Keep Calm and Chemistry On: Tips for the New Chemistry Teacher

by Carolina Staff
Flasks of colorful liquid sit on the lab bench

Looking for lab activities that work every time? Explore these easy, engaging, and safe chemistry activities that are sure to produce a reaction from your students. Whether you’re new to chemistry or feeling out of your element, you’ll learn fresh ways to create excitement in your lab.

Demos are a safe alternative

One of a new chemistry teacher’s biggest concerns is student safety in the lab. A way to minimize risk is to perform teacher-led demos that allow your students to observe the experiments from a safe distance. For example, flame tests are a classic lab activity for teaching atomic structure and emission spectroscopy, but they require students to work around an open flame. Doing these tests as a demo keeps students a safe distance away while allowing them to observe and record data. The use of splints soaked in salt solutions improve the safety of this demo further.

Salts and other materials included in the kit.
840307 Like a Salt to a Flame Kit

Like a Salt to a Flame Kit

This demonstration explores the phenomenon of flame tests used in identifying certain metals by burning their salt compounds in a flame and observing their characteristic colors. Students learn the fundamentals of emission spectroscopy as they observe the colorful flames of 6 metallic salts. This leads to understanding the concepts of electron excitation of atoms and quantum theory.

Chemistry games can add to the fun

If you ask students what they dread most about chemistry class, the majority will answer having to memorize the periodic table. Minimize student fears of the periodic table, and make learning fun, by turning the topic into a game that will increase their understanding of periodic trends and the table. Prepare a card for each element that lists its chemical and physical properties (atomic radius, electronegativity, ionization energy, etc.). Next, task students with grouping the elements (cards) based on those properties and then organizing them into a table of recurring properties.

Materials needed to solve the periodic table mystery.
840074 Periodic Table Inquiry Kit

Periodic Table Inquiry Kit

Astrobiologists have theorized that life on other planets might be silicon based as opposed to the carbon-based life that exists on Earth. In this lab, students seek to understand this phenomenon by constructing models of the elements based on their chemical and physical characteristics. They then compare their models to the periodic table and 3 alternative periodic tables with the goal of answering the driving question, “What patterns can be identified in the design of the periodic table, and how can those patterns be used to make predictions?”

How-to videos are great for new procedures has a wide array of how-to videos for science teachers and students. Have you forgotten how to set up a buret and perform a titration? Watch the video and be ready to demonstrate the technique to your students in tomorrow’s lab. If you’re not sure students in the back of the room can see your demonstration, play the video for the class.

Manipulatives are great for tough concepts

For many students, balancing chemical equations is a tough skill to master. Use colored beads or blocks to represent the atoms in the reaction. This helps students understand the law of conservation of mass and visualize the number of atoms participating on each side of the chemical equation.

Colorful cubes are used to model atoms in a chemical equation
840656 Balancing Chemical Equations Kit

Balancing Chemical Equations Kit

A video of magnesium ribbon being dropped into a solution of hydrochloric acid is the investigative phenomenon. Students use manipulatives to model how to balance chemical equations and understand the law of conservation of mass. These tools help students visualize the number of atoms participating in each side of a chemical reaction by modeling the reactants and products. They make sense of the phenomenon and discover the answer to the driving question, “How do you write a chemical equation so that the number and type of atoms on the reactant and product sides are balanced?”

Microscale makes for easy clean up

Using smaller chemical volumes doesn’t just save you money on the purchase of materials; it can help you avoid costly chemical disposal fees and makes clean up a breeze. For example, when studying reaction types, have students use single drops of reactants on an acetate sheet or in a 96-well plate. A color change, formation of a precipitant, or formation of a gas can be easily detected from these 2-drop reactions.

Students investigate 45 different chemical reactions between 10 different chemicals in this guided-inquiry microscale chemistry experiment.
840660 Mystery Chemical Reactions Kit

Mystery Chemical Reactions Kit

Some chemical reactions produce no visible change, whereas others produce impressive changes in appearance that clearly indicate to an observer that a chemical change has taken place. With enough knowledge of the characteristics of compounds and the elements from which they form, one can make predictions as to the properties of the products of different reactions. Students will analyze data from 73 double-replacement reactions, allowing them to develop an answer to the question, “How can scientists predict the properties of the products of a chemical reaction or design a chemical reaction to produce products with specific properties?”

Don’t fall for viral videos

If you haven’t seen them yourself, your students have surely told you about a dozen different chemistry experiments they’ve seen posted on the Internet or that have “gone viral” in social media. Many of these “experiments” are faked by camera tricks, don’t actually produce the result shown, or are very dangerous. Caution: Never perform labs or experiments you or your students found on the Internet from sources that have not been thoroughly vetted. There are plenty of well-known chemistry demos and labs that can be found from reputable sources that will produce amazing results.

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Carolina offers free safety information, activities that support NGSS, and more.

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