Chemistry experiments don’t have to be expensive and complex! Show a simpler side of experimentation with cheap and effective chemistry activities.
Maintaining student interest can be a challenge, especially for STEM teachers who try to relay concepts to children with shortening attention spans. Project-based learning is an exciting method of teaching, but the cost of materials for experiments can add up quickly and empty the bank account of well-meaning teachers who simply want to bring a bit of excitement to their students’ learning experiences. With some creativity and a visit to their local dollar store, teachers can engage students with chemistry activities that don’t cost an entire paycheck.
1. Hot Air (and Water) Balloons
Riding in a hot-air balloon might seem thrilling to some people, yet terrifying to others. In this experiment from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, students can investigate how some balloons are able to withstand damage from a flame, while others will break. In addition to the experiment, teachers will also find questions to ask students as children explore concepts in heat absorption and capacity in water and air.
2. Slimy STEM in Chem
There has been a recent slime craze among kids, resulting in children wanting to create their own icky goo. Though it might seem messy and will bring back childhood memories of watching “Double Dare,” making slime using the American Chemical Society’s formula comprising glue, borax, and water affords an easy solution in the search for economical chemistry activities. During this activity, students will learn about polymer molecules and borate ions. Teachers should note that any brand of borax will do the trick, but prolonged exposure to it can cause a reaction in some children, so students should limit exposure time and wash their hands after playing with slime.
3. Diaper Dissection Duty
Though disposable diapers might seem to be a common item on the never-ending baby-care supply list, students might not recognize the chemistry marvel that takes place within each diaper (and we don’t mean poop and pee). The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) leads students on a journey into a wet diaper in its “Diaper Dissection” lab. Through dissection and examination of the materials inside, students will also pour water over the diaper to uncover the absorbent power of sodium polyacrylate, which allows absorption of 60 times its weight, keeping babies (or chemistry stations) fresh and dry!
4. Baking Up Chemistry Activities
One of the most versatile ingredients for use in chemistry activities is baking soda, as investing in a bit of sodium bicarbonate can go a long way in STEM classrooms. The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) uses baking soda and vinegar in its “Vinegar and Baking Soda Investigation” to explore how the physical and chemical properties of these substances affect the reactions that occur between them.
5. Holiday Chemistry Ornaments
Share the spirit of the holiday season with students while engaging in chemistry activities by creating borax snow crystal ornaments. Purdue University’s Department of Chemistry leads students step-by-step through the experiment that explores the relationship between surface area, temperature, and the speed at which a formula cools. It’s important to note that purchasing a hot plate is not necessary, as teachers must simply provide any heat source able to boil water.
In addition to these chemistry activities, don’t forget to check out STEM Jobs’ list of “7 STEM Activities You Can Do From Things at the Dollar Store.” While teachers can find materials at the dollar store to incorporate in the classroom, remember that many other business offer price breaks for teachers as a way of saying “thank you” to educators. Splurge on a discounted teacher treat with all the money saved by shopping at the dollar store for chemistry activities.
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