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Halloween Science

If you teach you either love or hate Halloween. There is no middle ground. I found that liking Halloween was so much easier than ignoring the vampire teeth and face paint in my room every time that day rolled around. So, I learned to embrace my inner Dracula. I have tried a variety of activities to infuse this spirit without losing the content I want to teach. I can say it takes a little work but it is possible. The best celebrations by far have been the ones where I asked the students to come up with demos and activities that fit both the spooky factor and taught or illustrated specific science concept. The students are actually really good at both vampire teeth and finding activities. The brightest teachers have them set them up and clean them up as well.


Halloween and science are a match made in heaven. There are a few hundred experiments you can do with dry ice and the gas laws. A small piece of dry ice can inflate a balloon and with a little observation a student can measure the volume of the dry ice cube (to within about .5 cubic centimeters just visually and with a little geometry they can measure the volume of a balloon after the dry ice sublimes (moves from the solid to the gas state without a long enough stop in the liquid phase for you to see it). It is a great way to see how the volume of a gas relates to the volume of a solid. Many students hold the misconception that the volumes are pretty close together. In most cases there is a huge difference.

A bit of dry ice and a pan of warm water will produce water vapor, fog, in impressive quantities. You can get dry ice from a local ice cream store, a grocery store or an ice company that sells it in bulk. My local grocer has ice cream come to the store packed with a little dry ice. He was happy to save a little for me throughout the year. Steve Spangler’s web site has a few twists on the dry ice fog using pumpkins and bubbles. There are also a few amazing videos of dry ice on teacher tube. You should check it out.

http://www.stevespangler.com/teaching-moments/hands-on-halloween-science/

Keeping with the states of matter theme here I have to mention slime. One of the favorite Halloween labs of all time is the making of slime. This activity is great for introducing bonding, polymers (plastics), characteristic properties of materials, or characteristics of solids, liquids and gasses. Although there are several variations the classic involves PVA (poly vinyl alcohol) and sodium borate (borax). This mix will give you a colorless to slightly white solution that will cross link the molecules and give you a really interesting substance that will feel and look a little like thick rubber cement without the adhesive properties. The students add color to this and it is spectacular fun.

http://www.west.net/~science/slime.htm

The easier version is just cornstarch and water. You can play around for the right amounts of each and place the material in zip lock bags to keep the room from becoming slime central.

http://www.kids-birthday-party-guide.com/how-to-make-slime.html

The reason for participating in the Halloween spirit of things is to motivate kids. However, the content of science does not need to be sacrificed in the pursuit of fun. Creighton University in Omaha Nebraska has a physics department that embraces the mysteries of science for the holiday. They decorate the lab with a spooky hose theme and have some sort of mysterious demo or interactive exhibit around every corner. Unlike the haunted houses where you leave with a heart rate that is just short of bunny rabbit speed, these are family and kid friendly. They illustrate some great physics concepts and attract a loyal following from the community year to year. They have posted a wonderful description of how they set up the lab and welcome more than the physics students in for a fun week of science. This is great public outreach and good science.

http://scitation.aip.org/journals/doc/PHTEAH-ft/vol_42/iss_7/404_1.html

Arbor Scientific used to write some Halloween themed newsletters that were filled with great ideas for connecting science to the spooky time of year.  These contain most of the most popular activities and haunted lab ideas. Some are archived and can be found at:

 http://physics.about.com/b/2006/10/18/halloween-physics-haunted-science-lab.htm

Whatever your feelings about Halloween, the kids, young and old love it. Your school may ban costumes but in your room you can create a mood that speaks to the kid in all of us. Pair that up with a rich bit of science content and you have the makings of a school tradition. Hang a few rubber bats and bring the skeleton out of the biology closet and get into the spirit of the season.

 

Shannon C ‘de Baca is a passionate educator who teaches at Iowa Learning Online. Visit her blog at HotChalkScience.com.

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