WELCOME to The Catalyst!

Subject: DHMO Project

Every year that I teach about chemical nomenclature to my first year chemistry students, they seem to have extreme difficulty with the concept. For some of them I know it's an organizational problem. For others, they cant get past the fact that something in chemistry is this simple, and they end up making it more difficult than it needs to be. In an attempt to demonstrate the importance that all people have a general understanding of basic chemical nomenclature, I have used information about water that has been floating around the internet for as long as this site has been in existence.

The petition was first presented to me while I was finishing up my coursework to get my teaching certificate. I was amazed at the creativity of the petition, and the chemical illiteracy of the general population. Ever since my first year of teaching I have presented this same petition to my students in the guise of current ban that they have the ability to influence. I present the information to them (see also the DHMO Your All-Natural Friend website) and then pass around a sheet of paper for them to sign. They are given two choices, either sign in the "for" or "against" (the ban) column. The results are collected from each of my classes on one day and then discussed the following day. The students always want to know what my position is on the ban, seeing as how I am a chemistry teacher and supposedly very more knowledgeable than them on this subject. It is then that I ask what the prefixes "di" and "mono" mean. We put those together with the elements in dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) and they suddenly realize what I have been trying to get them to ban. I can then discuss chemical illiteracy, lying by omission verses comission (we go back and look at all the claims and see that everything presented is true), and the power that knowledge can yield. In addition to this, I show the students that, given a list of prefixes, they now know how to name covalent compounds. The whole experience is very positive, and I even have to temper their excitement by asking them not to divulge their new knowledge to the class behind them (or I won't have a teachable moment next year).

This year some of my students asked for an extra credit opportunity while this activity was fresh in my mind. Having already discussed DHMO, I saw an opportunity for them to perform some research that could possibly be an eye opening experience. I challenged them to create their own DHMO materials centered around the original petition on the web, and survey the general population at their place of work, the mall, etc. Several of my students took the offer seriously and created some extravagant materials. Their results were very interesting to both them and me. One of the groups even created a web site for their work and published their results on it.

I will probably continue to use this project in some form or another each year. There are so many different ways one could go about doing something like this. The students that participated seemed to really enjoy the project and learn from it. I hope this project proves useful to you, and that you enjoy it as much as I do. If you have any comments or suggestions about this project please feel free to contact me. I would also like to include a couple of other student created sites with results from their surveys.

A comprehensive list of links with DHMO information for this project can be found on this website under the "Resource Links" pages.

Student Work

Mandy's DHMO website

Michael Geyer (m_geyer@thecatalyst.org)
Deer Park High School, Cincinnati, OH