When one of our salesmen wanted to bring his 8- and 10-year old kids to the lab for a "demo" earlier in the year, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do…but I knew it wasn't "blow stuff up" for them for the reasons y'all have mentioned. Instead, I decided to show them some food chemistry of sorts and had my co-worker bring the relevant stuff from their own kitchen.
We looked at turmeric in ethanol ("Daddy's vodka") in fluorescent and then in UV lighting; we did the ubiquitous bicarbonate/lemon juice volcano; and we talked about density and did layering with Karo syrup, water, and ethanol. They really liked the UV dyes, so we played around some more with different colors and mixtures.
They loved it. At the end, I asked "OK, who wants to be a scientist now?" and two hands immediately shot up with enthusiasm. #winning
And they will be tempted to do similar "experiments" on their own.
Monona Rossol, M.S., M.F.A., Industrial Hygienist
Bam, nailed it.
I did an outreach at an elementary school years back and I said "Hi, my name's Rob and I'm a chemist. Does anyone know what a chemist does?" Many hands went up, and the kid that answered said "Blows things up."
That is precisely what we don't want kids to answer. Just like when I'm in a non-professional setting etc. and I say "Hi, my name's Rob and I'm a chemist" and I get the answer "Ooh, chemistry. I hated chemistry in high school/college." More on THAT challenge another time.
As much as I love doing the classic explosion/fire demos, I would NEVER EVER do them with an elementary audience for the reason Monona stated. You can do all sorts of great non-exploding/burning demonstrations at the elementary level that require students to pose hypotheses and then test them. And the students will have fun AND learn. From what I saw on the news report, we have a very enthusiastic and eager young scientist who believes that the former inspires the latter and has yet to grasp that they go hand-in-hand.
With a little mentorship, she could no doubt master that balance and achieve her stated goals much more effectively while simultaneously diminishing the probability of a copycat situation turning out wrong.
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