To coincide with science week at Oakfield Junior School, a group of year 6 students joined us at Lord Lawson to participate in a chemistry lesson. The group confidently worked in groups of 2 or 3 to produce hydrogen. The fact that most of them had already seen hydrogen rockets at the year 6 open evening last October in no way diminished their enthusiasm, if anything the anticipation of the bottles launching across room heightened their excitement.
For those who join us in September, I hope the opportunity to spend more time with has helped ease their transition. Those who will be attending other schools, will have gained transferable skills regarding handling chemicals and safely working in a laboratory.
We were delighted to be able to enhance the science experiences already offered at Oakfield Junior School during the week.
Science workshops with year 5 students from 3 of our local primary schools
Over the last three weeks we have had the pleasure of year 5 students from Barley Mow, Portobello and Ravensworth joining us for a chemistry lesson. The lesson‘s focus was on permanent chemical changes, which is in the upper KS2 curriculum. The students were able to work in our laboratories to watch demonstrations of sugar burning in acid then potassium permanganate igniting with the addition of glycerol. These had two purposes, first to see reactions that they wouldn’t otherwise and second, to highlight safety issues before they worked with chemicals themselves.
Students initially carried out a mini investigation, observing the changes when copper wire was added to a solution of silver nitrate. Following this, they moved to their main activity, to produce and test hydrogen.
Students from all schools showed attributes of our 5R’s + 1 ethos. Resilience was evident when initial attempts to collect and test hydrogen proved unsuccessful. By the end of the sessions every group had been rewarded with a ‘squeaky pop’ as they put a lit splint into the mouth of their tube, proving that they had achieved the aim of filling it with hydrogen gas. Students were in both answers that were given to my questions and questions posed they posed to me. All groups were responsible, performing safely at all times with fantastic behaviour and excellent manners.
The squeals of excitement they produced when the session ended with hydrogen rockets being fired across the room could be heard in several of the surrounding labs. A good indicator of their enjoyment which their accompanying staff and I found infectious!
Year 12 and 13 students joined me on our yearly visit to Newcastle University to be entertained and informed at the Annual Kilcoyne 6th Form Christmas Lecture. The lecture series is named after John Kilcoyne, a retired lecturer from University of Sunderland who made it his mission to wow audiences while educating them about various chemical reactions and their applications. He may be better known from appearing in his shed on Sky Television’s Braniac, .
The lectures are now delivered by guest speakers who all hold the same ethos of making chemistry fun and relevant. Yesterday Dr Annie Hodgson from York University delivered “Colourful Chemistry at Christmas”. We were treated to a number of demonstrations, from reactions between colourless solutions that created a delayed but striking colour change, to flames and bangs associated with fireworks.
Annie asked for some student participation, which our group were very reluctant to do. Well done to Rassi for stepping up and waving a sparkler through the air! It was left to me to participate with the glow stick though. Throughout the demonstrations Annie explained the chemistry behind what we were watching, why colour changing rubber ducks changed colour in hot water, which salts produced the different colours in fireworks, what caused the bangs and whistles in fireworks as they burnt and how sparklers were made and sparkled when lit were among the examples. Annie told the students to ‘Expect the unexpected’, however I enjoyed hearing gasps from the students when they clearly hadn’t expected the outcomes of a reaction. Film canisters exploding then hitting the high ceiling of the lecture theatre were met with jumps followed by laughter.
On leaving all of our students said they’d enjoyed their hour at the lecture, with Year 13 saying they’d enjoyed this year’s lecture more than the one they’d seen last year. A great way to end the year!
Year 12 and 13 Chemists benefitted from a talk given to them by Magnus Bebbington, a lecturer at Heriot Watts’ School of Engineering & Physical Sciences; Chemical Sciences last week. Magnus’ research is aimed at developing new methods of synthesising one type of molecule where two mirror images are possible. These are known as optical isomers. This branch of chemistry is especially important in the development of drugs, as one mirror image can be beneficial while the other can cause serious problems. The most well documented example being thalidomide.
Magnus’ lecture introduced the topic to our year 12 students in an accessible manner, using Alice Through the Looking Glass as a context. What would looking glass milk taste like? For our year 13 students it was a useful revision session, with additional examples and information to those they had discussed in their usual chemistry lessons. Students were given samples of the two optical isomers of limonene to smell. One is the scent in lemons, the other the scent in oranges.
Magnus was then happy to answer any questions our students had, either about the subject of chirality or about student life, followed by interest in post graduate studies.
We had the pleasure of welcoming both year 5 classes from Kells Lane into our science department on Monday 5th December to take part in a lesson looking at chemical changes. The students initially watched demonstrations which showed colour change, gas production, smoke and flames. The purple flame produced when glycerol reacted with potassium permanganate was particularly popular, although the smoke produced caused a few wrinkled noses. These demonstrations met two objectives, firstly to show them different examples of chemical changes and secondly to emphasise safety issues before they carried out activities themselves.
Following a brief safety discussion students carried out a mini investigation watching silver crystals grow on a copper Christmas tree, before the main activity of producing hydrogen gas. The students worked sensibly, following instructions which resulted in all groups being able make and test several tubes of hydrogen. The concentration on their faces then subsequent excitement when their tubes of hydrogen elicited a ‘pop’ was a joy to see.
The finale of the session was to set fire to a hydrogen balloon, then fire hydrogen rockets, in the form of bottles with hydrogen and oxygen, across the room. Although I did tell the class I was teaching that they would make loud bangs, none of them anticipated quite how loud, causing a variety of responses from gasps and hands over ears to giggles. One thing was clear, one wasn’t enough and they cheered as each rocket flew across the room. Both classes responded very enthusiastically when asked if they’d enjoyed themselves, which was a particular relief for me, given that my daughter was in the class I taught and had told me I had better make sure it was good!
On Friday the 11th of November 28 of our year 10 students were fortunate enough to visit the center for life for a special event on malaria.
In the morning they learnt about what causes malaria and created computer models to simulate its spread. By building in more and more layers of commands the students were able to create a model in which the mosquitoes bred in ponds and were attracted to humans close enough for them to ‘smell’. They then were able to simulate a variety of different control measure. While some of our students had great fun from creating models in which hundreds of mosquitoes were hatched and everyone was infected, the general consensus were that simple preventative measures such as draining ponds and using insect repellent drastically reduced the spread.
Next we heard from scientists at York Univeristy who have been working on creating a new breed of the plant we currently make malaria medication form. They explained how difficult it is to make enough of the drug as less than 0.1% of each plant can be turned into medicine currently. It was interesting to find out how many people had been involved with the project and how long it had taken them to create the new breed of plant. It was also amazing finding out how small the seeds were-2000 seeds would weigh one gram!
We finished off with a trip to the motion ride. All in all it was a fantastic experience for everyone involved and a real opportunity to see how science is being used outside the classroom to better the lives of millions of people around the world.
Please see below more information about the National Engineering Competition for Girls, scroll down to see the Parent and teacher fact sheet.
At the end of last year, the year 12 class visited LIFE in Newcastle where they participated in an laboratory workshop . The activities were investigating how DNA technology is used in forensic science and how an individual’s unique DNA can provide evidence to link them to the scene of a crime.
The students were able to compare DNA from a crime scene with that taken from five suspects and use restriction enzymes and gel electrophoresis to determine who might have committed the crime.
The group then visited the amazing ANIMALS INSIDE OUT exhibition. Thanks to the science of plastination, invented by Dr Gunther von Hagens, each animal has been painstakingly preserved allowing visitors to see what lies beneath nature’s skin in intricate detail.
The exhibition aims to illustrate the complexity of animal physiology, exploring the inner workings of animals and the systems that allow them to live, thrive and survive. ANIMAL INSIDE OUT also shows how different animals have evolved both in their anatomy and their organ function to their natural habitats such as the elephant’s trunk or the giraffe’s long neck.
As the school year was drawing to an end, 60 year 9 students were able to participate in a workshop run by Tomorrow’s Engineers, which was sponsored by Shell. The aim of the project was to enthuse students and to encourage a number of them to consider a job in engineering.
The day started with an information session about different types of engineering. Many students initially perceived engineering to only be linked with heavy industry and building. By the end of the first session they were aware of more diverse roles for engineers such as stage hands at a concert, in production of genetically engineered food and manufacturing of smaller things such as packaging or cosmetics.
After break the real fun started, when students were challenged to construct solar power cars. They then had to charge and race them across the expanse of the school hall. There was a highly charged atmosphere amongst a number of them, who were trying desperately to ensure that their car travelled in a straight line, and started in the right direction (a few set off in the opposite direction to the finish line, causing much amusement in the oppositions teams).
Our students were very resilient when things didn’t work as they planned on first attempts. With a little reflection and discussion, they were all able to successfully complete their challenge.