Bond with James: Model a Chemical Reaction with Common LEGO® Bricks!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Model a Chemical Reaction with Common LEGO® Bricks!

Another 2014 NSTA experience...
This session was geared toward the middle school level; however, I was curious to see what I could possibly learn and bring back to teachers in my district. The first activity involved the following materials and chemicals per 2-4 students: Ziploc bag, baking soda, calcium chloride, phenol red, water, and plastic vial or test tube. The presenters had us put a teaspoon of baking soda followed by two teaspoons of calcium chloride in a bag. Participants were instructed to place a vial (or test tube) with approximately 10mL of phenol red solution into the bag and hold it upright (this vial came with a cap). We were then instructed to leave the bag upright, remove the cap, and remove the remaining air inside the bag. Finally, we were instructed to tip the phenol red solution onto the solid mixture and mix it from outside the bag with our fingers. 

As always, here is a video for you demonstrating what I discussed above...

There were two other sections (I have not included pics since I've done this countless times with my students). The first allowed students to design two more experiments in order to determine which reactants would produce a color change, gas, and/or heat. Session facilitators handed baggies with different labels. Here is a rough sketch of what this part of the worksheet looked like; this is just to give you an idea.
The second section of the activity was a class activity where students and teacher worked together to determine which substances, when mixed, produced a color change, gas, and/or heat; and this was completed on a worksheet. 

On a side note, there was a participant at my table that clearly did not believe that this activity was suitable for middle school students; however, the rest of us were in agreement that this was an activity that was appropriate for the indicated grade level. Her comment baffled me and left me wondering if that was the reason why many of my students come to me with limited chemistry / wet lab experience because they had a teacher who didn't (1) believe in them and/or (2) challenge them with scientific experiences.

Anyway, the second half of the session involved playing with LEGOs®. 

I won't bore you with all the extraneous details; however, the basic concept of this activity was to help students write formulas and develop an understanding between elements and compounds. 

 If the set interests you, here is the link to a PDF flyer where you can learn more about the number of sets, costs, etc.  If you have/had children, you might just borrow from them or take a stroll to the nearest store to see if you can purchase LEGOs® for a much cheaper price.
Atoms and Molecules Set Info
Rationale for Using LEGO Bricks as Atoms


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