Cavalier Feature: High School Goes Heavy Metal

How three CVC teachers worked together to build a lesson plan spanning three classes and multiple grade levels to create a heavy metal moment.

By Marissa Carpenter, Director of Marketing & Enrollment


There are a couple of classes you might imagine go together: Bible and History. Band and Choir. Psychology and Government. (Okay, that last one might be a bit of a stretch.) But what’s truly imaginative is a collaboration begun this past school year with Art, Chemistry and Metal Shop.

CVC’s Science Department Head and Chemistry teacher Steve Gann wanted to work with other teachers to help students bridge the gap between classes. Science is not just for the sake of science, and when used in tandem with art and with metal shop, it could create something bigger (or bronzer). Of the partnership, Mr. Gann had this to say:

“For several years, both Kurt [Mr. Saltzman] and I had been bouncing around the idea of forging and casting metal.  But making that work as a chemistry lab was a tricky thing.  My class does not provide the tools, time, or training for such work.  His classes did, though.  We hoped we could collaborate someday if the right project turned up.  A couple of years ago, I finally stumbled upon the Caveman Chemistry book and read the Bronze experiment.  I immediately thought, ‘OK, this could really work!’  I could do the chemicals and Kurt could do the casting….The only problem was the lab called for a kiln to heat homemade clay crucibles to 1900°F.  The only person who had the equipment to do that was Kevin [Mr. Langmaack].  I approached him about the project and he quickly got on board.  We had our team put together by November of 2015, giving us until February to do the project.

When our teachers work together for the benefit of our students, the reward is good and the lessons learned are even greater. Instead of simply telling our students why each class and lesson and the concept of “working well with others” is important, our teachers showed them.

So, let’s do a little chemistry. In our minds. (If you have a personal kiln, please don’t try this at home. If you don’t have a personal kiln, please also don’t try this at home.) For this particular example of teamwork, we begin with Mr. Langmaack, the art teacher. He had each student create a crucible. (Hint: not the Arthur Miller play). A crucible used in chemistry and metalwork is a metal or ceramic, in this case, container that can be used to melt metals at very high temperatures. For the lab, students used clay to form what looks like a sort-of goblet, complete with a hollowed out funnel-shaped inside and a lid. (See photos.) The clay crucible was fired once in the kiln, ready for the next step.

For the metal-elements-portion of the lab, Mr. Gann took the students participating in this bronze lesson and had them place copper carbonate and tin oxide inside the crucible. Over top of these items, they placed charcoal to prevent oxygen from taking part in the reaction happening inside the crucible.

Next, the defining moment: the smelting stage. The crucible was fired in the kiln, which was placed at a temperature of 1900°F, effectively allowing the expected chemical reaction to occur. The crucible was given time to cool off, and inspected for any sign of bronze piece, or ingot. Ideally, during the firing, liquid copper and liquid tin are created. Since these two metals shared a container, they should have mixed together at the bottom of the crucible, making the bronze (which is a metal containing both copper and tin).

All the ingots were collected and presented to Mr. Saltzman, CVC’s metal shop and wood shop teacher. He took the bronze ingots and melted them down, and poured them into molds.

CVC's Metal & Wood Shop Teacher

Mr. Gann, Mr. Saltzman, and Mr. Langmaack (Photo by Ryan Krauter, 4Creeks Creative)

Mr. Saltzman joined in this project because, in his words: “Integration between different subjects is really important to me. If you were…a student in school and had the thought, ‘How can I ever use this information that you’re teaching me right now in my future?’…Well, this is a great way to make different subjects real. I teach a lot of different subjects in metal and wood shop including math, science, art, business and history, so it’s really great to be able to work alongside other teachers.”

Curious what the physical takeaway from this lesson is? Word on the street is that there will be a bronze golf putter, made up of all those tiny ingots, melted and molded, up for bid at the School Sale in April. Two years of bronze-creation has resulted in 20-25 ounces of bronze to work with, which should be enough for more than one casting–the best casting out of the two should be up for sale to the highest bidder!

Coordinating three curriculums and approximately 75 student schedules isn’t easy–and collaborative teaching doesn’t always have a bronze trophy at the end of it. Mr. Gann said, “The most challenging part for me was to take the instructions in the…text and scale them up so four classes of students could do it correctly and safely.” He went on to explain that Mr. Langmaack both helped him procure materials he had difficulty finding, and came into the chemistry classes to teach the art of clay crucible-making. Both Mr. Langmaack and Mr. Saltzman added their expertise to the project, and made it a success story! Ordinarily, we’d say go for the gold, but when it comes to collaborative teaching, this effort was worth more than its weight in bronze.

When our teachers work together for the benefit of our students, the reward is good and the lessons learned are even greater. Instead of simply telling our students why each class and lesson and the concept of “working well with others” is important, our teachers showed them.

What will CVC’s next staff collaboration be? Perhaps a mathematical musical…

This feature was originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of The Cavalier magazine, a quarterly publication sent to our past families, current families, donors and alumni. Click here to update your alumni information!

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