The idea of the mole in chemistry is often a hard concept to perceive by the novice chemist – a simple glance tells you its just a big number 6.022 x 10^23 or represented in normal notation as 602,200,000,000,000,000,000,000. For a new student to chemistry however, I want them to feel how big that is and get a sense of its magnitude.
For my re-imagination, I wanted to perceive one mole in a different way. I wanted to get a visual of how big one mole of 1's would be. Starting from the bottom up, I wanted to build an image so the students could almost see one mole. What does 10 1's look like? 100? 1,000? 10,000? Let's keep building it until we get to 10^23 (about a trillion trillion) How many sheets of paper would it fill? How many books of sheets? How much volume could those books fill? The end result is the realization that one mole of 1's would fill enough sheets of paper to fill up Lake Michigan 91 times! Being at a school close to the shore of Lake Michigan, my students have all seen the lake and how broad and wide it is. You cannot even see the other side where Wisconsin is. Yet, it is more than just breadth in area, it is depth as well (which the students can only imagine how deep Lake Michigan is). With this new re-imagination, I hope my students will feel the weight of what 1 mole is. We also take a look at some other comparisons like one mole of watermelon seeds, one mole of pennies and one mole of grains of sand.
This new understanding can really help my students with the topic of the mole. Not only can they get a glimpse at the enormity of Avogadro's number (one mole), but they can also get a different sense at how small atoms and molecules are. To say that a bag full of sugar in your hands can be more molecules than all the stars in the sky is mind blowing. A trillion trillion atoms can fit on your hand – that means they must be so very, very small – a seemingly incomprehensible size – just as one mole is a seemingly incomprehensible huge number.