The vast majority of chemists with whom I come into contact recall that the first experiences that excited them about chemistry were either seeing or doing practical work.
It seems that the use of practical work at schools is decreasing; reasons include health and safety concerns and a lack of guidance. So I think it is time to review a classic textbook in this area: Classic Chemistry Demonstrations: One Hundred Tried and Tested Experiments,a book aimed at teachers which was given to every UK school when it was first published in 1995.
Many of the 100 demonstrations in this paperback are not original, but were nominated by experienced chemistry teachers from all over the world. The demonstrations, all of which have been thoroughly tested, afford students the opportunity to see experiments that they cannot do themselves for a myriad of reasons. It is important that students can see a “skilled practitioner at work” performing experiments that are “often spectacular, stimulating and motivating”. Naturally, chemistry demonstrations enhance teaching and learning and often provide a fun element to lessons.
For each demonstration, the author provides the topic for which the demonstration may be relevant, the time to perform the demonstration (once set up), the appropriate age for the students, a description of the experiment and the apparatus, and the quantities of the chemicals needed.
Naturally the method (procedure) is given in sufficient detail to carry out the demonstration, as well as tips on teaching and visual tips, possible extensions to the work, and both simple and fuller details of the theory (where appropriate). Lastly, but by no means unimportantly, safety notes, although not a full risk assessment, are provided.
The full list of the 100 demonstrations may be found on the website of the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistryw1, which also gives an example of one of the experiments: the ammonium dichromate volcano.
An additional ten reactions that are not included in the book (‘Chemistry demonstrations to enhance teaching and learning’) are available to download as Word or PDF filesw2. These reactions include that of sodium and potassium with concentrated hydrochloric acid, and the dehydration of N-(4-nitrophenyl)ethanamide by sulphuric acid.
Another useful guide to chemistry practical work by the Royal Society of Chemistry is the Practical Chemistry websitew3. The Royal Society of Chemistry also provides teachers with readable notes on ‘Health and safety’, ‘Banned chemicals’ and ‘Chemicals not recommended for use in schools’w4. Although these notes are written for UK schools and colleges, much of the advice applies to classrooms everywhere.
Publisher: Royal Society of Chemistry
Publication year: 1995