Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bunsen Burners, Flame Tests and iPads with Years 4 & 5

Recently, as a favour to a local primary principal (and to fulfil my own need to teach some science), I ran a day of science lessons for Years 4 and 5. As a wonderful example of cooperation, the neighbouring secondary school had provided the primary school with access to a science lab for the year. Having the unique opportunity to use secondary science equipment with primary students I set  about designing a fun and worthwhile hour to be repeated with the four classes. 

Now primary students are always itching to study science once they get to secondary (although this enthusiasm often wanes by the end of Year 7...), and what they want to use most of all are Bunsen burners. To this end, I chose to:
  1. teach the students the parts of a Bunsen and their function
  2. get them to light a Bunsen safely
  3. perform flame tests on various metal salts.
The preparation was made possible by the wonderful lab technician at the secondary school, Margaret Croucher (who is also Chairperson of ASETNSW - Association of Science Education Technicians, and treasurer of SETA - Science Education Technicians Australia). With my secondary chauvinism it didn't occur to me that primary students might not be allowed to participate in the experiments. Thankfully Margaret came to the rescue, and after a lot of negotiation with the Health and Safety people we established that although we couldn't use solid salts we could use 0.1M solutions soaked into paddle pop sticks.

When the students arrived, much to their delight, we got them to wear lab coats and safety goggles. We then discussed the parts of the Bunsen, their function, how to light a flame and the different types of flame. Then the moment of truth - every student got to light a Bunsen. [Aside - during the introduction I pointed out that the box of equipment for every group had a famous scientist on it. However, of the 10 scientists only 2 were female (Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin), why? One boy tried to explain that men were smarter and was quickly rebuked. After a several hints (surprisingly many) we extracted that historically girls and women weren't given the same access to education. However, I challenged both the girls and boys to capitalise on their fortune in accessing high quality education in a country of opportunities such that in 100 years they might be the famous scientists in a 5/5 split).]

Once every student had successfully lit the Bunsen I brought them back together to demonstrate how to perform a flame test. Subsequently, they each got to perform a flame test with a different solution within their groups, filming proceedings on their iPads and recording their results. Chuffed with the timing of the lesson I brought them together to go through the results.

This was a wonderful day that couldn't have happened without the vision of Lisa Harbrow, Principal of St Felix Primary School, the support of Mick Egan, Principal of La Salle College, the Y4&5 class teachers, particularly Maree Elchaar and Ashley Azzopardi, Ritz Balzarno - Science Coordinator at La Salle, and of course Margaret Croucher. As a follow up activity, Ashley got her students to blog about their experiences. Please see below, it is very cute as they practise their letter writing to each other, signing off sincerely. Please do add you own comments on their blog to feedback to the students. Well done Year 4 & 5!!!