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The New Normal: Let’s Experiment Safely!

1 month ago

So, school is back. And teachers now have the added curveball of needing to find ways to reintroduce structure, routine, and a sense of normality of a school life that will feel anything but normal.

Many schools are keeping pupils in ‘bubbles’ to reduce the chances of infection throughout the school. But school life (and children, come to that) are not designed to maintain a socially distant 2m space between other human beings. A group activity of 6 children, properly socially distanced, would take up half your average classroom.

So when it comes to science, how can we get around practical science lessons full of interactive experiments while maintaining social distance? Here are some ideas from the Empiribox team…

1. BREAD vs GERMS

A popular (and topical) experiment to help get children to understand the importance of handwashing and how germs work, is the bread experiment.

1. Take 5 slices of bread and place them into ziplock plastic bags. One piece of bread will remain untouched, as the control.

2. The 2nd piece should be touched by each of the students after playtime, before using hand sanitiser and touching the 3rd piece of bread.

3. After this, they wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water and touch the 4th piece of bread.

4. Then make sure all students rewash their hands again with soap and water.

5. If you have a frequently used device, like a laptop or a phone that needs sterilising, you can add a 5th piece of bread to the experiment after the pupils have wiped their hands on the device.

6. Ensure the device and the students’ hands are thoroughly cleaned immediately afterwards!

7. Label all the bags and leave all four/five pieces of bread out of the way in the same conditions for 3-4 weeks.

8. The results will be stunning (and disgusting!) and will certainly help ensure pupils keep on top of their handwashing!

You can check out one teachers’ results here.

2. THE EXPLODING WATERMELON

Take it outside! There are some great experiments which can be done out in the playground that will not only give children a change of scene, but help maintain social distancing while engaging in practical science experiments. For instance, one fun experiment which is great in teaching children about forces, is using elastic bands to explode a watermelon. Not only is it a fun (and messy!) hands-on experiment the kids get really engaged with, it’s a great way of showing the principles of potential and kinetic energy.

1. All you need is a medium sized watermelon, a bowl to place it in to keep it steady, and a LOT of large elastic bands, about 300-400.

2. Make sure the kids are gathered around at a good distance, and invite them to come up one by one to place elastic bands around the middle of the watermelon (to get things moving we recommend you quickly place a lot on yourself with the help of a TA to start with).

3. Encourage the children to note down the changes they see in the watermelon.

4. It’ll start to bulge at the top and bottom, and they’ll start to see bubbles and cracks emerge as the pressure builds up.

5. As they’re placing the elastic bands, explain to them that the elastic bands have potential energy, which increases when it’s stretched. The potential energy can then be turned into kinetic energy when the potential energy creates movement.

6. As each elastic band is placed around the watermelon, the potential energy of both the elastic bands and the watermelon increases, as the watermelon contents are displaced and its shape changes.

7. When the watermelon finally explodes, it’s a really memorable way of illustrating how something as small as an elastic band can have such a big effect!

8. Just make sure the kids wash their hands thoroughly before eating the results of their experiment.

Find out more about how the watermelon experiment works in this great blog post.

3. THE HEART RATE EXPERIMENT

Another experiment which can be done outside and all students can participate in, is the heart rate experiment. In this experiment, children are learning about the effect that cardiovascular exercise has on their heart rate.

1. To begin with, each pupil must stand still and measure their heart rate via their pulse, i.e. how many beats per minute.

2. After they record this, they must all run around for one minute, before standing still and re-recording their heart rate, and writing it down.

3. You can get them to repeat the experiment with different exercises- like star jumps, skipping, or walking.

4. Each time, get the students to measure their heart rate afterwards, and log the results.

5. Make sure the children leave a few minutes between each exercise, or the results won’t be accurate.

6. The great thing about this experiment is that no equipment is needed and the students don’t have to share resources. They each take and track their own results, which can then be taken and used in the classroom to write up reports and create graphs and charts in future lessons.

7. This experiment opens up conversations about health and wellbeing, as well as giving children an understanding of the effect exercise has on their heart rate.

Every school is adapting differently to protect their pupils, but there are ways of ensuring that children stay engaged and motivated in science and actively participate in scientific experimentation. For more ideas, check out the rest of the Empiribox website and see how we can help support you and your class!

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