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Units!

Authored By: 
Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez, Science Teacher

“Units are life or death!” I tell my students. I often use the following example:

Let’s say we’re all on a boat and Mary falls overboard. I turn to you and yell, “Quick, get me 12 of rope or Mary will die.” You bring me 12 centimeters but I needed 12 feet and alas, glug, glug, gurgle, gasp, poor Mary is dead. Units are important.

There are twenty four hours in a day, four cups in a pint, twelve inches in a foot, one thousand meters in a kilometer, one hundred centigrams in a gram and to convert from Celsius to Kelvin, you add 273. You should be familiar with these English and metric system units, but do you remember the mole? If you do, thank a Chemistry teacher.

My favorite unit is the mole. One mole is equal to 6.02 x 10^23 atoms. This unit is one that many of us don’t use in everyday life, so you might not be familiar with it unless of course, you’re a chemist. I don’t love this unit for the help it gives me in my day-to-day, for, even as a Chemistry teacher, I don’t use it every day. I love this unit for what it does for my students. It gets them excited about Chemistry.

The National Mole Day Foundation was created in 1991. 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.  I wrote my first Mole Day-themed blog ten years later in 2017 to document our fun (check more pictures on our Instagram if you’ve got a minute or 60 seconds). 

In 2018, the National Mole Day Foundation outdid themselves and made the 2018 theme "Moley Potter," a play on Harry Potter. To celebrate, we transformed Beekman into Hogwarts. The faculty dressed like Hogwarts teachers, and each floor of the building had a little touch of the magic of Harry Potter. As you wandered through the halls, you saw suits of armor, a whomping willow, a boggart in a cabinet, and Sir Cadogan and the Fat Lady’s portraits. Moaning Myrtle was lurking in the bathroom, a huge stuffed basilisk hung from our very own chamber of secrets, and a photo booth was set up in front of a Platform 9 3/4 backdrop. The students made wands, had their fortunes read by Trelawney (portrayed by our College Counselor, Krista, in disguise), and attended Potions and Divinity (reading tea leaves) classes during their free periods. While watching Harry Potter, the Chemistry classes had to calculate the number of moles of gold in a golden snitch, the molar mass of their polyester wizard robes, and the atoms of chocolate in a chocolate frog. Let’s just say it was magical.