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Faradays Christmas Lectures

This is my first-year teaching chemistry. A science teaching position was eliminated at my school and courses needed to be shifted around between the remaining 2 of us. I was asked, do you want to continue teaching Anatomy and Physiology or would you like to take on Chemistry. I immediately said Chem because it is much more in my wheelhouse than life science! However, teaching a new course is not without its headaches and frustrations. There was no curriculum, I do not know how my predecessors got away without writing curriculum for 5 years when the rest of us were turning ourselves inside and out but that s gripe for another day and another platform!

The NGSS Chemistry Teachers Facebook groups (really all the Teacher Facebook groups) has been my saving grace as I refreshed my memory of chemistry concepts. Someone on the group mention combustion of a candle and I took that idea and ran with it.

Using Faradays Christmas Lectures on the Chemical history of a Candle and Bill Hammack & Don DeCoste's guides to each lecture and student activity ideas I created a mini unit on combustion. Michael Faraday originally created the Christmas Lectures in 1825 in order to engage and educate young people about science. The Royal Institute has hosted them every year, with the exception of during World War II. Faraday presented the Chemical History of the Candle in 1848. Bill Hammack has a YouTube playlist that is helpful for students as well as he goes through each of Faraday's lecture. A number of chemistry concepts are included in Faraday's lectures. these include topics of states of matter, motion of atoms, conditions of temperature and pressure and their effect on the states of matter, chemical reactions, physical vs chemical changes, cohesion, adhesion, convection, conduction, and so much more.

Using the lectures included in Hammack's and DeCoste's book I created a set of 5 reading guides for students. Each reading includes key terms, 3 multiple choice questions and several open-ended questions based on the reading. After each reading, students were tasked with building a scientific model based on the information provided in the reading. They built on the model with each additional reading. The five lectures were assigned to read as homework with links to the videos. As a school we have been focusing on preparing students for standardized testing such as the P/SAT and NHSAS Science Test, so every assignment has a few multiple-choice questions in order to expose them more to that style of questioning. I also try to use the same directional words that the College Board uses: Analyze, Explain, Identify, Illustrate, Compare/Contrast, Interpret, Summarize, Demonstrate, Indicate, Infer, Describe, Support, Convey, and Define. Using a common vocabulary allows students to be familiar with the terms, understand them, and reduces test anxiety Students appreciated the video links to Hammack's YouTube as a supplement to the reading. You can get all five of the guided reading documents here. The lectures are also listed separately.

In class, we experimented with candles. Students first collected observations of the burning candles and then completed several experiments on the candle.

I find that when tasked with coming up with experiments on their own, many students struggle to come up with ideas. This is where reading the lectures really helped to drive their experimentation. It was also obvious when students did not complete the readings. I did not complete all the activities in Hammack book or that were mentioned in the Faraday lectures, but you definitely could. Hammack includes a few activities on properties of water, and I substituted my properties of water stations lab and molecule building for this to cover some additional bonding and properties. When our investigation was complete students completed a final scientific model of the combustion of a candle.

I added a question on their midterm about combustion and volcanoes, but I think their final model will be this (volcanoes) next year so they can apply their knowledge. I need to give them more opportunities to make the connections between chemistry concepts and the environment because many in my class are struggling to make those connections.

Here is a copy of the 4-point rubric I use for scientific modeling.


Hammack, B., & DeCoste, D. (2016). Michael Faraday’s The Chemical History of a Candle with Guides to Lectures. Teaching Guides and Student Activities. Articulate Noise Books.

Hammack, B. (2016, June 28). Introduction: The Chemical History of a Candle by Michael Faraday (1/6).

History of the Christmas lectures. Royal Institution. (2023, August 25).


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