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I made ScienceFix.com to share my favorite demos that I do in my middle school science classes.  

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Media that I like...
  • Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Moon
    Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Moon
    by Sara Howard
  • NOVA - Origins
    NOVA - Origins
    starring Neil Degrasse Tyson
  • Human Body: Pushing the Limits
    Human Body: Pushing the Limits
    starring Bray Poor
Tuesday
Aug182009

Video Demo: Sodium in Water

The alkali metals are highly reactive since they have one valence electron. One of those metals is sodium. It needs to give up one electron to become stable. When a cubic centimeter sized piece of sodium is placed into water, a vigorous chemical reaction occurs in which sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and hydrogen gas is produced. Wikipedia provides an excellent description of what happens during the reaction.

Sodium reacts exothermically with water: small pea-sized pieces will swim around the surface of the water until they are consumed by it, whereas large pieces will explode. While sodium metal reacts with water, you can observe that the sodium piece melts with the heat of the reaction to form a perfect sphere shape if the reacting sodium is small enough. The reaction with water produces very caustic sodium hydroxide and highly flammable hydrogen gas. In any case these are considered an extreme hazard and will cause severe skin and eye injury.

In the video below a small pea sized piece of sodium is placed into water. It does ignite and explode. To avoid an explosion ice water should be used. To avoid ignition a safer method can be used in which a layer of mineral oil is placed on top of the water. The mineral doesn’t react with the sodium and prevents ignition.

For a safer sodium demo, fill a large graduated cylinder with and equal portion of water and mineral oil. The mineral oil will be on top. When sodium metal is dropped into the cylinder it won’t react with the mineral oil and when it touches the surface of the water, it reacts briefly to produce hydrogen gas bubbles, thus causing it to rise back up into the mineral oil.

Wednesday
Aug122009

My Pledge to Parents

One of my goals entering this new school year is to improve the teacher/parent relationship. After 15 years of teaching I have met many wonderful supporting parents, but I have to admit my view on parents has been tarnished by the few less than capable parents that I have encountered during that time. So I here is what I will pledge to all parents this coming school year.

  1. I will acknowledge that you know your son/daughter better than I do. I only have your child for 45 min a day. Granted, I see them in a different social context that you do, you actually have spent 11-12 years with them and you probably have more in depth knowledge of what they are like. I will use your insight to better help your son/daughter.
  2. As a student you have experienced many years of the education system and it may have been a negative and or positive experience and many of your fears and expectations are based on that. What you need the most is all the facts and information. The more information I can give you, the better you can make decisions. I will give you all the information about policies, procedures, standards, testing, grading, resources about my class and the school.
  3. I will contact you more. I will give you the positive information and the negative information, preferably in that order. I will do this mostly by email, since it more efficient than phone calls and more personable than the robotic phone dialing system that our school uses. Too often what you tell students during the day is not communicated on to the parent. I need to bridge that communication gap.
  4. I will respond to emails in a timely manner. During a busy school day it's easy to forget that you had to respond to that parent's email. On the flip side I will pledge to not respond quickly to a negative parent email. There needs to be a cooling off period, so that I can calmly and rationally respond to a hostile email. Sometimes it requires a good night's sleep and then cooler heads will prevail.
  5. I will presume positive intent. I will not prejudge the parent when the son/daughter does not meet expectations. Parents, you have the most challenging job in the world and you want only what is best for your child. I always need to remember that, and you are probably 10 times more frustrated with the situation than the teacher is.

I'm sure as the year goes on that I will have to adjust my pledge, but I think that this will be a good start and hopefully will lead to some good learning.

Wednesday
Aug122009

Video Demo: Flour Fireball

When chemicals burn, it is really a chemical reaction between the substance and the oxygen in the air. When substances do not get enough oxygen, they don’t burn completely. Below is a video of 30 ml of flour exposed to a flame. Only a small fraction of the flour burns, while the rest does not. The surface area of the flour is quite small and needs to be spread out.

If the flour particles spread farther out from each other, more oxygen will be able to react with them. The following demo does just that.

The three pictures below show the required materials.

Place the pie tin with candles on a chair so that the pie tin sticks out a few feet. The meter stick can be kept in place by placing a few books on it. Measure out about 50 ml of flour and place into the sifter. Stand on a chair and sift the flour so that it falls onto the candles. Caution: Wear goggles, lab coat (or apron), and keep flammable materials away. Have a fire extinguisher close by just in case. Do not use too much flour!

Tuesday
Aug112009

Video Demo: Colorful Water Electrolysis

In my class students learn about chemical reactions and also the difference between elements and compounds. Students learn that the 5 signs of a chemical reaction are: 1) color change 2) gas production 3) precipitation 4) temperature change 5) change in properties (smell, texture, taste, density, etc.) Students also learn that compounds are chemicals that have 2 or more elements bonded together, such as water. In this demonstration, students observe water undergoing a chemical reaction, and breaking apart into hydrogen and oxygen gas. This demonstration can be done on an overhead projector so that all students can view it easily. The materials needed for the demonstration are shown below.

This is a simple demo that doesn’t require any special equipment. As the electricity goes through the water, molecules of hydrogen gas and oxygen gas form at the separate ends. The bromothymol blue solution changes color only at one of the ends, indicating the gasses are not the same. More hydrogen gas bubbles appear on one of the ends as oxygen gas bubbles on the other end. This clearly indicates the ratio of hydrogen atoms to oxygen atoms in water is 2 to one. Tip: Dissolve some salt into the water to aid in electricity flowing through the water.

Sunday
Aug092009

Reaction Bag

This is a lesson that I got from another teacher, who I think got it from Science Gems. My eighth graders have to learn what chemical reactions are and how to recognize them. Our textbook describes 5 types of evidence that a chemical occurred. They are color change, temperature change, gas production, precipitation and change in properties (like smell , taste, texture, etc.). In this lesson students have to look for which types of evidence occur when calcium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and phenol red solution are mixed together. What is really cool about this lesson is that students get to feel the reaction. The chemical reaction takes place in a sealed plastic bag. It inflates because carbon dioxide gas is produced, it gets very hot, it changes from a red color to a yellow color (the carbon dioxide makes the liquid acidic), and the smell at the end is a chalk smell (calcium carbonate). Download the student handout and view the quicktime video (or Google Video) and pictures on how the lesson works.

Materials needed

Tips: Emphasize to the students to feel the solid chemicals immediately after all chemicals are mixed together so they are able to sense the temperature change.