This year’s National Chemistry Week (NCW) crime-based theme of “Solving Mysteries Through Chemistry” captured everyone’s interest! Our ChemClub is part of Prince of Peace, a K through 12 Catholic school on the Mississippi River, in Clinton, Iowa. With all grades located in the same building, the elementary students were able to come to the science lab for NCW. It was a chance for them to wear goggles and be crime detectives. They did tests with fiber, fingerprints, and blood. My students discovered that they like teaching!
The first group of kids just left the building, and I wait patiently for the next group of second and third graders to enter. It’s a chance to think, a chance to reflect on what I’ve attempted to teach and how the kids reacted. I oftentimes wonder if anything that I say is transferred, if any of the students understand.
Maybe I could have worded that better.
This thought always races through my head, as I’m constantly looking for a better way to teach to reach more kids. I change my wording this time. Better?
In Fall 2014, Tanque Verde High School ChemClub members had an opportunity to work with 3rd grade students in our school district presenting activities about polymers provided by the American Chemical Society. We were assigned to a specific 3rd grade teacher at two elementary schools in Tucson, Ariz. (Aqua Caliente Elementary School and Tanque Verde Elementary School). For some of our veteran ChemClub members it was a second chance to work with elementary school kids.
It took us two weeks to build kits for the students to use during the outreach, as well as to practice our presentation. Most of the ideas were from the “Jiggle Gels” guide, but we included an activity to illustrate cross-linking and expanded the demo to show the making of artificial snow.
Everyone was expecting us at the elementary schools. Kids were very excited seeing us with the boxes full of materials and could not wait for us to start. In all of the excitement, lots of water got spilled on the tables. Luckily we were prepared and brought additional supplies with us!
Sodium Polyacrylate Polymer
Kids were completely stunned by the first demonstration where the water poured into a series of cups seemed to disappear when the cups were inverted. The students were even more interested in this demo when we showed them how properties of sodium polyacrylate polymer made this possible. It was a very good opening to the outreach presentation because this demo caught the students’ attention and made them want to experiment with that substance.
They really liked working with pipets and studying the properties of the sodium polyacrylate polymer.
For our next demo, we made artificial snow. That was a big hit! Everyone was fascinated with it, many saying things like “Wow! It even feels cold and wet like snow” and one student even tried to make off with a handful of the snow before we caught him.
Distributing the Gro-Dinosaurs for a graphing activity was a good break for the kids because they could remove their goggles for a while. But no one complained when we told them to put the goggles back on. They were so excited to make slime!
For the Super Slime activity most of students handled the pipet and borax solutions very well and had no trouble deciding quickly who would stir and who would add the solution. They loved the slime they had created and we could barely get some of them to divide it and store it in plastic bags so they could take it home later.
To help 3rd graders to understand how slime is made, we had a cross-linking activity. We had volunteers to wear green tags with “X-link” written on them. All other students made chains by holding hands, and the kids with the cross-link tags were grabbing to the chains.
Water, Pencils and a Plastic Bag
During the final demo we compared two plastic bags made of different polymers. Kids couldn’t believe that the PVA plastic was dissolving in water. Then we put water into a regular plastic bag to show them that it had different properties. We did this by poking sharp pencils into the bag, but this plastic is so elastic the holes made by the pencils didn’t leak. I had to refrain from laughing when almost every single kid flinched as the presenter stabbed the first pencil through the water filled bag. To be completely honest, I was actually silently praying that the bag wouldn’t rip and spill all over the floor. By the looks of him, the student presenting this was thinking the same thing.
Our students reacted enthusiastically to every part of our presentation, and their comments were the best part of the day. We kept the students engaged with jokes and hands-on demonstrations, both of which they loved. One student cheered “You guys are the most awesome people! You do all the cool stuff!” and another proclaimed “I love chemistry!” I am particularly fond of the second comment, because the girl and many of her peers were taking a genuine interest in chemistry. When we asked “Do you guys want to know how slime works?” the class shouted their approval. The participation was amazing. Whenever we asked a question, nearly everyone raised his or her hand with a grin and enthusiastic expressions. Even as their eagerness peaked, they remained respectful and followed our directions. We kept things interesting, and they did not dare turn away from us because they truly wanted to do more, and know more about what they were doing. Even beyond that, they wanted us to come back because they wanted to know even more about chemistry and what we could do with it.
My favorite part of this activity was working with the students and being able to see their reactions. One student even asked me an in-depth question about the workings of chemistry, which was very exciting to see in someone so young. I loved being able to see how enthusiastic these young students were about learning about chemistry.
During the cleanup, one of the boys walked up to me and asked “Are you going to be here every day?” I was caught off guard and had to ask “Do you mean for the rest of the year?” He nodded eagerly and I, myself, was disappointed to tell him we weren’t. After he sat at his desk a girl came up to me and said “I hope you come back next year! This is really fun.” I couldn’t help but grin and assured her that we’d be back.
I have discovered that third-graders can be surprising in what they do and do not know, so presenters should be prepared for both insights and unexpected questions. I’ve had a great time and could see the enjoyment in the kids. I hope that one day, they follow with the foundations we laid for them and join the ChemClub themselves!
The planet Earth is our shared home with a vast number of other living organisms, so it is humanity’s duty to try to conserve it the best we can. To promote awareness of the necessity of keeping our planet healthy, people around the world celebrate Earth Day annually on April 22. In celebration of this ideal to keep our planet clean, chemists from all around the island of Puerto Rico gathered in El Paseo de La Princesa, in Old San Juan, San Juan, to highlight “The Wonders of Water,” this year’s American Chemical Society (ACS) Chemists Celebrate Earth Day theme.
Members of different ACS clubs throughout the island got together and prepared more than 20 tables with exhibits and demonstrations involving the physical and chemical properties of water, as well as explaining the importance it has not only for us humans, but for every other living being on our planet. Natives, tourists, and club members all had the chance to participate.
Students from the Specialized School in Science and Math Thomas Armstrong Toro in Ponce couldn’t miss this amazing opportunity. Ten students from the school’s ChemClub set up and helped at the school’s table, explaining the experiments and demonstrations. The explanations were fitted to the audience, from explaining to children how water and oil “don’t get along” to discussing cohesion and adhesion with advanced participants. It was also imperative that the students spoke both English and Spanish, allowing them to communicate efficiently with not only the natives, but tourists from other countries as well.
Three demonstrations that stood out were:
Participants were urged to attempt to float a paper clip in a cup of water. A few were able to achieve this. Here a student explained how best to do it, as well as how the liquid is able to keep the paper clip afloat.
Oil and water
Oil and water were put in a clear glass and food coloring was added. After this, an Alka-Seltzer tablet was placed in it. In the water, the tablet reacted to produce carbon dioxide gas. Bubbles of carbon dioxide gas carried droplets of water upward through the oil, producing an effect like a lava lamp. Children were urged to take home a small test tube with the mix with their parents’ permission. A version of this activity is online at Lava Lamp.
Soft and hard water
The procedure was to mix water with magnesium sulfate in a water bottle, leave another water bottle full of water intact, and then add dishwashing soap to both. The participants were asked if, after shaking the bottles vigorously, they knew which water was the hard water. Many noticed how the softer water had much more bubbles than the hard one.
The conservation of planet Earth should be one of the most important things on our agenda these days, as each day pollution worsens the situation for everyone. We all have to remember that our one little drop of water can make an enormous difference in a sea of people, and we can all contribute to a better world, one way or another.
ChemClub members at Tanque Verde High School (TVHS) in Tucson, AZ, recently participated in the 2014 Tucson Earth Day Festival. The festival is an annual event full of opportunities to showcase local science and environmental programs. We joined forces with our Southern Arizona ACS Local Section to prepare hands-on activities and displays for the public to highlight Chemists Celebrate Earth Day (CCED).
TVHS students brought several demonstrations related to the current CCED theme, “Wonders of Water,” to share. Groups of TVHS students rotated through the day to teach visitors about different properties of water. Our hands-on activities explored the cohesive and adhesive properties of water, changes in surface tension, and conductivity of water. We also collaborated to prepare a water filtration demo to display at the ACS booth. The greatest challenge for this outreach activity was the outdoor location—since the festival takes place in the park, we needed to battle the elements—sun and wind!
For many of our visitors it was a chance to become a scientist for a day, wear goggles, use pipets and a conductivity meter, perhaps for the first time ever!