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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Sticky Tape = Sticky Learning

Imagine trying to get by in your classroom for a year without any tape, post it notes or any adhesives at all. That would be difficult. Yet, I never thought until now of how interesting that simple substance, adhesive, is to my students. This was the start of some sticky science.

Material is sticky because of a phenomenon called “viscoelasticity”. This is where a material flows and flows into the nooks and crevices of another material. Water does this well but for something to be sticky it needs to do what water does, flow, and it needs to form bonds with the material it is sticking to as well. Then, the “sticky” material needs one more thing. It needs to hold together.  Water does not do this well. So, if we have a material that flows, sticks together and forms some surface bonds we have an adhesive.
Adhesives are an entire segment of the commercial world. There are adhesives that are simple like paste and glue we use in school to super glue and high tech adhesives used by NASA. Scientists who study these sticky substances take a few ideas from nature. The Gecko and Muscle are two organisms that have the ability to stick to a surface quite well.
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/24/science/24geck.html?_r=1&em&ex=1185681600&en=ce02ca9064d97eee&ei=5087%0A

This study of natural adhesives leads to new products for a variety of interesting applications including bandages that can get wet and still adhere to the wound and underwater adhesives.
In the world of sticks stuff there is adhesion (where two different materials adhere together) and cohesion (which is internal stuff sticking together). Understanding the difference in these two terms is worth spending time of with your students. This site helps.
http://www.adhesives.org/TrainingEducation/StudentResources/AdhesionScienceOverview.aspx

If you have taught phase changes or intermolecular forces in your science lessons both of these live in the science of adhesives. Both ideas are fleshed out in some great graphics by the Adhesives and Sealant Council at this site.
http://adhesives.org/TrainingEducation/StudentResources/WhyDoesanAdhesiveBond.aspx

A quick Google of science fair projects and adhesives will yield a variety of interesting takes on experiments to use glue, tape and other adhesives to experiment and learn more about variables and chemistry.
http://www.all-science-fair-projects.com/project713_38.html

I have been having my students gather tape from all sorts of places. We have 4 different kinds of duct tape,  lots of package sealing tape, 6 different brands of clear plastic tape (like scotch tape), electrical tape, fabric tape and even coaching/medical tape. What I want to do with all of this is to have the kids design an experiment to see how each of these tapes works on a particular surface. This will require the construction of some sort of measuring device to measure the pull required to remove the tape. I think we will use one of the sets of spring scales in some way. Then, rich discussions of the parameters of the experiment should yield some interesting insights about how well the students after 3 quarters of lab work are coming in their ability to design and run a “fair test”.
If you would like to do the same experiment leave a comment on the blog and I will send you a copy of the experiment. I hope the learning sticks as well as the tape. Happy teaching!

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