CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 21. . . .January 31, 2014
Gases and Their Properties. (Why Chemistry Matters).
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2013.
32 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $20.76 (RLB.).
ISBN 978-0-7787-4233-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-7787-4229-6 (RLB.).
Gas laws (Physical chemistry)-Juvenile literature.
Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Barbara McMillan.
One of the first gases to be discovered was carbon dioxide. This was found by Joseph Black. He called it “fixed air” because it came out of magnesium carbonate crystals when he heated them. Nothing burned in fixed air – candles placed in it went out. Black also found the same gas was released as bubbles when the crystals were dropped in acid. (p. 8)
Gases are used to make a refrigerator cold. The gas runs through a loop in the pipes in the back. Inside the pipes, the gas is squeezed so much that it turns into a liquid. This liquid is warm and gives off heat, making the back of the refrigerator hot. The liquid is then squirted through a tiny hole, which makes it expand back into a gas. That makes the gas cold and chills the food inside the refrigerator. This process is repeated to keep food fresh. (p. 26)
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to observe a 1-2-3 multi-age classroom engaged in a science lesson on the phases of matter. The children had previously learned the observable physical properties that identify solids and liquids, and the lesson in progress was introducing them to gases. When asked what they thought a gas might be, the responses focussed on the gasoline fuel that parents put in cars and trucks at petrol stations. Several children mentioned flatulence, although this was not the term they used. No one suggested the air that we breathe. Of the three phases of matter, gases are the most difficult to understand. Unlike solids and liquids, gases are invisible. They have no surface of their own and, thus, no definite shape or volume. In fact, the molecules of a gas move very fast and fill all the space available. If we think of the air as the mixture of gases that blankets the earth, it fills all of the spaces not already occupied by liquid and solid matter. How can teachers help children to genuinely know about gases and the properties that distinguish this phase of matter? Gases and Their Properties is Tom Jackson’s attempt to assist teachers and children in grades three to six who are learning about such unseen substances.
The first 29 pages of Jackson’s 32-page book are divided into nine sections that focus on the history of the investigation and discovery of gases, the gas laws, the particulate nature of gases, the gases in Earth’s atmosphere, how gases are purified and used, and the relationship of greenhouse gases to changes in climate. Pages 30 and 31 present a glossary of 21 scientific terms. The index on page 32 includes references to scientists and relevant concepts mentioned in the text as well as the urls for two websites that present additional information on gases and the greenhouse effect. The book as a whole is printed in black on a blue background with what appear to be molecular models. The headings of each section are on an orange background with similar, but smaller molecules and compounds. This is separated from the blue background by a yellow band on which an introduction to the section is presented in three or four lines. Each page has from one to two illustrations, generally stock photographs or reproductions of old engravings. Dialogue boxes and dialogue balloons in the shape of clouds are placed on facing pages and are used to present additional factual information. As one example, on page 21, the dialogue box offers a three-sentence explanation of why ears pop when travelling on an airplane, and the dialogue balloon explains wind in two sentences. Jackson also includes three familiar investigations for readers to carry out. The first involves mixing vinegar and baking soda to produce carbon dioxide; the second, “Balloon Jet”, has readers blowing up a balloon and releasing it, and the third involves placing a fully inflated and tied balloon in a cold refrigerator to observe the affect of temperature on gas pressure and the size/volume of the deflating balloon.
In spite of the thoughtful layout and choice of content for Gases and Their Properties, there is a mismatch between the content and the reading level (“Grade 4”) and age of child for whom the book was created. This should be obvious given the excerpts at the beginning of this review. Grade 5 students in Manitoba classrooms, who learn about properties of substances and how these properties can change when substances interact with different substances, are not introduced to molecules and atoms, acids and bases, or the gas laws of Boyle, Charles, and Guy-Lussac and the histories of their discovery. Science educators believe there is a foundation upon which an understanding of such concepts and laws develops. This foundation is created as students study the particle theory of matter in Grade 7, the properties of fluids in Grade 8, and atoms and elements in Grade 9.
Recommended with reservations.
Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator and a professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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