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Making a mountain out of a mole

The molecular unit of measurement, not the burrowing animal, is celebrated on Mole Day by a Seminole High honors chemistry class.

Published April 19, 2004

[Times photos: James Borchuck]
Jessica Amato, left, shows a mole doll to her teacher, Laurie Vaughn-Grantges, who is known as “the Mole Lady.”
Jessica Baldwin, left, breaks open a mole pinata during Mole Day at Seminole High.

SEMINOLE - The classroom is awash with excitement. Food covers the long tables that are normally student desks. There's molasses cake, mole holes and mole cookies. The guacamole chips always are popular as is the "le-mole-lade."

"Welcome to Mole Day," Laurie Vaughn-Grantges, shouts over the din in her Chemistry I honors classroom at Seminole High. "I hope you're all ready to celebrate."

And so it begins.

Mole Day, actually, has nothing to do with moles - at least not the animal. The mole is simply a unit of measurement. Specifically, it is 6.02 times 10 to the 23rd power particles of a substance (element or compound). For example, one mole of water would be 6.02 times 10 to the 23rd power molecules of water. This number is called "Avogadro's number," in honor of Amedeo Avogadro, an Italian physics professor of the 1800s.

Avogadro's work in physical chemistry laid the foundation for the mole. And for a relatively basic idea, the mole is hugely important in the world of chemistry.

"There are so many concepts related to a mole," said Vaughn-Grantges, also known as the Mole Lady. "You can't do anything else without it. To understand everything else, you have to learn about the mole."

And so Mole Day not only celebrates a number, it celebrates chemistry. "It's more of a motivational day," Vaughn-Grantges said. "It helps the students to get excited about chemistry. As a teacher, that's my goal."

Vaughn-Grantges has been celebrating the day with her students for almost eight years, but she does not take credit for the idea. Mole Day is celebrated all across the country. It has its roots in the National Mole Day Foundation, a self-supporting organization created in 1991 by a high school chemistry teacher.

The official Mole Day is Oct. 23 from 6:02 a.m. to 6:02 p.m. But to allow her spring students to participate, too, Vaughn-Grantges created a second Mole Day on Feb. 23.

For students, the day is a light way to look at a weighty topic. "It's corny, but it's fun," said sophomore Sarah Greene, 16. "I got into it. I didn't expect to, but I did."

On Mole Day, the furry creatures are everywhere in Vaughn-Grantges' classroom. There are mole posters and mole banners, clay moles, stuffed moles and even a "Moley" bible. Vaughn-Grantges made some of the items, but most came from students. On the lab tables, students deposit their "Pi bags," decorated bundles of goodies for a gift exchange. Everybody will get one. The idea came from the theme of this year's day, Pi a la Mole. Games are set up: Jell-O digging, darts and a mole pinata. Amid it all, Vaughn-Grantges directs the traffic of students, smiling at each display of creativity.

Every year the National Mole Day Foundation collects ideas from teachers around the country and publishes them in a newsletter, along with the theme of that year's day. The group's Web site, www.moleday.org sells items from mole stamps and cookie cutters to mole T-shirts and figurines.

Greene spent hours working on a chocolate cake rendition of Burrow D Mole, the national Mole Day mascot. It was soon hacked into pieces, but that was the point. By the end of the class, many students were clutching their stomachs.

The food was nearly gone, and the mole music compact disc was beginning to repeat.

While they would return to regular work the next day, Mole Day will live on in at least in one classroom.

"It's a favorite day," Vaughn-Grantges said. "It lets everyone let loose. They've been working so hard on the knowledge. With Mole Day, they can let their creative juices out and . . . celebrate chemistry."

- Jacky Johnson, 16, is in 10th grade at Seminole High and is a former member of the X-Team.

[Last modified April 16, 2004, 16:32:08]

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