LIQUID NITROGEN EXPLO- sions, flaming pumpkins, exploding eggs and pickles, and thermite reactions delight
and entertain our audiences when we
perform chemical demonstrations. These
demos are fun, easy to do, and dramatic.
But please, before you blow up another
pickle, stop and think about what you’re
trying to accomplish, and why.
If you’re like many students I talk to,
you will probably tell me something
about having a mission to increase the
public’s interest in or knowledge of science. But do you really appreciate why
this is so critically important?
For me, there are two outcomes that
I seek when performing chemical demonstrations. First, I hope to nurture an
interest in science among young students,
so that they might someday pursue an
CHEM DEMOS Doing More with
By BrittLAnD DeKorVer PART 1
education in a science field and become
a scientist. In doing so, I’m trying to add
to the “pipeline” of scientists.
Of course, not every student wants to
have a career as a scientist, which is why
I have a second goal: to increase science
literacy among the masses in our society.
Science literacy is important to our society because as new scientific advances
are made, we as a people must deal
with the legal and ethical implications
that often come with these advances.
To do this, we must be capable of making informed decisions built upon basic
knowledge of scientific facts and the
nature of science. Unfortunately, some
students (and adults) are science-phobic
and believe that they can’t do science or
that science doesn’t affect them.
That’s why it’s vital that scientific
learning occurs during outreach events.
Learning is sometimes treated as an afterthought in science outreach. Too often,
the primary objective is to entertain; if
learning also occurs, it is seen as an addi-
Help the audience relate
Find a relatable context for the demonstration or activity. Show the audience
how the knowledge can be applied in
their everyday experiences. Food, alternative or renewable energy, electronics,
and clothing are just a few examples of
areas where you can find some relevant
or timely topics to incorporate into your
tional benefit. Why do we, as informal
science educators, tend to highlight the
dramatic more than the educational?
Because making chemistry flashy and
exciting is easy: color changes, fog, glow-in-the-dark substances, and — the crowd
favorite — explosions. Creating a learning
experience, however, is more challenging. You’ve studied for years to obtain
your chemistry knowledge. How do you
convey it to an audience in just a few
Design a multisensory
Many times, we orally explain a particular demonstration in a few sentences
after it’s over. Generally, we use what
we think are basic terms — but often,
even these terms are new or unfamiliar
to our audience. Consequently, our well-thought-out explanation will have little or
no lasting impact on the audience.
Instead, consider using signs or posters
to display key words so that the audience
can read them. Use models for a particular reaction or process so that the audi-