When I taught science at a local school the rate for me being able to successfully demonstrate experiments was nearly 0%. Oh, yes, I had a few that were successful, but only a handful. Part of the issue was that the textbook that we were using required resources that we really didn’t have available and I couldn’t afford to buy the supplies. What stands out most clearly in my mind was me saying to the class,”Let’s read about the experiment.” Not very hands- on.
As you can imagine, the thought of teaching science with experiments to my own children wasn’t met with all that much confidence. But, I was determined that my children would not see my hesitancy when it came to doing them and I resolved to do better than when I taught my 6th grade students. Good news! I had a much better success rate teaching my sons and I actually looked forward to teaching experiments. In fact, I had such a confidence boost that I now teach Earth/Space Science to 8th grade students at a home school program and we do experiments. (successfully too) Victory- huzzah!
What is my secret to success? (For just 29.99 you can buy my book and find out- just kidding.) I started out slowly and simply. I began with elementary non-fiction science literature from the library, naturalist programs at parks,community science programs, and slowly ventured out on my own. I made sure I picked experiment books that had detailed instructions and explanations for me as well as my children. Did all of the experiments work? Of course not, but I just kept on trying. I figured some experiments are better than none and that failure is part of “experimenting”.
Some of my home school experiments make for great stories; I hope you don’t mind me indulging. My sons were about 6 and 9 at the time this science success/flop occurred. We had successfully completed the experiment where you have a clean empty 2 liter bottle and you put a small amount of vinegar in the bottom of it. You then fill a 9 inch balloon with a prescribed amount of baking soda using a funnel. After you have completed that, you hold the baking soda-filled balloon in one hand while keeping the ballon pinched closed and place the lip of the balloon over the opening of the 2 liter bottle. You release the neck of the balloon and proceed to gently shake a small amount of baking soda into the bottle so that it mixes with the vinegar. You stand back as the remaining baking soda falls into the vinegar and watch the chemical reaction that begins to occur. Ta-da! You have a terrific visual demonstration of carbon dioxide gas inflating the balloon. It worked beautifully and we were all beaming at our little inflated balloon.
But, I was a bit disappointed, okay, majorly disappointed because the balloon was so tiny. I thought to myself,”I have a bigger balloon than was called for in the experiment so I can just add more and really make that balloon inflate!” So, after I cleaned up the first experiment I decided to triple the amounts of vinegar and baking soda since bigger is better, right? 🙂 It was beautiful as the 12 inch balloon began to expand, growing larger and larger. In fact, the balloon had so much carbon dioxide gas that it began to lift off of the kitchen counter.
“Wow! This is awesome!” I shouted to my sons. Malcolm was just as excited as I was, while Ian on the other hand, wasn’t so sure.
“Mom, the balloon is getting pretty big! Don’t you think we ought to just pull it off?” he asked with an edge of apprehension in his voice.
“No, I am sure it’s just about finished. ” as I said while I continued holding the 2 liter bottle in my hand to keep it from floating in the air. “Don’t worry- the balloon won’t—”
BANG! A huge explosion sounded in my ear as the contents of the baking soda-filled balloon went shooting all over me and my kitchen like a fireworks display. Baking soda had spewed all over my hair,face, and clothing as well as all over the cabinets, ceiling and fan. The boys were safe as they had just moved away from me and my experiment just a minute prior to my reassurance. I did have a small amount of doubt and had them move for safety’s safe- good thing, huh?
“I told you!” was the response from Ian, while Malcolm said, “Cool! Can we do it again?”
TIP: Follow the instructions carefully- even if it seems a bit under-dramatic. Unless, of course, you like explosions and messes; you learn from them as well. 😉 You don’t need bunsen burners, graduated cylinders, but a pair of safety goggles would be a good idea. The main thing is to experiment. Make predictions, don’t be afraid to try,and get messy. After all, you can clean up later and if you have a crazy thing happen you can laugh about it with your science partners. (your children)
Science Books I used every one of these books with my budding chemists.
Fizz, Bubble and Flash!: Element explorations and Atom Adventures, Anita Brandolini (grades 4-7) A great book I used for a chemistry overview. I even impressed the window salesman with facts about argon and kryptonite when he came. (Home school mom show-off!)
Super Science Concoctions: 50 Mysterious Mixtures for Fabulous Fun, Jill Frankel Hauser (grades 1-4) This is a fun book for exploring chemistry.
Janice VanCleave’s Chemistry for Every Kid, Janice VanCleave (grades 4-8) I love this series ___________ for Every Kid (moms too!) Her experiments work and the explanations she gives make sense.
Here are some websites with fun, free experiments.
Fizzing and Foaming A science experiment using baking soda and vinegar. You can create your own volcanoes as well.
ZOOM Lots of fun experiments to do based upon the PBS Kids show Zoom.
Countertop Chemistry Experiments that be done in your kitchen with easily accessible ingredients.