How to make studying chemistry fun and interesting

Tips and life hacks on how to entertain your kid with chemistry

[Deposit Photos]

Chem­istry is one of the most spec­tac­u­lar sci­ences in the world. By study­ing chem­istry, we may ob­serve many strik­ing re­ac­tions and trans­mu­ta­tions, most of which we can car­ry out our­selves. Usu­al­ly the study of this sci­ence starts with its the­o­ret­i­cal rudi­ments – for ex­am­ple, pupils learn to use the pe­ri­od­ic sys­tem of el­e­ments and in­ter­pret the in­for­ma­tion giv­en in it, or to solve sim­ple tasks on re­ac­tion equa­tions. Ini­tial­ly, the the­o­ry may seem dull – but if you back it up with vis­ual ma­te­ri­al or real ex­per­i­ments, it will be­come much more com­pre­hen­si­ble and in­ter­est­ing.

Video ma­te­ri­als in study­ing chem­istry

Watch­ing videos on top­ics is the sim­plest and most ac­ces­si­ble method of di­ver­si­fy­ing the study process. Many top­ic video ma­te­ri­als are freely avail­able on­line – you can not only find clips where var­i­ous spec­tac­u­lar ex­per­i­ments are con­duct­ed, but also lec­tures that will help you get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the the­o­ret­i­cal ma­te­ri­al.

Many of them are ac­com­pa­nied by vis­ual ma­te­ri­al at the same time – pic­tures, an­i­ma­tions and video ap­pear dur­ing the lec­ture for a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing. In the study of the prop­er­ties of halo­gens, you may not only see prac­ti­cal re­ac­tions with them, but also ma­te­ri­al re­lat­ing to the the­o­ry – for ex­am­ple, how their elec­tron clouds are ar­ranged, or how elec­trons are ar­ranged by quan­tum cells (graph­ic de­pic­tions of elec­tron con­fig­u­ra­tions of atoms).

You can find top­ic pre­sen­ta­tions – this type of ma­te­ri­al is good be­cause a min­i­mum of the­o­ry and a max­i­mum of vis­ual im­ages are usu­al­ly dis­played on slides. This is al­ways more com­pre­hen­si­ble and in­ter­est­ing than a de­scrip­tion in text­books. For ex­am­ple, if the top­ic of the les­son is his­tor­i­cal mod­els of atom struc­ture, in a pre­sen­ta­tion you can not only find their names, de­scrip­tions and au­thors, but pic­tures too – what Thom­son’s “plum pud­ding” atom struc­ture mod­el looks like, or Ruther­ford’s “plan­e­tary” mod­el.

Chem­i­cal ex­per­i­ments

A key role in chem­istry is played by the prac­ti­cal side – con­duct­ing ex­per­i­ments. For study pur­pos­es, the most il­lus­tra­tive and spec­tac­u­lar re­ac­tions are usu­al­ly cho­sen – in this way you can pre­cise­ly fol­low what hap­pens in the re­ac­tion of sev­er­al sub­stances. It is es­pe­cial­ly good to back up the­o­ry with ex­per­i­ments – for ex­am­ple, in study­ing the prop­er­ties of salts of sil­ver or the char­ac­ter­is­tics of alde­hy­des, the sil­ver mir­ror re­ac­tion can be car­ried out with slight heat­ing:

CH₃­COH + 2[Ag(NH₃)₂]OH = 2Ag + CH₃­COON­H₄ + NH₃ + H₂O

In this ex­per­i­ment, a thin film of metal­lic sil­ver set­tles on the walls of a flask (it is im­por­tant that the flask is clean and smooth in­side, as oth­er­wise sil­ver will set­tle in the form of a gray­ish crumbly sed­i­ment).

The sil­ver mir­ror re­ac­tion is one of the most beau­ti­ful re­ac­tions in chem­istry. If you con­duct this ex­per­i­ment, it will be much eas­i­er for pupils to re­mem­ber the prop­er­ties of alde­hy­des, as the re­ac­tion of alde­hy­des and the am­mo­nia com­plex of sil­ver is a qual­i­ta­tive re­ac­tion for alde­hy­des.

It is es­pe­cial­ly help­ful if pupils them­selves can car­ry out the nec­es­sary re­ac­tions – in this way they will not only re­mem­ber the reagents, prod­ucts and vis­i­ble ef­fect, but also the pre­cise con­di­tions for car­ry­ing out the re­ac­tion. Demon­stra­tive ex­per­i­ments are less in­ter­est­ing for pupils than ones that they car­ry out them­selves. A demon­stra­tion also does not al­low them to re­mem­ber the en­tire method for car­ry­ing out re­ac­tions be­tween sub­stances.

There are spe­cial sets with chem­i­cal ex­per­i­ments which make it pos­si­ble to con­sol­i­date ma­te­ri­al learned with prac­ti­cal ex­per­i­ments. Usu­al­ly these sets in­clude sev­er­al graph­ic ex­per­i­ments which pupils can con­duct safe­ly and eas­i­ly them­selves, as all the ex­per­i­ments are ac­com­pa­nied by in­struc­tions. These sets al­ready have all the reagents and equip­ment that are nec­es­sary for ex­per­i­ments. Click here for kits with safe chem­istry ex­per­i­ments for kids.

In­ter­est­ing facts

[Facebook, @melscience]

In­ter­est­ing facts have par­tic­u­lar im­por­tance in study­ing many sci­ences – they may not only make peo­ple in­ter­est­ed in study­ing the top­ic fur­ther, but also pro­vide a new look at mun­dane things. In chem­istry you can find many of these cu­ri­ous facts. Here are a few of them.

1. Why do onions make you cry when you cut them? When the shell of the cells of the onion are bro­ken, a volatile sub­stance is re­leased – lachry­ma­tor. When dis­solved in tear flu­id (the term “lachry­ma­tor” orig­i­nates from the Latin word for “tear”), the sub­stance ir­ri­tates the sur­faces of the eyes, caus­ing tears to flow. Onions con­tain 1-sul­phynil­propane CSH₆­SO as a lachry­ma­tor. When it is dis­solved in the liq­uid of the eye, tiny con­cen­tra­tions of sul­fu­ric acid are formed, which cause ir­ri­ta­tion.

2. Why is there a metal­lic smell when you touch coins? The smell can­not re­late di­rect­ly to the met­al that the coins are made from. This is the smell of com­pounds that form when the sur­face of the met­al comes into con­tact with or­gan­ic sub­stances – for ex­am­ple hu­man sweat.

[Facebook, @melscience]

3. Why can fruit ripen by it­self? Eth­yl­ene gas is a phy­to­hor­mone for plants. Even when plucked, the fruit con­tin­ues to re­lease it, which caus­es it to ripen. This is why fruit is gath­ered in un­ripe form, if lengthy trans­porta­tion is planned. The gath­ered fruit is placed in box­es which are sup­plied with eth­yl­ene to ac­cel­er­ate the ripen­ing process. At home, you can make un­ripe fruit ripe by putting it in a poly­eth­yl­ene bag.

4. There is a so-called “mag­ic acid” in sci­ence. It re­ceived this name for its abil­i­ty to dis­solve paraf­fins and wax­es (the strong­est min­er­al acid, hy­drochlo­ric acid HClO₄, does not have this prop­er­ty). Mag­ic acid is a mix­ture of pure fluro­sul­fon­ic acid HSO₃F (or flu­o­ric HF) with an­ti­mo­ny pentaflu­o­ride SbF₅. Mag­ic acid is clas­si­fied as a su­peracid – sub­stances with a high­er acid­i­ty than 100% sul­fu­ric acid.

5. Berth­elot’s salt KClO₃ in a mix­ture with a re­duc­er (for ex­am­ple, or­gan­ic mat­ter or sul­fur) be­comes very ex­plo­sive – a slight blow or fric­tion is re­quired for an ex­plo­sion to take place. Berth­elot’s salt is used in the man­u­fac­ture of match­heads.

Many in­ter­est­ing facts not only re­late to the prop­er­ties of sub­stances, but also the his­to­ry of their dis­cov­ery or study. The ori­gin of the name of cobalt has an in­ter­est­ing his­to­ry. Some cobalt min­er­als are con­tained in ar­senic com­pounds. When min­ers burnt this ma­te­ri­al, gaseous ar­senic ox­ide was re­leased, which caused poi­son­ing among hu­man be­ings. As the tox­i­c­i­ty of ar­senic and its com­pounds was not known at the time, it was thought that min­ers were killed by the pranks of the moun­tain spir­it, the Kobold. In Ger­man, the word “Kobold” means “gnome”.

[Facebook, @melscience]

Lat­er, in 1735, the min­er­al­o­gist Georg Brandt (Swe­den) ex­tract­ed metal­lic cobalt from cobalt min­er­als (pre­vi­ous­ly this met­al was un­known, and Brandt gave it its name). Brandt also dis­cov­ered that cobalt com­pounds can col­or glass blue (this prop­er­ty was used in an­tiq­ui­ty in Baby­lon and As­syr­ia).

Chem­istry is a tru­ly fas­ci­nat­ing sci­ence. Prac­ti­cal­ly any the­o­ret­i­cal ma­te­ri­al can be backed up with prac­ti­cal re­ac­tions and pic­tures, and in­ter­est­ing facts about the his­to­ry of dis­cov­ery, or about prop­er­ties. These vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ences help to make chem­istry more com­pre­hen­si­ble and in­ter­est­ing for peo­ple who study it.