Science - Going out with a bang

2nd December 2011 at 00:00
Reignite pupils' enthusiasm with a fun and fiery practical

If the start of term was peaceful - something of an enjoyable honeymoon period with a new class, even if you are teaching outside your subject specialism - the weeks towards the end of term are very capable of going pear-shaped.

A little incident here or a difficult pupil there and life is no longer such a breeze. The long slog to the Christmas holidays is well underway and pupils are itching for the festive break. So why not inject a little light-hearted enjoyment into proceedings and try to recapture the enthusiasm of that dream class which arrived at the beginning of term?

It is sometimes necessary to earn class support by doing "fun" practicals. Pupils appreciate spectacular demonstrations with bangs and flashes, and they are always special at the end of the year. One of my favourite experiments is called Flaming Hands and can be used to demonstrate a chemical reaction, illustrate combustion or as an example of a highly exothermic reaction.

Create a mixture of water, washing up liquid and glycerol in a plastic trough and then bubble some methane gas from the lab tap through the mixture. The methane gas will become trapped inside the washing up liquid and glycerol, creating your very own "flammable bubbles". Now you can build a tower of bubbles, or run them along the length of a bench like an explosives fuse. Alternatively, if you are feeling brave, place your hand in a bucket of cold water and then place some of the bubbles on your palm. Carefully setting light to the bubbles will send the class into spontaneous, excited cheers.

Hopefully, the demonstration will trigger inquisitive questions from the class and open more avenues to explore. Good, insightful questions may even allow you to develop links with other scientific ideas, such as energy transfer and the use of fossils fuels.

If using the demonstration as a starter, a good option for the main part of the lesson would be a class practical involving another combustion reaction. Alternatively, the demonstration could be used as a rousing plenary and send the pupils on their merry way to their next lesson . or the Christmas holidays.

Andrew Lochery is MD at Green APLEducation and has taught chemistry in several state and independent schools in Greater Manchester. Follow him on Twitter @GreenAPLEd


In the forums

There are combustion practical ideas aplenty on the science forum.

In the run-up to Christmas, science teachers have come up with fun and festive ideas for practical experiments.

Find all links and forums at


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