Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.
Experiments are a great way for students to learn about scientific principles. Not only do they increase student engagement and interest, but they help students learn to adhere to safety procedures, work better with classmates and boost their observation skills. This series of experiments will ensure students learn the basics of acids and bases, while still having fun.
What middle school-aged kid wouldn't love playing with homemade rockets? This experiment isn't just a lot of fun; it also teaches students to make observations about what occurs during an acid/base reaction. It should be completed outdoors, and students should be briefed about safety rules prior to the activity.
- Water bottles
- Baking soda
- Paper towels
- Plastic spoons
- Paper cups
- Rubber stoppers that will fit into the opening of the water bottle, sealing it.
- Students should be informed they are going to observe an acid-base reaction and will get to experiment with amounts of acid (vinegar) and base (baking soda) to make a rocket that shoots high into the air.
- The first rocket attempt should be the same for all of the groups.
- Have students fill a paper cup ¼ full of vinegar and then obtain a spoonful of baking soda and wrap it into a paper towel, making a burrito shape (that is small enough to fit inside of the water bottle).
- Have students pour their vinegar into their water bottle and then take the water bottle, stopper and baking soda 'burrito' outside.
- Have students quickly shove the burrito into the water bottle, place the stopper into the lid and turn it upside-down and back away.
- The vinegar will absorb into the burrito, the reaction will take place, and the gas build up will cause the water bottle and stopper to separate, thus propelling the water bottle into the air. Rocket launch!
- Return to the class and compile a list of what was observed from this acid-base reaction (bubbles, gas, change of reactants).
- Discuss the chemical reaction that took place and the products used.
- Now have students design their own rockets and detail how much of each reactant they will use.
- Repeat outdoors to see who has the best rocket (determined by how high it travels).
- Extension: relate this activity to Newton's Third Law of Motion.
Cabbage Juice Indicator
In the presence of an acid or base, some substances change color. These substances are called acid-base indicators because they indicate an acid or base is present. This experiment will allow students to use cabbage juice as an acid-base indicator.
- Cabbage juice
- Prepare by cutting up a red cabbage into small slices. Place these slices into a blender until a liquid forms. Use a strainer to separate the liquid from the solid.
- Several plastic spoons and cups
- Substances to test (try to use clear, or nearly clear substances)
- Examples: lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda (added to water), hand sanitizer, water, bleach, clear shampoo
- Graduated cylinders or measuring tools
- Extension (optional): pH strips
- Begin by asking students to write down which substances they think are acidic, basic and neutral.
- Now have students use the plastic spoons and cups to gather a small sample of each substance. Label each cup with the sample's name.
- Pour about 50 mL or around 3 tablespoons of the cabbage juice into each cup and stir.
- Students should note the color change and the pH.
- See the tables that follow. The first table shows students which color corresponds to which pH and the second table is a sample of what students can fill out.
- Return to that original list and see if the predictions were accurate.
- Take a moment to see what acidic and basic materials have in common. For example, bases are often cleaners. Acids are often sour tasting.
- Extension: use pH strips to test each substance to see how accurate the cabbage juice was.
This delicious experiment requires students make sherbet (a sugary powder) and then observe the acid-base reaction that occurs on their tongues.
Materials (per group)
- Bowls and measuring tools
- Plastic spoons
- Baking soda
- Citric acid for baking (sometimes referred to as sour salt)
- Powdered sugar
- Jelly crystals (flavored)
- Optional: purchase different flavors of jelly crystals to make a variety of sherbet
- Have each group measure out the following:
- 1-teaspoon baking soda
- 3-tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1-teaspoon citric acid
- 2-tablespoons jelly crystals
- Once students have measured and added these ingredients to a bowl, have them mix the powders.
- Now students can use the plastic spoons to taste the sherbet.
- Students should make some observations on what occurs.
- Now discuss what took place: the fizzy feeling on the tongue is due to the acid-base reaction between the baking soda (base) and citric acid (acid). This reaction did not take place in the bowl because it needed the moisture (from your tongue) to occur. The actual fizzy feeling is due to the gas produced (carbon dioxide) from the reaction.
This experiment involves the reaction of vinegar with an egg shell (calcium carbonate). The vinegar is an acid and the calcium carbonate is a base. After the experiment, students can learn about how ocean acidification may impact critters that are made of calcium carbonate (like pteropods).
- Plastic cups
- Paper towels
- Have each student place his or her egg in a plastic cup
- Fill the cup with vinegar so the egg is submerged
- Students should jot down initial observations and make a drawing of the egg.
- Each day have the students remove the egg, pat it dry, write observations and draw an image. The egg should be returned to the vinegar after drawings/observations.
- After about 3 days, the shell should be completely dissolved, leaving a shell-less egg (the egg's membrane will be intact and the egg will remain unbroken).
- Extend this activity by discussing ocean acidification and its impacts on animals that are made of calcium carbonate.
- Also, take a moment to discuss the chemical reaction that took place between the vinegar and calcium carbonate.
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