Red Rocks in Chemistry Classes

  • If you're looking to engage your chemistry students in an oxidation activity that takes them across the country, across the globe, and out into space, consider using Red Rocks!

    This activity allows students to examine rock samples from Arizona and New Zealand to see how their red color formed. Then, students use data from Mars exploration to see if they can determine if the red color formed in a similar manner.

    I have used this program both in the classroom and now this year in distance learning. My students come away with an understanding of how oxidation affects rock color, and a new perspective on how scientists on Earth can begin to make sense of what could be happening on Mars.

    Students are always genuinely interested in the experience. Many students are truly wowed by the ability to look at the rocks and information from Mars - they feel like real scientists! I have even had an extremely visually impaired student be floored by what he could see and experience with Red Rocks - with a little help, he could master the experience and be just as mesmerized as his peers.

    This year I really took an interest in questions students had about Mars and Earth before and after the experience. I am always looking for ways to get my students to ask questions, especially my 11th graders that seem to be focused on getting good grades. I found that after Red Rocks, many of my students were asking more sophisticated, scientific questions.

    Here are a couple examples:

    Before Red Rocks Question: Why is Mars Bumpy? Would humans survive on mars? How long could a human survive on Mars?

    After Red Rocks Question: How does the red rock on mars oxidize without water? Does the red rock always stay red or does it change over time?

    Before Red Rocks Question: Is Mars' structure similar to earth? Why is Mars all red rock while Earth has land with water, grass, sand, and rock? Are Mars layers different from earth’s layers?

    After Red Rocks Question: If there was every water found on Mars would it have an impact on the dust layer that has iron oxide in it? Why is there only a little amount of iron oxide on Mars?

    Let me know if you have any questions about my experiences both in the classroom and in the "virtual classroom" using Red Rocks!

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