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Teach Middle School Chemistry With These Interactive Project Ideas: Rockets, Fire, and Makeup

written by: Dawn Marcotte • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 8/2/2012

Find a theme that excites students and create lessons around that theme to encourage participation. These engaging interactive activities for teaching chemistry focus on rockets, fire and makeup. Experiments can be taught individually or as part of a larger theme.

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    Middle school students are old enough to begin learning more about chemistry; however, they may not have the natural interest of younger students. Middle school students may be reluctant to participate in experiments that do not create an effect such as color changes or explosions. Providing engaging, interactive activities to teach chemistry around a specific theme may increase their interest. The following activities include experiments that explore rockets, makeup and fire as they relate to chemistry.

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    Rocket Science

    Launching a rocket into space requires specialized fuel to ensure the rocket can overcome the force of gravity. Students will use baking soda and vinegar to launch their own rocket, a plastic film canister. Mix one teaspoon of baking soda with a small amount of water to form a paste. This paste is pressed into the inside of the cap of the film canister. It should be thick enough that it sticks to the top even when turned over. Fill the film canister almost to the top with vinegar. Snap the cover on, turn it over and set it on a flat surface. When the vinegar mixes with the baking soda it will create enough pressure so that the cap pops off and launches the canister into the air. Students can modify the amount of vinegar and the amount of baking soda to determine the most effective combination for launch height.

    Model Rocket Launch 

    Another type of rocket called a match rocket can also be constructed to introduce students to combustion through chemicals. Cut a piece of aluminum foil so it is two inches long and one inch wide. Lay the foil on a flat surface. Cut the head off a paper match and place the head on the foil so it is just to the left of center horizontally and in the center of the foil vertically. Unbend one end of a paper clip and place the tip right under the match head so they are touching. Fold the aluminum down from the top over the match head. Wrap the foil around the match and paperclip several times from the side. Twist the top tightly closed. Make sure all edges are sealed. Bend the other end of the paperclip to create a launch pad. Hold a flame under the aluminum foil until the match ignites and launches off the paperclip.

    Students can create their own variations on both of these experiments to determine the effects of changing the amount of gas created for ignition. Rocket launches can also be created with pressurized water and pressurized air. Students interested in learning more about rockets may want to do a research project on rocket propulsion.

    Continue reading on the next page for more engaging interactive activities for teaching chemistry!

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    Chemistry and Fire

    Many people find fire a fascinating chemical process. This experiment will introduce students to the concept of color as it relates to the substance being burned. Chemicals that will create color when introduced to flame include copper sulfate, copper chloride, sodium borate, sodium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium chloride, strontium chloride and magnesium sulfate. Students mix one teaspoon of each element into ¼ cup of distilled water and mix until it dissolves. Dip one end of a nickel-chromium loop into the solution and hold it in a flame. Students can observe and record the color of flame produced. Clean the loop between each test to avoid contamination.

    Students can perform a similar test by coating pinecones with paraffin wax and rolling one cone in each of the chemicals. Toss each cone into a fire and observe the results. This experiment is best performed outside if possible.

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    Chemistry and Makeup

    Students who are interested in makeup can be introduced to the role chemistry plays in this industry. Makeup companies utilize scientists to create new scents, colors and types of makeup. Improving quality and expanding choices are two additional areas where chemistry is used in this vast industry. Students can make their own lip-gloss, perfume, and bath salts by combining a few simple ingredients. They can experiment with different flavors by adding unique scented oils. These do-it-yourself items are often easier to use for individuals who have allergies. Students who are interested in learning more about how chemistry is used in the makeup industry can do a research project and interview a scientist who works for one of the major makeup companies.

    Creating a theme that will excite students is only the first step in keeping them interested. Include engaging Interactive activities for teaching chemistry to encourage students to continue their studies and progress to the next level.

    Students should follow all safety protocols, including wearing safety goggles and aprons when performing these experiments.

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    http://www.usc.edu/CSSF/History/2008/Projects/J0511.pdf, accessed January 2011

    http://bizarrelabs.com/rocket.htm, accessed January 2011

    http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Chem_p086.shtml?fave=no&isb=cmlkOjg3ODQxMDcsc2lkOjAscDoyLGlhOkNoZW0&from=TSW, accessed January 2011

    http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Chem_p022.shtml?fave=no&isb=cmlkOjg3ODQxMDcsc2lkOjAscDoxLGlhOkNoZW0&from=TSW, accessed January 2011

    Image Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oracle_rocket.jpg