Chemistry

Engaging First Day of School Chemistry Activities or Labs

I am a preservice chemistry teacher currently in student teaching. I was wondering if anyone wanted to share any activities or labs that they use during the first few days of school to really grab the students attention and make them wonder about all of the amazing chemistry they will learn in the upcoming year! Thanks!

Rachel Hill
Rachel Zeigler
2415 Activity Points

Flinn chem fax The red plague is a great activity involves contamination and safety.

Jacki Kyle
Jacki Kyle
10 Activity Points

Folks have shared some fun ideas for the first day! I wanted to share a Point of View written in 2013 that discusses the importance of making an impression on the first day. 

https://common.nsta.org/resource/default?id=10.2505%2f4%2fjcst13_043_01_12

Emily Faulconer
Emily Faulconer
4755 Activity Points

  • teacher demos - acid on an old sock, acid on an eyeball (local butcher shop), contrast the difference between a bobby pin in a flame and a strip of magnesium in a flame (dont set the smoke detectors off!)
  • student labs - rainbow solution density mystery (yes, it's middle school like, but it works for the first day of school to get high schoolers thinking), kinetics temperature lab with alka-seltzer tablets (simple, hypothesis, data collection in tables and graphs, conclusion, etc)

~Cristina

Cristina Welch
Cristina Welch
400 Activity Points

Hi Rachel,
There is a discussion thread titled, "Chemistry Animations, Games,and Simulations" that might have some ideas for you. I personally like to use discrepant events to engage the students right away. There are several chemistry ones to choose from depending on what unit you will be studying first. Steve Spangler's website shares several.
Carolyn

Carolyn Mohr
Carolyn Mohr
86483 Activity Points

I made turmeric paper at the end of summer (mix about 1 T ground turmeric in about 1-2 cups of rubbing alcohol, pour into shallow dish and dip paper in it, then hang up to dry). This is what the old goldenrod paper was made of, but it doesn't appear to be made anymore. Its an acid-base indicator. Spray with a basic solution (ammonia) and it turns bright red color temporarily. Paint on a baking soda mix and it the red is permanent. I created a banner by taping several sheets together and wrote "Welcome to Chemistry" with paraffin wax, then sprayed with ammonia solution to reveal the message. I then had the students create name tags with the paper so I could learn their names and they could do some chemistry. I also did the "Opening Day Signs For Chemistry" from a Flinn ChemFax. This one reveals three different faces: CheMisery, CheMystery, and Chemistry. You can find that one on the Flinn's elearning video series for opening day activities. You can find those here: http://elearning.flinnsci.com/ I also had them do a traditional "separation of a mixture" lab at the end of the first week. This was just a mixture of sand, salt, seeds (I used pumpkin) and iron fillings. They had to devise a procedure for separating the mixture into four pure substances. I put out a bunch of miscellaneous equipment for them to use (beakers, stir rods, spatulas, magnets, filter paper, funnels, etc). This engaged them in inquiry right away and introduced the science notebooks where I had them create a flow chart of their procedure. The kids enjoyed it ...

Rebecca Falin
Rebecca Falin
71510 Activity Points

Great ideas! Thanks so much.

Kathleen Willson
Kathleen Willson
10 Activity Points

I purchased this paper on Amazon (in 2012) and it worked like the goldenrod paper did. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00125FBC4/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1 -Sharla

Sharla Dowding
Sharla Dowding, NBCT
1135 Activity Points

Ótima atividade

Marcos Aurélio Silva
Marcos Aurélio
2907 Activity Points

Hi All: I use to start the year off with a bang. I uses smoke bombs and simple firecrackers (outdoors of course.) We used sparklers as well. I informed my students that this was indeed chemistry but that we were going to enjoy the rest of the year as well. Most of my students expected chemistry of explosives. Another way to engage them is to use Discrepant Events to start the year. They are fun and confounding for students. Here is an article about it: http://bcramond.myweb.uga.edu/home/DiscrepantEvents.htm Here are some examples of them: http://www.learner.org/workshops/chemistry/workshop4/4_4.html There are several books with discrepant events: http://www.teachersource.com/product/invitations-to-science-inquiry-by-tik-liem/books-music-software and the NSTA bookstore has others: http://books.google.com/books/about/Brain_powered_Science.html?id=oWhy72Kghy8C Hope this helps. Adah

Adah Stock
Adah Stock
101510 Activity Points

Hi Adah! My name is Anna, I am a student at a university working on getting my teaching certfication. I was just wondering reading your post was it hard to get permission to use these items with your students? It sounds like it would be alot of fun!

Anna Ward
Anna Ward
1010 Activity Points

  • always put safety first and stick to a smaller demo
  • go over what could go wrong/hazards with students in advance (have them write it down)
  • have an appropriate extinguisher ready
  • consider the following statement: "Sometimes it's better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission."  While I definitely support this statement, I think that this mentallity should be minimized when with dealing with students in an enclosed setting.

~Cristina

Cristina Welch
Cristina Welch
400 Activity Points

Anna, To use fireworks and smoke bombs, you would need to make sure you informed your administrator so that he or she knew what you were going to be doing. Most administrators will allow you to use a variety of teaching techniques as long as they follow standards of best practice and you can tie your activity to a learning objective. You would also need to check with your local ordinances. Many areas of the country have laws limiting the use of fireworks (meaning they can only be used at certain times during the year). You would also not want to use fireworks if your area was under a burn ban. The links to the discrepant events that Adah listed would be very easy to use with a class. They use easily obtained supplies and would fit well in a number of classroom settings.

Ruth Hutson
Ruth Hutson
63530 Activity Points

Anna: In answer to your question, I did everything in small scale. With this said I didn't ask permission but felt I was not endangering my students because our room was next to the building exit. However, one time I did alert my principal and vp of the use of smoke to show convection in my middle school class, we actually had a student try to set the auditorium curtains on fire and they thought it was smoke generated by my demo. That could have been a very dangerous situation since they assumed the smoke they were smelling was due to my demo and they took a few minutes to check it out before pulling the fire alarm. Adah

Adah Stock
Adah Stock
101510 Activity Points

I start off the year with Fire Writing Demo. Make a saturated solution of KNO3 (potassium nitrate) - about 100 mL will serve you for several years. Using a Q-tip or small paint brush, I write a message (like Chem Rocks) on a 3-ft long strip of paper towel. Make sure all the letters connect somehow when writing it. (Think Cursive) It will dry and be invisible. Then I tape it to a wall (fortunately, I have a brick wall in my classroom.) Holding a match to a starting point, the portion impregnated with potassium nitrate will burn and the rest should be un-burned.

Maureen Driscoll
Maureen Driscoll
210 Activity Points

I like these suggestions!

Abby Nunez
Abby Nunez
890 Activity Points

These are all great ideas!  I have one I'd like to add; it is not chemistry specific but good for any course that helps student develop problem solving skills.  Typically on the first or second day of the semester the students enter the classroom to find that ice has been set out and melting.  I use a ring stand, iron ring, and a funnel with ice dripping into a beaker.  I typically allow the ice to melt at least an hour before students arrive so that enough has melted into water in the beaker.  Their task is to work in pairs or small groups and devise a plan to determine when the ice started to melt (or was taken out of the freezer).  They are allowed to use any materials I have available in the lab/classroom and they must carry out their plan.  They are also expected to write their procedure and collect data, show calculations, etc. that is needed to determine the time.  This is a great way for you to get to know your students early on in the semester and also for them to get to know each other to solve problems together.  It is also great because it is inexpensive, allows students to be creative, and since no background content knowledge is needed it can easily be done on the first day of class.

Nate Cline
Nate Cline
80 Activity Points

Nice!  I like this idea.  This is my 5th year teaching.  I might use this next semester.

~Cristina

Cristina Welch
Cristina Welch
400 Activity Points

What supplies did you have out for them to use?

What are the "usual" solutions that they come up with?

Renee McHatton
Renee McHatton
10 Activity Points

Hi Adah! you suggested some great resources! I too found these helpful as a preservice teacher. Thank you!

Judy Avellaneda
Judy Avellaneda
1245 Activity Points

This is a fabulous resource and goes into the chemistry behind the demonstrations. http://ocw.mit.edu/high-school/chemistry/demonstrations/videos/

Michelle Ruane
Michelle Ruane
745 Activity Points

I used to be on the lookout for thrilling first day demonstrations, which I loved doing.  I gradually found out that high school students who signed up for high school chemistry came into class interested...but scared to death of passing the class. Now days I spend the first three sessions giving them some structures and initial successes and let them settle in before I give them a "Wow" lab.

My first lab is really simple, the reaction of Iron nails with Copper Sulfate solution in a petri dish, but it allows them to practice safety rules in the context of an actual chemistry lab while doing a colorful lab. Every year I gather from student comments that they find the lab very interesting even though I think its pretty basic.

Brien Sparling
Brien Sparling
20 Activity Points

I agree with you about allowing students to do a lab or two before you wow them with your chemical prowess. You are so right that many students are concerned with passing the course. As neat as a demonstration is, early in the course can be very intimidating to many students.

The first lab I do with my chemistry students is a modification of the Flinn Scientific Acid in the Eye demonstration.  Students add two drops of concentrated acid to a raw egg in a disposable petri dish. I typically use hydrochloric acid. They make observations of the changes to the egg over the class period and then leave them overnight to see what happens.  

This lab is very simple as well.  However, it drives home the importance of wearing safety goggles and other safety attire in the lab.  We also have a great discussion about the use of models in the classroom.  We spend another class period comparing our egg model to the human eye in terms of chemical composition and surface area affected by the acid.  After that lab, I never have students argue about wearing safety equipment. 

The first demonstration I do for the class happens several days later when explaining the importance of disposable of chemicals properly.  I explain that students should always show care when dumping clear chemicals down the sink or into glassware just left in the sink from a previous period. Then I proceed to do the Elephant Toothpaste demonstration, but I don't tell them what it is.  I just use it to prove my point which is dispose of your chemicals in the method your teacher instructs you to do. 

Ruth Hutson
Ruth Hutson
63530 Activity Points

Hello there! I just worked with my co-teacher to do an awesome lab to start out the year. It's a three bottle problem where the students work in pairs to determine which of their solutions matches those of their labmate by mixing them in plastic well plates. For example, A = 2, B = 3, C = 1, where one student has A - C and the other has 1 -3. They should both mix their solutions together (A+B, B+C, A+C, 1+2, 2+3, 1+3) to then match them effectively. The solutions to use are alum, sodium bicarbonate, and vinegar. One combination yields no reaction, one yields bubbles, and one yields a white precipitate. The chemicals are inexpensive and safe for a first-day lab. I hope this helps!

Eric Lindley
Eric Lindley
400 Activity Points

What a great idea Eric! So simple with easy and safe chemicals. Thanks for sharing! 

Debbie Morgan
Debbie Morgan
934 Activity Points

Would love to know the title of this lab or where it can be found or purchased. I just began teaching at a private school teaching all HS sciences and have limited materials. Need to find labs that work with common inexpensive materials. 

Dee Dee Lambert
Dee Dee Lambert
10 Activity Points

  • Ótima idéia

Marcos Aurélio Silva
Marcos Aurélio
2907 Activity Points

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