I have actually done this experiment with my kids, they really loved it and I can totally relate. I wish I would have had someone like Mari Nosal for a teacher when I was young.
Today I set out to conduct a science experiment. My goal was to introduce my young charges to the world of chemical reactions. I attempted to present an explanation in a format that five to 12 year olds would comprehend. I prayed I would not lose control of the children. My other fear was not executing the experiment properly and making myself appear incompetent in front of the children. The experiment consists of dropping a tube of mentos candy into a two liter bottle of diet coke. If all goes well, a six or eight foot eruption laden with mentos, coke, and aspartame would be strewn about the school playground.
I attempted this experiment in June of 2008. The resulting eruption was weak. The geyser grew to a mere two feet. The children were thrilled with the end result. They were ignorant to the fact that the geyser should have been much bigger. I however, knew that I had failed. I strive for perfection in all my actions. The children were happy, but I knew I could have done better. I went home and researched my original experiment and found out I lacked a simple component. A plastic tube that slips into the neck of the soda bottle, a tooth pick is inserted into small holes on the bottom of the tube. The tube is filled with mentos. The toothpick stays in place to keep the candy from falling into the soda bottle. When the experiment is performed the tooth is removed. This allows the candy to drop into the soda bottle as I jump back.
In my original attempt, I merely opened up the roll of mentos and attempted to drop them into the soda manually. The chemical eruption takes effect as soon as several pieces of candy mingle with the soda. The ensuing eruption does not allow enough time to manually drop in the whole tube. Thus, I WAS forced to step back without dropping the whole roll in. I have learned from earlier errors as an educator. My style veers less towards being impromptu in executing lessons. I now strategize plane, and research my projects. This lesson was the product of a detailed plan. I purchased tubes on the internet, bought the appropriate soda. It had to contain caffeine to explode.
Now, on with a description of the afternoon, I went to work early. I set my tools on the table. When the children came in I wanted to be organized and ready to perform the project. I painstakingly opened up several rolls of mentos. I inserted skewers into the mentos tubes. My rationale was that they could be pulled out at a slower pace than a toothpick due to their length. I than proceeded to pick up my younger charges from the kindergarten. Seven five-year olds were lined up and taken outside to wait for the older children to arrive on the school bus. The older children arrived. Everyone was excited about our afternoon’s activity choice. As I took a head count my excitement waned. I mentally hoped that my experiment would be executed as planned and keep the children engaged.
The children were instructed to go to circle time, but leave their coats on. Hence, we could accomplish the task of getting outdoors for the experiment in a quick manner. As we sat on the floor in a circle I briefed the children on expectations they would need to adhere to during the experiment. I answered questions about why they would sit in a horse shoe outdoors a safe distance from the soda bottles. I explained that I wanted no one to get soda in their eyes during the explosion, nor have to walk around all day in clothes laden in soda.
The children were informed that if they could not maintain control of their bodies that they would be showing me that they were too irresponsible to be included in today’s activity. Repercussions were expressed. Children not capable of maintaining body control would be escorted indoors during the experiment. I told them that this was not a punishment but necessary so I could leave them under the supervision of another teacher during the experiment. I do not seek to embarrass the children. I knew they were all looking forward to this activity and did not wish to be ostracized from the project. My prediction proved correct. Everyone maintained an attentive form and no one was excluded.
Upon finalizing my expectations, and what the experiment would consist of we ventured out to the playground. The children took their places without prompting. I set out the tools for the experiment and began the presentation. I used a form of scaffolding that I devised for projects like this. Some of the children are extremely young so I described the chemical reaction as having a similarity to friends. Children choose friends that have similar interests. I set out a tray of water and added vinegar. I explained that since the water did not have chemicals the vinegar got along with it. I showed them the mixture and we talked about how no reaction took place.
I set that tray aside and poured vinegar and baking soda into a pan. The ensuing bubbling concoction received loud oohs and aahs. I explained that both vinegar and baking soda contained very different chemicals. I asked the children to visualize this as two children who don’t agree with each other. Now, the fun began. The soda was positioned with tubes in place. As I pulled out the skewers I had the children count loudly to the number three. The skewer was pulled out and I jumped back. An eight foot soda laden geyser was produced. The children yelled “again, again”. I had planned ahead, produced two more bottles of soda and repeated the experiment.
The highlight of the experiment was the finale. I produced disposable cups and gave each child a cup of mentos laden soda. This memory will be imprinted in their minds for years to come. The smiles produced outweighed the effort to execute the project. That meant a lot to me as well. Another day has passed. Hopefully, I have instilled a new-found sense of curiosity about our world in the children. If I can send them on their way after having successfully gotten them to step outside the box I will have accomplished my goal as an educator.
Always remember, if learning is fun, children will love learning.:-0)
Mari N. M.Ed.