS required to win the drag race.

Whether you celebrate Mole Day in your chemistry class or not, these are all fun science activities for high school students to make the learning of these concepts more enjoyable and memorable.   Isn’t that what we’re all striving for as teachers?  We want our students to remember the knowledge we’re trying desperately to pour into their heads.

A few years ago, I tore my ACL skiing and while attending physical therapy after surgery, I wore a Mole Day t-shirt.  The physical therapist said, “The mole?  Isn’t that 6.02 x10^23?”  I commended him on his memory.  While he is in a scientific field, he doesn’t do mole calculations on a daily basis in his occupation.  He proceeded to tell me that he remembered it because his high school Chemistry teacher celebrated Mole Day with his class and he never forgot it.  This is how I want to be remembered—the teacher who made chemistry fun.

This year’s Mole Day theme is MOLEvengers.  Follow our Twitter and Instagram accounts to see how we’ll celebrate this year and for other fun, innovative, and educational ideas from the Beekman faculty.