Current Event or Off-Topic?

Another tragically large enviromental calamity occurred this week in Kolontar, Hungary when a reservoir ruptured releasing an estimated 185 million gallons of caustic sludge.  Pictures show the devastation to the people of these towns.

Without actually planning on it I found myself discussing this news event in my chemistry classes. The curriculum had me in the periodic table of elements, so this deviation into a current event could have been considered "off-topic". It did, however, afford me an opportunity to reiterate how most elements are found in compounds and not as pure elements, and how ore extraction and refinement produces large amounts of waste products.

When I was growing up we had dinner as a family in the dining room. The TV would be giving the nightly news in the living room. My father sat with his back to the TV, but could see the reflection in the french doors behind my mother. Our conversations often included what was happening in the world and always ceased for the weather report. Very few students these days either eat dinner with their families or watch the news, so I was not surprised that few of my students had heard anything about the sludge flood.

I am happy with the class discussion on this current event and feel that it was successful as a chemistry lesson. The discussion occurred spontaneously during my first period and I chose to continue with the remaining classes. I am disappointed, though, that I was not prepared for this discussion ahead of time. My knowledge of bauxite extraction and refining comes from watching TV programs and even a quick stop at "How Stuff Works" would have provided me with more information to add more depth to the conversation. A quick search revealed an extensive presentation of a "Cradle to Grave" analysis of aluminum, by Professor Raquel Rivera Pinderhughes of San Francisco University, that would have also brought . Even so, I will continue to take chances on discussing current events to make chemistry class authentic.

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