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In this lesson, students explore the science behind chemical reactions. They also learn about the processes used by chemical engineers to develop new materials.
The idea that mixing two substances can result in an entirely new substance is both fascinating and mysterious to most young students. Many students are also attracted to the idea of inventing new substances with different and exciting properties.
The lesson begins with a reading of Dr. Seuss’ book Bartholomew and the Oobleck. Students then explore what happens when two different substances are mixed, and a chemical change occurs. They then extend the investigation by experimenting with different combinations of substances to make “oobleck” (slime).
This is a simple investigation that introduces or expands on the concept of chemical reactions but does not go into details of the composition of the substances or the reaction that occurs.
By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:
- Describe and compare physical properties of various substances.
- Explain that when two or more different substances are mixed a new substance with different properties may be formed.
- Identify the difference between a chemical change and a physical change.
- Describe possible negative effects of substances that are engineered by humans.
- Describe ways that chemical engineering can make life better or worse.
This lesson supports students’ understanding of the following topics in chemistry:
- Chemical reactions
Teacher Preparation: 30 minutes
- Single Day lesson: 50 minutes
- Multiple Day Extension or Investigation: This topic of study could be easily adapted into a 5-day format
Single Day Instruction (small sample for each student):
- Water (average class, 1 liter)
- Borax-based detergent (such as 20 Mule Team Laundry Soap) (1/4 cup)
- White glue (2 to 3 oz. per student)
- Stirring sticks (craft sticks or popsicle sticks – 1 per student)
- Small 2-3 ounce paper or plastic cup (plastic bags will also work—1 per student)
- Green food coloring (1-2 drops per student cup; ¾ bottle for 1 gallon of glue)
- Mixing flask or container (for borax solution)
- Eye dropper (for adding borax solution to glue—1 per student or team)
- Science journal
- for engagement and connections to reading: Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss
- for engagement, motivation, and atmosphere: Erlenmeyer flasks and graduated cylinders filled with food colored borax solutions; candle; magician or sorcerer’s costume
- safety equipment such as goggles, gloves, aprons (see safety note)
Multiple Day Extension or Investigation:
- Computers and other resources for conducting research
- Corn starch or other substances as required to produce different types of slime
- Graduated cylinders
- Rulers, tape measures, meter sticks, etc. (for measuring)
- Candle Burning: A hurricane lamp enclosure can be used to surround the open flame. You could also use a battery-operated candle.
- Chemicals: While these are not dangerous chemicals, white glue and borax solution should not be eaten. Students should be instructed that they should be responsible with the slime they create, including instructing younger children not to eat it and putting it away when finished.
- Although this activity is specifically designed for “at home use” with children, the single and multiday activities provide the opportunity to introduce lab safety to young students. For example, it is important that the students be allowed to investigate using their senses. Chemists do not feel, smell, or taste substances unless they are absolutely sure that the substances are safe to examine in this way.
- When running the multiday activity/investigation, the students must wear safety goggles, rubber gloves, and aprons.
- Chemical change
- Chemical reaction
- Chemical engineering
Oobleck, slime, silly putty, polymer, polymerization, elastic, non-Newtonian liquid
- One box of detergent with borax (such as 20 Mule Team) will last many years.
- Consider buying glue in gallon jugs.
- Throughout the activities, encourage students to record their observations using both words and drawings.
The process of making slime involves both physical and chemical changes. Mixing borax with water creates a borax solution. No chemical reaction takes place during this step. Mixing food coloring and water with glue creates a mixture. For the most part, water is just mixing with the glue. Mixing the borax solution with the glue mixture, however, involves a significant chemical reaction.
School glue is a substance known as polyvinyl acetate (PVA). PVA is a polymer, a long chain of repeating molecules, or monomers. PVA is made of C4H6O2 monomers.
Borax is sodium borate, Na2B4O7 •10H2O. When borax and school glue are mixed, a more complex polymer forms. The borax molecules bond to the PVA chains, linking them together. This causes the glue to become less like a liquid and more like a solid.
The slime created is a type of non-Newtonian fluid. Newtonian fluids, like water, respond in the same way to stress regardless of the rate at which the stress is applied. Water has the same viscosity (resistance to flow) regardless of how forces are applied to it. It has a very low viscosity whether it is poured slowly or hit hard and quickly with a hammer. Non-Newtonian fluids, however, respond differently, depending on whether the stress is applied quickly or slowly. Slime has a low viscosity and will flow easily under the slow, gradual stress of the force of gravity but a high viscosity, causing it to break under the quick stress of being hit with a hammer.
- Non-Newtonian liquids
- The Incredible Secret Formula Book by Shar Levine and Leslie Johnstone
- Pure Slime by Brian Rohrig
- Mixing the borax with water and pouring the solution into eyedropper
bottles takes about 20 minutes (multiple small group or individual).
- Organizing the remaining supplies and materials for the reading and activity takes approximately 10 minutes, and is best accomplished before the instruction is to take place.
For the Student
Read Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss. During the reading, stop periodically to explain vocabulary words, or further develop some story element to ensure understanding, differentiate instruction, or clarify terms. In other sections of the text, especially where the king calls upon his wizards or where the story talks about the characteristics of Oobleck, discuss the wizards’ actions and how they are similar to those practiced by scientists and engineers.
Activity 1: Sorcerers and Scientists
On a table sits flasks with various colors of borax solutions, a graduated cylinder, and a burning candle. There is a chair sitting next to the table where the storyteller will sit. Students sit on the floor in a semicircle around the teacher. Classroom lights could be dimmed or out, depending on ambient lighting. The teacher is adorned in a sorcerer’s robe and cap.
- Do you know what a wizard is? Are wizards real? How do wizards act?
- Is there a kind of person who works with chemicals like these that are sitting on the table?
- Have you ever wished you could invent something that is brand new, something that has never been seen before?
- If you invented something like that, could it be good for people? Could it be bad?
Inform students that today’s scientists were like the wizards of old.
Long ago, anything that was a new, unknown material seemed like magic,
and the people who invented these materials were considered wizards.
Today we know that certain substances can be added together to make new ones.
The people who do that today are scientists and engineers, not wizards,
because we understand the science behind the changes. Close this first
activity by informing the students that like a wizard or a chemical
engineer, they will mix two things together and come up with something
that looks and behaves differently than the chemicals they begin with.
Safety Note: Explain to students that feeling, smelling, and tasting unknown substances is not safe unless a parent or adult says it is OK to do. Chemists do not feel, smell, or taste substances unless they are absolutely sure that the substances are safe to examine in this way.
- Have the students examine and compare the glue and the borax solution separately by sight, and by touching each substance with a popsicle stick. Have students record their observations in their science journals.
- What color is it?
- Is it a solid, liquid, or gas?
- How does it feel? Is it thick and sticky or thin and runny? Is it smooth and slippery or rough?
- How does it move when you touch it?
- Is it easy or hard to stir?
You may want students to record their observations in a table or in a Venn diagram for easy comparison. Encourage students to make drawings as well as text descriptions.
- Give students the option of adding food coloring to the glue to make it the color of oobleck in the book, or some other color.
- What properties of the glue change when you add the food coloring?
- What properties stay the same?