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Low Cost Chemistry Labs
Since most school budgets are tight, what are your ideas for low cost secondary chemistry labs? Also, do you know of anywhere to purchase used analytical lab equipment?
Learning Center Online Advisors
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There is a source in the Learning Center. It is a journal article called "Teaching Through Trade Books: Kitchen Chemistry" by Christine Royce.
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I have made a collection called "Inexpensive Labs" that I would like to share. It contains journal articles and two book excepts from the Frugal Teacher Middle School and the Frugal Teacher Elementary. You can access it at the following location:
I hope you will find it useful.
Adah, The resources you collected for low cost labs is outstanding. I've read the free chapters that NSTA has posted online from the Frugal Science Teacher and love them. I happened to be at a Goodwill Store and found several Easy-Bake ovens that were referred to in the Science Scope article for $2-$3. Now I'm ready to tackle some new labs!
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I am glad you found the collection useful. Students love that kind of activities.
I love this thread, it reminds me that great lessons can be achieved on a dime. I never thought about using Easy Bake ovens! One of my favorite low cost critical thinking activities is to send each student home with a wintergreen lifesaver to investigate the urban legend that if you crunch on a wintergreen lifesaver in the dark, it will make a spark.
I had many students tell me their parents rushed to the store to get a whole bag and the entire family got involved.
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Angelika, you mentioned urban legends...do you ever incorporate lessons based upon the show "Myth-busters"?
Adah, I love the recyling center resource in your collection. I never knew that clean plastic bottles and other materials were available for use by science teachers. The activities such as making the hovercrafts and the teacher demo of air circulation with recycled materials are very creative.
The NSF had a good teacher resource about the science of cooking have anyone ever used it?
I have used and modified these alka seltzer experiements
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I love low cost labs. I have attached a couple of things that I have done. Nothing earth shattering. I have been working on taking my objective and writing one above (more indepth leearning) and one below (beginning learning). I try to align my activities accordingly. After pre assessing my students (the assessment is written to match the levels of objectives), I have an idea of entry points for my students. Hopefully, you can see that in the attached files (a little, at least). It is still very much a work in progress.
CartesianDiver.docx (0.01 Mb)
Density.docx (0.02 Mb)
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I am back at it again. I found more information about low cost labs. I am a strong believer about using stuff that is free or cheap since most teachers have to spend their own money to teach what they need to teach. There are some books in the NSTA library that have chapters that will give you some good ideas. The book is called Take Home Physics Labs and the introductory chapter to this download talks about use of inexpensive materials for a chem lab. The other addition is a journal article called "Materials Repurposed". Ir is about using recycled materials for activities. I use to present a workshop to physics teachers called Dumpster Physics in which I did labs that required stuff I found.
Hope this helps. I will be every vigilante about getting free stuff. I have been known to be able to acquire 400 paper cups in 15 minutes from 4 different fast food vendors to supply a science day activity at a local park.
Enjoy the updated list.
Thank you all for sharing these resources. I think it is wonderful to show students we can perform really exciting science activities from everyday items. I love the CD hover craft idea in The Frugal Science Teacher!
Thank you, Angie
This is a homeschooling site with some interesting ideas
Understanding the need to have low cost safe labs is a way to fulfill a requirement that students do lots of hands-on activities. Safety is an issue as well as cost. One source to look at for inexpensive, safe labs is what is called Ziplock Bag Chemistrty. You c an Google this title and search the net for low-cost and safe what I call Down and Dirty quick labs. I have had students make ice cream in a disposable sandwich bag as well as do chemical reactions in them. It is fun, easy, and really easy to clean up. It is worth the effort searching the Internet for ideas.
I am always interested in finding more information for my collections. I found another article from the NSTA Learning Center library called: May You Live in Interesting Times by Steve Metz in the Editor's Corner from a 2004 Science Teacher. It seems that this issue of Science Teacher (September 2004) is dedicated to "Science on a Shoestring." It would be interesting to go back into the archives and try to locate the articles within it.
This University of Missouri link provides links to elementary chemj activities. Warning not all links are live
I remember when we use to do labs in ZipLoc bags. I foudn an example of that just by searching Google.
You can search with the words baggies, ziploc bag, plastic bag, etc. I used that in middle school because the clean up was easy and you didn't need test tubes and such. It fits into the criteria of low cost and is completely doable. Students focus on the reactions and learn to make observations which is very important at the lower grade levels.
When I found this Web Seminar I knew we couldn't find a lab cheaper than this! NASA/NSTA is hosting The Virtual Lab Web Seminar on 12/2/10, 1/24/11 and 3/15/11.
This Webinar will focus on using free computer programs that simulate a scanning electron miroscope. Selected speimens from life sciences, physical sciences, and Earth and Space Sciences related to current NASA research will be featured.
Registration is free...go to:
Alyce, Thanks for posting about the virtual lab webinar. I'm amazed at the quality of the virtual labs for students, and believe that they have a place in the modern secondary classroom.
IMO, we need to continue provide for quality hands-on laboratory experiments for our students, so they can experience scientific phenomena directly, and build the necessary confidence in their own laboratory techniques.
I will never forget when I taught a 6th grade class physical/chemical changes lab using a candle, tin foil and different substances like baking soda, sugar,water, a little piece of crumpled paper etc. The students had to heat the substance, observe and record whether it was a chemical or a physical change. This little boy wanted to work alone and was mesmerized/intensely focused on his experiment.I will never forget it as long as I live.Individual science fair projects are another way let them experience the thrill of scientific discovery.
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I'd like to piggy-back on this great strand and ask all of you great 'teaching minds' - what activities would you use to teach physical science, not chemistry, with kitchen items, items from the grocery store, or items from the craft store. Let's stay away from using toys. Resources on that are great and at least 3 great books are in the NSTA store. I've always used 'string and sticky tape' activities in addition to cutting edge technology so I am interested in mining for your resources to examine.
Thanks to everyone for chiming in. I'm sure that everyone has at least one 'story' resource to share with me.
:) Patty R
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Simple machines and kitchen tools are great. i.e. Wedge for the knife, a spoon is a lever and so on. The knob on the water faucet is a wheel and axle. I could then take it to other locations around the house. There is a great site for that ccalled Edheads that shows simple machines around the house and garage and tool shed. Kids have to locate the machines.
There is also the physics of the playground that addresses simple machines. The only problem with that is some schools around here have gotten rid of the playground due to lawsuits from parents. That is so sad.
Thank you everyone for your posts on low cost chemistry labs. If I find any myself, I will be sure to post them. :)
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This low cost chemistry resource is an issue of Celebrating Chemistry. Topics include soaps, detergents, water filtration, water chemistry, surface tension, solubility, and bubbles. The 12-page pdf includes seven activities for exploring the properties of water, soap, and detergents. A brief explanation of the chemistry of each activity is included.
This resource is not a complete lesson plan or unit. The activities and information could be incorporated into a lesson or unit on chemical changes and/or the properties of water.
Go to: http://portal.acs.org/portal/fileFetch/C/WPCP_008147/pdf/WPCP_008147.pdf
Enjoy your week! Alyce
What a nice collection of resources! Does anyone have anything they've found particularly useful for middle grades classrooms?
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Yes! I homeschool and used this one year. I printed all materials, one bound copy for me and the student handouts for my boys, using an inexpensive copy website. I loved it so much. There are even free online videos for it.
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Lara asks, "Does anyone have anything they've found particularly useful for middle grades classrooms?"
Hi Lara, I have to admit to not having tried these, but they are two articles from our middle school NSTA science journal. They sounded like what your might be looking for:
Science Sampler: Chemistry in action – Triple delight
No More Leaks: A Process-Oriented Lesson Exploring the Invention and Chemistry of Disposable Diapers
It was fun to use the advanced search feature of the Learning Center to look for some ideas on this topic.
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Well I have spent some time searching for resources. There seems to very little out there specifically referenced as low cost or low budget. It would seem to me that there may be an opportunity for someone to collect, write and or edit something on this topic. It would be most helpful if there were a list of materials that was sourced and priced. One of my favorite current sources albeit far from perfect is "illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments" ISBN 978-0-596-51492-1
"I have made a collection called "Inexpensive Labs" that I would like to share. It contains journal articles and two book excepts from the Frugal Teacher Middle School and the Frugal Teacher Elementary. You can access it at the following location:
I hope you will find it useful." from Adah Stock
Adah, Thanks so much for sharing this with us! I am getting ready to plan our labs for our upcoming chemistry unit, and money is indeed tight this year. I will let you know which labs we use and how things go!
By the way, I am looking for labs that demonstrate the principle of Conservation of Mass. Any ideas?!
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Patty Rourke? I am sure you are the Patty Rourke from PTRA? Who practically invented all physics ideas on a shoe string budget? If not, I apologize for the mistake.
I know it was mentioned above about kitchen utensils for simple machines. I send the students home with an assignment to identify at least 10 simple machines within their house--great things in the kitchen, bathroom and one student identified the stairs as the modified inclined plane that it is.
Screws, nails, washers, etc. make great pendulums (pendula?).
Refrigerator magnets are also very useful for various physics labs.
Cotton, plastics, cloth scraps are good for static electricity labs.
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Hi Susan and Everyone! Susan, I loved the materials used in the Cartesian diver activity you posted earlier. I have always used medicine droppers for the Cartesian divers. Using a straw, rubber band and paper clip is a more economical alternative. Thank you! By the way, could you try your second attachment to see if it is functional. It might just be my computer, but I could not download the density activity.
I just found this website for home science experiments
One low cost lab that you could due is to give students a mixture of salt and sand. This is what I remember from my high school chemistry teacher's lab. Have the students devise an experiment to separate the salt from the sand that is feasible.
So the way that we did this was to put the sand and salt mixture into a beaker of water, heat it up. The salt is soluble so it dissolves in the water, but the sand doesn't. Separate the sand now and then evaporate the water and you'll have the salt all by itself.
It wouldn't cost a lot and it's fairly straightforward and easy to setup - it also teaches students about how there are different methods of separation depending on the substances you are trying to separate.
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This has to be one the best topics I've come across in my short time on the forums. Indeed money is tight and I's always looking for ways to stretch resources in my classroom. The labs on this thread are great and I can't wait to try some of them out in the near future. I like the sand and salt separation lab because it is cheap and living in Hawaii we are surrounded by both. I have also been searching online for the ziploc chemistry labs and some are pretty cool. I have done the ice cream lab with the bags. The only thing I don't like about is all the plastic that gets thrown away, I feel guilty about this so I to minimize my use of plastic bags. We have a problem around the islands with sea turtles consuming plastic bags thinking that they are jellyfish (obviously I don't dispose of the bag in this manner) and some are seriously harmed.
I do use an acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate lab using balloons to teach the concept of limiting reactants. We place different amounts of the bicarbonate in balloons and place the same amount of acetic acid in test tubes and place the balloons over the test tubes. When the balloons are lifted the reaction happens and the balloons inflate. Students get a visual evidence, after a certain amount (when acetic is the limiting reactant) the balloons all inflate to the same volume. I often refer back to this lab when explaining because it is one of those "ah ha" moments for many of the students.
Colin Delos Reyes
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For acids and bases you can use milk of magnesia Mg(OH)2, vinegar and universal indicator or red cabbage juice to show neutralization reactions and talk about balancing. You can also show hydrolysis by hooking up a 9V battery to a petri dish of salt water and indicator. With a little bit of wiring you can show the formation of H2 and O2 since it changes colors due to the indicator.
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These are great resources. Thanks everyone!
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Another resource you might keep in mind is book fairs - my daughters were "trained" to let me know whenever they had books on "science at home" because most of these are also inexpensive science activities - I have about 6-10 of these books I have collected over the years and some are good and some not so much, but all are interesting. One provided labs on determining hard water by using different types of juices and teas to see if they got cloudy or not. There was the ever popular cabbage chemistry, but then it expanded it to try using different foods or household chemicals to see if THOSE were acids or bases.
I also have bought a few lab kits, and I buy replacement chemicals at cost to replace the ones that we use and then I use the spot plates that came with it for other other homemade labs like "mystery powders" (with salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cornstarch with water vinegar iodine) or the acid base lab above. And the world is a much better place with popsickle sticks! they make such great scoops, stirrers, and anything else that shape can help with! For labs that spot plates aren't big enough for, I bought boxes of 1 oz and 2 oz containers at Sam's Club and I have been using them for over decade for lab materials or "beakers" for mini labs.
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It's been a long time but I don't think my email of many months past ever reached you, so I'll try here. Yes, I am an early PTRA person and the only one named Patty Rourke - at least I have never met my clone. Are you active in AAPT or PTRA yet?
What and where are you teaching? It's great to see you active on these forums, too.
I am a fan of Doc Brown's Science pages. These are from the UK so beware of the spelling.
Here is a link to "Cheap and Interesting Chemistry Practicals" (Practicals = Labs)
Pam, I loved the Doc Brown's Chemistry site. Thank you!
I just finished reading and reviewing a neat journal article called, "Korean Kimchi Chemistry". If you don't mind your lab smelling of a little sauerkraut, this is a fairly inexpensive way to teach fermentation. I would love to have all of these great ideas in one big collection in the Learning Center. Anyone game for creating it?
Has anyone had a chance to look at the new Gourmet Labs book in its entirety? The chapter provided for free has promise, but it looks like there may be a bit of overlap. The pretzel lab covered a lot of concepts, and could be fun in a hands-on environment.
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I would love to participate such a venture! I really get into hands-on, low cost stuff. I taught the course last summer!
How do you see it going? There is so much out there, and so many disciplines.
Hi Jennifer. I guess I would start by coming up with 3 or 4 categories under Inexpensive Labs that would take in all the ideas shared in this thread. Say Inexpensive Labs for Teaching Density, Inexpensive Labs for Teaching Chemical Reactions, Inexpensive Labs for Teaching ... etc.
I will read through these posts, too, and we can share what we 'see'.
In the meantime, I just found a new low cost chem lab (about chemical bonding or polymers) that has not been shared yet: Hydrogel Beads: The New Slime Lab?
To return wayyyy back to the beginning of this forum...
Also, do you know of anywhere to purchase used analytical lab equipment?
You might try checking with any local pharmaceutical, agricultural research or other chemistry type company in your area. In my area, Eli Lilly has one day a year when they are disposing of old labware and any teacher can go through it and take what they need for school for free. If they don't have a day for schools, they might still be able to provide you with materials they are replacing if you ask. Try checking with the public relations department or any outreach/resource people.
Excellent resources all. Thanks for sharing.
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If you are tight on money for your lab you could also go to donorschoose.org. This is a website where you could apply for equipment and supplies for your class. Hope this helps.
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Thank you Adah for such great resources. I try to find labs that aren't too expensive and that also don't require too many consumables. I like to substitute reusable items for ones such as gummy bears or gum drops. The few free chapters in The Frugal Teacher has enticed me to invest in these books.
As Alyce posted, virtual labs are even cheaper. I have implemented a few in my curriculum and I have found that not all virtual labs are created equal. Some are awesome and truly simulate a lab, but others are just click and copy. Prentice Hall has created some good labs which students are guided but take the role of the scientist manipulate the virtual equipment.
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Not anything new as far as ideas go, but I've always done microscale versions of lab experiments whenever possible. A plastic page protector works well as a "reaction surface" (Lots cheaper than well plates!) and you can slip a paper of whatever contrasting color as the background. Works well for things like solubility - slip in a piece of black construction paper, and any precipitates become readily visible with just a drop or two of your reactants. I went 4-years on the same 300mL or so bottles of reagents for one particular lab without having to reorder, and there was still at least half the bottle left when I left that behind to transfer to teaching at a new school. The "kit" the reagents originally came with said that there were enough for one class of 30 working in pairs - I stretched it to well over 24 classes of 30 working in pairs. =) If you're looking at color changes (like with indicators), switch to a sheet of white paper instead. It's a versatile thing - with kids who struggle to keep data organized (I teach inclusion classes with Special Ed students mixed in and this is a huge problem sometimes), you can even print out a sample data table to slip in and they can use that as a guide to keep track of what was mised with what. Much less chemical waste, much less risk of spills (especially if you give your students prefilled plastic pipettes!) and easy clean up too: a quick wipe down with a dry paper towel followed by a damp one, and clean-up is done! It can be a hassle to label and prefill the plastic pipettes, but once they're set-up once, it's a matter of just refilling them for the next round and you can keep using the same ones over and over again.
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Some of the science supply has have occasional lists of low cost labs. I have to constantly comb every area for labs since we do not have much of a science lab and our budget is almost non-existent in our high school. I am new and discovered that we did not have a whole lot of supplies or equipment. We have done things like the putty lab and an antacid lab. Mostly what I can afford to buy out of my pocket and since I have such a massive salary I must keep it cheap.
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Not a lab, but an interesting problem solving...I got this from a friend. She has her students use a drinking cup and fill it with water, get the mass. Then, students drink from the cup, and remass the cup with remaining water. Students are then to compute the number of molecules of water that they swallowed. A second problem is to give students a piece of chalk. Students mass the chalk. The students are to write with the chalk. Once done, get a new mass. Once again students are to calculate the number of molecules of calcium carbonate they used in writing with the chalk.
As I stated before, not a lab...but definitely a bit more interesting problem for them to solve than problems out of a book. Also, definitely low cost. It also should go without saying about safety concerns related to students drinking water - not done in the lab room, use cups fresh from the bag that have not been sitting around the classroom, use a scale that is clean, etc.
I have found this web resource that you may find interesting:
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