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Acids & Bases Experiments for Middle School

Instructor: Julie Zundel

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 fun ways to liven up science lessons while providing students with important skills and knowledge. This series of acid and base experiments is geared towards middle school students and will enhance lessons on acids and bases.

Performing Experiments

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.

Rockets

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.

Materials

  • Vinegar
  • Water bottles
  • Baking soda
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic spoons
  • Paper cups
  • Rubber stoppers that will fit into the opening of the water bottle, sealing it.

Experiment Directions

  • 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.

Example of an acid base bottle rocket setup
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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.

Materials

  • 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

Experiment Directions

  • 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.

Color Corresponding pH
Pink 1-2
Red 3-4
Violet 5-7
Blue 8
Green-Blue 9-10
Yellow-Green 11-12

Substance Color pH
Lemon Juice Pink 1-2
Bleach Yellow 11-12
  • 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.

Sherbet Surprise

This delicious experiment requires students make sherbet (a sugary powder) and then observe the acid-base reaction that occurs on their tongues.

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