Monthly Archives: January 2014

Fast Fix – Example Equipment

Use example equipment set ups for students to look at.

Students often struggle to translate scientific diagrams into a practical set up. By providing an example set up, you are giving the students a Rosetta Stone – an aid in translation. This prevents students asking you “is this right?” over and over, and prevents dangerous or wasteful set ups.

By having both the diagram and an example students will rapidly improve their scientific drawings and experimental set-ups.

Your role in checking equipment is now a quick glance followed by a “Go and check the example equipment”


“The work of science is to substitute facts for appearances, and demonstrations for impressions.”

John Ruskin

(Although nothing makes an impression like a good demonstration!)

Fast Fix – Equipment Numbers

Some practicals are dangerous, but necessary if we are to teach the syllabus thoroughly.

Dissections often cause palpatations among science teachers – there is a glut of things that can go wrong. Stolen equipment should never be one of these.

Mark all of your dangerous equipment (scalpels, micro-balances, syringes etc.) with a number in permanent ink. Have a corresponding numbered list. When you hand out a scalpel, make a single person responsible for it. They sign their name next to the number of the scalpel and it is not to leave their sight.

If the scalpel does go a-wandering, you know who to go to, and who has to frantically search for it while the rest of the class wait behind their seats.

Fast Fix – Managing Congestion

Control the movement of pupils in your lab to avoid congestion and prevent accidents.

In practical lessons, most accidents occur when collecting or returning equipment. There are lots of reasons for this but congestion is usually the culprit. Prevent this by:

  1. Assigning group roles to limit the numbers of pupils moving around the room;
  2. Spread the equipment out around the room at labelled equipment stations: eg. Glassware, Wet Chemicals, Dry Chemicals, Measuring Devices;
  3. Distributing plastic tubs at the end of practicals to each table for glassware to prevent glass breakages. These can be filled with disinfectant if required, or labelled with ‘Rinse First’;
  4. Plan specific ‘Tidy-time’ (more than 10mins before the end) to prevent students rushing to pack away before the bell.

“I love fool’s experiments. I am always making them”

Charles Darwin

(A close second: You can never make anything Fool-proof, because fools are so ingenious)


In this regular feature, I list my 6 favourite practical science links from the past fortnight

Image courtesy of

Chip pan fire, as demonstrated on the ScienceDemo website (© Gatsby Charitable Foundation 2013; CC-BY License).

  • Subject: Chemistry (Chip Pan Fire Demo)
  • Log in?: No
  • Source: Twitter via Royal Institution (@RIScience) and Jonathon Sanderson (@jjsanderson)
  • Author:
  • Details: A video (and cautionary description) demonstrating the chip-pan fire. Scroll down the page to see some Biology and Physics demos too! Made as part of the British Science Association’s  Get Set Demonstrate Project.

Demo Day 2014: 20th March 2014

Not really a resource but definitely one of the most exciting practical-related links I’ve seen in a while. I’ll follow up with more details later, but for now, check out their website!

image of laptop showing The OpenScience laboratory application website

Another resource that warrants further investigation and a future post! This website is for any and all interested in practical science.

  • Subject: Practical Science
  • Log in?: Full access to registered users only. Several resources available to all.
  • Source: Twitter via Lee Page (@LeeWPage)
  • Author: Open University (@OpenScienceLab
  • Details: They offer remote experiments, citizen science and interactive screen experiments. Great for the casually interested and schools wishing to broaden their practical horizons

  • Subject: Chemistry
  • Log in?: Yes (Free Registration)
  • Source: Science Enhancement Programme, on the National Stem Centre website
  • Details: Demonstrations and practical activities which explore states of matter and particle theory. I love the idea of pouring a gas!

A Jelly baby wave machine?
  • Subject: Physics (Teaching Waves)
  • Log in?: No
  • Author: Neil Atkin (@natkin)
  • Details: A comprehensive guide to teaching waves. From how to introduce terminology, to demonstrations (using slinky’s and the Queen), to how to make a jelly baby wave machine! Lots of videos too

  • Subject: Geology – the rock cycle
  • Log in?: Yes (free registration)
  • Author: ItsJustNathan (TES Resources)
  • Details: A lesson plan and accompanying PowerPoint to guide KS3 learners through the Rock Cycle. The pupils role play their way through the rock cycle in game. Excellent detail in lesson plan too!

Supercooling Water

This is my ideal practical: cheap, easy to set up and impressive. Just make sure that all is done well in advance and nobody touches the set-up

You Will Need:




Bottled mineral water £0.95 6x500ml bottles Still. Not tap water. Unopened
2 x bags of ice £2.00 You can get crushed if you are short of time
1-2kg table salt 25p/kg Goggles on when pouring this amount
Thermometer n/a Must measure to -20°C
Metal Bucket n/a A repurposed fire bucket works well
Hammer n/a If not using crushed ice. Remember goggles
TOTAL £3.45


You can either set this up before the lesson, or set it up at the start of a 2 hour lesson and demonstrate at the end. This is only practical if you have somewhere where the bucket will not be knocked or touched.

  1. Crush your ice with your hammer. Remember goggles and watch your fingers. Pre-crushed ice makes this step easier.
  2. Add around 2kg (1 bag) of crushed ice to your metal bucket.
  3. Add water to make a slush.
  4. Remove the labels from your bottles.
  5. Place at least three bottles into the slush, as vertical as possible. Spread them evenly around the bucket The lids of the bottles should be sticking out of the slush for easy access.
  6. Add salt! You need at least 1kg for 6 bottles. Make sure to dust salt off the lids of the bottles. (If you watch the temperature as you add the salt, you will see it plummet. Try and get your pupils to explain how/why this happens).
  7. Wait! This needs around an hour for the water to cool. Rotate the bottles very gently every 15 minutes.
  8. After an hour, check your thermometer. You are looking for a temperature below -5°C. You should also see ice formed on the outside of your bucket.


  1. Gather the class around the bucket. Ask them what the freezing point of water is. Ask the class what freezing is (you may want a recap on particle diagrams – you could ask a pupil to draw liquid water and solid water particle diagrams on the board at this point)
  2. Very gently, remove one of the bottles. Tip it (gently) to show it is still liquid. Ask your students how it can be liquid when the thermometer shows such a low temperature.
  3. (Gently) swing the bottle back and hit it on the wall.
  4. You should see the water instantly freeze.
  5. You can get pillar of ice by pouring your supercooled water over an icecube. (This is my favourite part – much ooooo-ing and ahhhhh-ing).
  6. Discuss why this happens – this is a good place to bring up specific latent heat and the associated graphs.

What is happening?

When you add the salt to your slush, the salt melts the ice. This lowers the temperature of the mixture as far as -10°C

It is actually very hard for water to freeze on it’s own. It needs something to help line up all the water molecules in a regular structure: an ice crystal. Usually, these crystals need to form around  impurities in the water, other bits of ice, or bits of grit. These are called nucleation sites. (This is why a pond freezes from the outside in towards the middle.)

The water in your bottles is very pure, and the sides of the bottle are very smooth. This makes it harder for the bottled water to freeze. When you bang the container, you make microscopic bubbles at the surface, that ice crystals can form around. You can make towers of ice because the best nucleation site for ice crystal formation is actually other bits of ice.