Science Lessons that Create the Right Chemistry!

Mix it up in your classroom with some chemistry investigations!

By Jennifer Sinsel

Chemistry lesson plans

If there’s one thing kids love, it’s mixing different things together to “see what happens.”  You can put containers filled with different liquids and powders in front of a group of students, and various “experiments” will immediately commence! However, without a little direction, most children won’t go further than combining chemical after chemical until they have one large gooey mess! This is where science comes in – teachers can facilitate proper scientific process while still capitalizing upon the natural tendency of our students to explore chemical substances.

Most students don’t realize that the science of mixing things is actually called “chemistry.”  Obviously, the actual definition is a bit more complicated, but you can easily explain to them that chemists are interested in the characteristics of different substances, what they are made of, and how they react when combined.  If your students go about working with chemicals in a scientific way, they are acting like chemists.

One of my favorite activities involving chemistry is integrated into a unit on forensic science.  In this activity, groups of three or four students are given six powders:  flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, corn starch, and baby powder. Their job is to make careful observations of each powder by doing various tests to determine how they are different, and how they are alike.  We set up a chart similar to the following:

Powder

Color

Texture

Reaction to water

Reaction to vinegar

Reaction to iodine

Flour

 

 

 

 

 

Baking Soda

 

 

 

 

 

Salt

 

 

 

 

 

Sugar

 

 

 

 

 

Corn Starch

 

 

 

 

 

Baby Powder

 

 

 

 

 

Students use eye droppers to place drops of water, vinegar, and iodine on a small sample of each powder, and they carefully record their observations on the chart. The following day, students arrive in the classroom to find the back corner sealed off with yellow DO NOT CROSS tape and several broken pieces of school equipment behind it. I inform them that there was a break-in the previous night, and the only evidence found was some powder left at the scene of the crime. Witnesses placed several individuals near the school around the time the break-in occurred. Suspects include Dusty Haise, a local student who was recently suspended for writing graffiti in the bathrooms; Sandy Wich, owner of the local donut shop; Sharon Toise, a day care provider; and Les Ismore, a city worker who happened to be salting the sidewalks around the school in preparation for a snowstorm.

My students’ job is to figure out the type of powder found, provide a written report of the evidence, and come up with a theory of who the most likely perpetrator of the crime could be based on their findings. Depending on the age and ability of your students, you can even mix two or more powders together – I usually mix flour and baking soda together, which can be identified with an iodine test (flour turns black), and vinegar test (baking soda will fizz). This leads many students to correctly infer that the criminal is Sandy Wich, the owner of the donut shop.  For added fun, I read aloud her “confession” after she’s confronted with the evidence. Here are some more lessons to make chemistry interesting for your students.

Science Lesson Plans:

What is That White Stuff?

Students identify, through experimentation, the properties of a substance, and figure out what it is. They determine what the variables tested should be, identify constants and variables of the experiment, and conduct an experiment with measurable, recorded results. They then draw a conclusion and decide what the mystery substance could be from the data collected. They support their conclusion with their findings.

Polymer Fun

Students examine and determine properties of polymers. They explore basic concepts of polymer chemistry and work in groups to produce a polymer( slime). In addition, they list examples of every day polymers and their benefits.

The Chemistry of Ceramics

Students compare the characteristics of clay, before and after it has been fired. They discuss the physical and chemical changes that occur in the clay as it is heated, and then create their own clay sculpture. This lesson includes activities that can be used at a variety of grade levels.

Nailing Rust

Students work in pairs and go on a walking tour of the school grounds to look for evidence of physical and chemical changes. They then record their findings on a Change Chart. Pupils complete two experiments related to the rusting process and write a story pretending they are nails resting on a sponge. They describe the changes taking place on their metallic bodies.

Ice Energy

Students observe the chemical reaction that occurs when salt is put on ice, and use the energy that is released to make ice cream.

 


Elementary Science Guide

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Jennifer Sinsel