Having majored in chemistry in college and then going on to teach the course a couple of times, I know how difficult this topic can be for students to understand. But really, chemistry is just the science of what matter is made up of and how it interacts with other types of matter. See? Not so hard at all. 🙂 I get it. Some students need to have more to help them become more comfortable with chemistry.
Here’s a list of things you can try:
Hands on Interaction: I like to tell my students that the best way to understand chemistry is to think of it like cooking. Say you’re going to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. You need the ingredients: the flour, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla, and chocolate chips. Those are all different parts of matter. Then you mix them together with a certain amount of force by stirring or using a hand mixer. That gives you the cookie batter– a different kind of matter, but the chemical change hasn’t happened yet. Finally, you put the pan of cookie batter into the oven and voila you have cookies. Can’t you just smell the warm chocolate fresh out of the oven and imagine the first bite of gooey chocolate-y goodness?
During the whole process you are mixing and combining different kind of matter, but it isn’t until you apply heat that the chemical change takes place and you have cookies. Yum! This is a great way to get your students comfortable with chemistry.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to make cookies with your students in the classroom. Is there a substitute? Yes! Use these books. While it won’t get you a warm chocolate chip cookie to eat in the end, you can do some pretty cool experiments with food.
Edible Science by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen (NGKids, 2015) is chock full of awesome food experiments! Many of these can be done in the classroom. Try the “Inflatable Marshmallow” on page 42. Kids learn about air pressure by watching a marshmallow expand and contract.
Another awesome one is watching how plants get water (page 9) by placing pieces of lettuce into bowls with different colored water (from food coloring). After a few hours students will see how the lettuce absorbed water through its leaves
My favorite one, though, is making slime (page 60). Your students will love it! This book is also great for homeschoolers since you can do a lot of the experiments in your very own kitchen. Happy experimenting!
Kathy Ceceri’s Edible Inventions: Cooking Hacks and Yummy Recipes You Can Build, Mix, and Grow (Maker Media, 2016) also has some amazing experiments for kids to do with chemistry. She, however, goes a little more out-of-the box and discusses how kitchen gadgets can be used to make butter makers. She ventures into creating gelatin dots, and even agar noodles (don’t eat those!).
Finally, there is a whole discussion of 3D food printing and she gives you instructions on how to use your name-brand building blocks to make your own 3D food printer! Wow! This one is definitely for the more adventurous chemistry cook in your house. It will provide hours of fun.
After they perform each experiment have them analyze their outcome and discuss what happened. This is exactly what real scientists do.
Questions could include:
- Did you get the outcome you wanted
- If not, why do you think this happened
- Could you repeat this experiment and get the same result? Why or why not?
- How is your result different from another team’s? Explain
By asking questions of your students you can help them to create a model to explain what happened. Perhaps they will end up changing the procedure or adding some requirements of their own, ie. use a hand mixer not a spoon to get a smoother consistency for the product.
2. Add some Fun Facts to your Experiments
Looking for a way to give your students a little more explanation of chemistry terms, and maybe a little history of the subject? Check out these titles, Explore Solids and Liquids! with 25 great experiments by Kathleen M. Reilly (Nomad Press, 2014) and Explore Atoms and Molecules! with 25 great experiments by Janet Slingerland (Nomad Press, 2017) have awesome experiments, but also contain explanations to describe the different parts of chemistry.
They have timelines the show the discovery of important scientific events, and also easy-to-understand definitions of words such as atom, molecule, solid, liquid, gas, states of matter, and mixtures and compounds.
These highly energetic texts and enthusiastic illustrations will grab your student’s attention and the experiments are all easy to do. Just follow the directions and you will have a great time in your classroom or homeschool environment.
After reading this book and doing some of the experiments, have students come up with their own examples of matter, molecules, and solids, liquids and gases.
- Ask them to identify these different parts of matter in the things they see around the room or around their house
- Did they come up with something that can be both solid and liquid? How would they classify that?
- Discuss the types of conditions that might cause these substances to change from one to another.
- What types of evidence do they have to indicate the change
3. Tie Chemistry to Literacy
If you have older students who are ready to learn more about chemistry, have them read The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean (Little, Brown BFYR, 2018). This book gives a lively and interesting history of the scientists who discovered the different elements of the periodic table.
Discovering an element is not as easy or amazing as you might think. In fact, it can be downright dangerous to your health. Ask Marie Curie. Many of these stories are about scientists who defied all odds to come up with a new element or perhaps stumbles upon it accidentally. It is a compelling read for anyone who is interested in becoming a scientist as it gives a behind-the-scenes look at real-life challenges many of the scientists faced.
After reading this book, have your students break up into discussion groups.
- Each group can choose a scientist or element and come up with a way to present it to the rest of the class.
- Maybe they dress up as the scientist and have them talk about their challenges
- Infographics or posters can show their process
- Be sure to include the pros and cons of each element (some of them are quite dangerous to humans)
- Have them show the element as it is used today (hint: it’s not just a two-letter symbol on a chart)
This is a great way to promote discussion about the periodic table in a place other than the science classroom!
Whatever way you choose to introduce chemistry into your classroom or homeschool, remember one thing, HAVE FUN with IT! Students will get enthusiastic about a fun, interactive, presentation and who knows, you may just inspire a future generation of STEM/STEAM careers.
Science ROCKS! And so do Jennifer Swanson’s books. She is the award-winning author of over 35 nonfiction books for kids. Jennifer Swanson’s love of science began when she started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. While no longer working from the garage, you can find Jennifer at her favorite place to explore the world around her. www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com