How to make studying chemistry fun and interesting
Tips and life hacks on how to entertain your kid with chemistry
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.
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 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.
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”.
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.