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Cant Judge a Powder (B)

By Lin Wozniewski


Students must wear:

Closed shoes Slacks or skirts that come to the ankles Sleeved shirts Lab coat or lab apron Indirect vent or unvented chemical splash proof goggles. No impact glasses or visorgogs are permitted

What Students Can Bring

pHydrion paper hand lens 9 volt conductivity tester (no testers will be allowed that run on 120 volts.) Beral pipettes or eye droppers Containers appropriate for testing conductivity and solubility (spot plates, beakers, etc. are fine) Test tube holder and test tube rack if using test tubes Spatula Stirring rod

What Students Cant Bring

Reference Materials Calculators Writing instruments of any kind ANY materials other than on previous slide

The Penalty?

Ranking below those who have followed the rules

What Supervisors Will Provide

1.0 M NaOH 1.0 M HCl Distilled (deionized) water Two different colored writing implements Paper Toweling The observation sheet The questions/scoring sheet

What Supervisors MAY Provide

Thermometer Balance Hot plate Anything else the supervisor decides to distribute. If the supervisor feels instructions are needed in order to use something provided, the instructions will be available

Main Focus

Observations The distinction between an observation and an inference How to prepare students Scoring the Exam Resources


Emphasize to students that the purpose of this lab is NOT to identify the powder. (That is the Science Crime Buster event-not this one) The purpose is to characterize the powder! This event hits all of the Middle School National Physical Science Standards. Therefore it is an excellent event to actually use in the classroom to teach observation and the difference between observation and inference


Students need to learn to write down observations, not inferences. Students need to be as specific as possible.

While both flour & cornstarch might at first glance be described as white powders, flour is generally more of an ivory white or creamy white, whereas cornstarch is more bright white

Students should be as quantitative as possible

Students should state how many grams of the substance were attempted to dissolve in how many ml of water and from what temperature to what temperature the water changed during how long a time


Students should do tests on the reagents they are given as well as the powder.

If you do not know for sure if the liquid you are attempting to dissolved the solid in does or does not conduct electricity, you can not say for sure what the solid did If you do not know what the temperature of the liquid was before you start dissolving, you can not know by how much the temperature changed.

Observation & Inference

If the student attempts to dissolve the .1g of the powder in 1 ml of water and the temperature goes down from 22.1C to 20.9C, that is an observation If instead the student writes down that dissolving the powder is an endothermic process, that is an inference. You would use the first observation to answer the question of whether or not the dissolving is exothermic or endothermic. But you would get less points for answer 2


The questions the event supervisor is likely to ask can be divided into two main categories:

Standard Questions

What color is the powder? Is it a powder or a crystal or a granule Etc You can not ask if dissolving the powder in water is exothermic if the powder is insoluble in water. Etc.

Powder specific questions

How to Prepare Students

You will want to create a number of tests for various powders where the team members preparing for the event practice making observations and then get the questions and have to use their observations to answer the questions. The tougher you can make your questions, the better the students will get. It is not easy to think of observations to make on a single powder with only a few reagents for 20 minutes.

Scoring the Exam

This is best done as a group activity if possible If there are few enough exams (<~12) two people can divide the exams between them. Then the observations that support each question are looked at and ranked. The best observations are awarded 5 points, the next best 4 Observations that are really inferences can get a maximum of only 3. Incomplete observations receive less points


Sample Observation Sheet _olympiad/cant_judge_a_powder/piqua_regional_ 2005_obser_sht.pdf _olympiad/cant_judge_a_powder/piqu_regionals_ 2005.pdf _olympiad/cant_judge_a_powder/piqua_regional_ 2005_answr_key.pdf

Sample Question Sheet

Sample Key