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What is that Funny Smell; Oh Right the Science Wing Explosion.

Module by: Vincent Natoli. E-mail the author

Summary: This is an interactive mystery case study.

What is that Funny Smell; Oh Right the Science Wing Explosion.


On one glorious afternoon in a small high school called Al Dente High School in the rural part of Hillsborough County, Florida, an event happened that no one expected. The entire science wing of the school exploded into a huge ball of flames. Luckily, no one was hurt. However, what was left to be answered is what really happened that day? Let us start from the beginning. Timmy is an 11th grader that can sometimes be a troublemaker. However, on that day he was really looking forward to school that day because in Mr. Lays’ Chemistry class they were going to be performing a lab. Jessica is a 10th grader that is one of the top students in her class. She always volunteers to help the teacher and answer questions. And that day she was also going to be doing a lab across the hall from Mr. Lays’ classroom in Mrs. Cherry’s Chemistry class. Both students were excited to be going to class that day. In Mr. Lays’ lab the class was surprised to find that they lab consisted of putting mints into bottles of soda and seeing the reactions. The lab continued Timmy was having a good time and then he noticed something. Something that he was not sure what he should do so he did not say anything and went on with the lab with his group. Mr. Lays was having a blast seeing all his students having fun until he saw one of his students have something in their pocket that they are not suppose to have. Yet instead of stopping the class he thought that he would handle the situation after class. As Timmy was having fun in Mr. Lays’ class Jessica was somewhat disappointed with the lab. Mrs. Cherry’s lab was for the students to just heat up different chemicals in test tubes and see what happens. Some of the chemicals that they had to heat up were potassium chlorate, sulfur, calcium, and so on. So as the class period ends and school is coming to a close some strange things start to happen. First Jessica finds out that her boyfriend, Billy, has been cheating on her with one of her friends, Jamie. When Jessica found out, she was so mad that she grabbed a bag of gummy bears that someone was eating and threw it at Jamie. Gummy bears went flying everywhere and Jessica stormed out of the class. As Jessica was storming out, she saw something but was too upset to tell anyone. Mrs. Cherry surprised at what just happened in her classroom went to find Jessica, and told her class to stay in the room and behave themselves. Of course, that did not happen. The students that were left in the classroom are the only ones that knew what happened. After a long fun day, the bell rang and school was out. And of course the students all went to the parking lot and hung out after school to talk with their friends. As the students were getting out Mr. Board, the janitor, job was just beginning. Here is some background for Bill Board the janitor. Bill was a very bright man he went to school for many years not knowing what he really wanted to do. He became a physicist, then a biologist, then a chemist, then an astronomer, and even a psychologist. But it turns out that Mr. Board had an epiphany of what his true calling was. And that calling was to be a janitor. So as Bill starts to enter and clean the science wing he sees what is left of what happened that day and having all the science background that he had he put everything together and runs out of the science wing screaming “GET DOWN” to all the students and just at that moment the entire science wing explodes. Poor old Bill Board knows what happened but was knocked up conscience and was taken to the hospital. Now it is up to you to figure out just what happened.

Teachers notes for procedure for discussion:

Break the class up into four different groups. Those groups are going to work together to form a theory as to what happened. Each group represents a group of investigators, each group has found out different key event that occurred from interrogating anyone that knew something. Each group will receive an envelope with that one key event. The group can use that information in determining what they think happened.

  1. 1.) The first envelope will contain a statement from Timmy as to what he saw but did not say anything. What he saw was one of his fellow students accidently hit a gas valve for a Bunsen burner, but the student did not know he opened the valve and Timmy did not think that he opened the valve because nothing happened. Therefore, Timmy did not say anything.
  2. 2.) The second envelope will contain a statement from Jessica as to what she saw in the hall when she stormed out. Jessica saw that one of the power outlets in the halls was sparking and short circuiting. She did not think anything of it because she was so upset.
  3. 3.) The third envelope will contain a statement from one of the students in Mrs. Cherry’s class as to what happened after Mrs. Cherry left. What happened is that total chaos broke out. And people started to pick up the gummy bears and throw them at each other. Other students were still heating up the chemically longer than they are supposed to including the potassium chlorate. Other students were sitting in their seats like they were supposed to. And some students were playing around with the chemicals and split some all over the front desks.
  4. 4.) The fourth and final envelope will contain a statement from Mr. Lays as to what he saw and what he was doing to handle the situation. During the lab, Mr. Lays saw one of his students messing around with a lighter that they had in their pocket. Lighter are strictly prohibited during labs. Mr. Lays thought that he could just talk to the student after class. Yet when Mr. Lays got the student after school the student did not have his lighter he left it in the classroom along with his bag which was inside the science wing.

After each group had been given an envelope with the statements, inside let them open it and have them write down their groups theory. After some time to let them make their theory allow the groups to team up with one other group making two big groups. Those groups now will share the statement that was given to them and as a groups they will write down another theory as to what happened based on their two statements. After some time for the groups to make their theories allow the class to once again come together as an entire class and share their statements with each other. Then as a class make up one theory that the class believes is what happened.


The objective of this case study is to allow the students to use their prior science intelligence to piece together what could have happened to cause the explosion. The students will have to look back as to what they learned about the mixture of chemicals, how heat and electricity affect things, as well as the safety precautions for lab. The students will improve their social skills by working together to figure out the cause. The students will also be able to see how real life science works. That it when there is a question as to what happened or how something is there is usually clues. The problem is that not one person gets the same clues. That is why as time goes on the class joins up with other groups and shares their information with each other to make an even more informed theory just as scientists do. Scientists work with other scientists to figure something out and they share their information just as the class will be doing. They work together until all the information is complied and a joint theory is produced.

Classroom Management:

This case study is designed as an interactive mystery story for a high school level science class. With group work there is going to be noise and talking to put their heads together to figure out what happened. Yet the students will also try to not be too loud as to help one of the other groups by giving them information. If talking gets to loud than take the proper steps that is used in your classroom to quiet the class. When the class comes together as a group it is important that you make sure that they know you are the final person to write the classes theory and if they want to include something into the theory then they have to wait their turn. In the meanwhile, be respectful for other student’s opinions as to what happened.


There is no wrong answer to this case study. It is written to allow the students imaginations and scientific backgrounds come up with the best theory that they can. Anything could have caused the explosion. The students just needed to know how to write their theory and present it to the class. Groups should receive full credit if they were able to work together to form a theory and back their theory up with an explanation when they presented it to the class. Points can be taken off if the students did not all try to come up with a theory or if they were doing something totally off task. Besides that this case study is suppose to engage the students interests and make them see that what they learned can be used in a real life situation.

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