Wednesday, January 25, 2012

In the Art Room: Weird Science

The kids always know when we are going to perform a science experiment the moment I slip on the lab coat I picked up at Goodwill.
When we began our study of Ancient Egypt at the beginning of the school year, I stumbled upon a lesson on how to mummify an apple. Despite our short art classes (30 minutes), I decided that we would make the time for this "science experiment". So, I picked up a bag of apples, baking soda and salt from the grocery, brought in my food dehydrator, and donned my lab coat. The kids enjoyed that experiment so much that I've managed to tie in several during the course of this school year.

Lady Liberty. Did you know there are 168 steps to the top? And that she has chains under her feet to represent the stomping out of slavery? Also that one of her fingernails is as big as your lap top? Me neither. She's quite fascinating. 

Our most recent experiment ties in with our study of the Statue of Liberty. We learned that she is made of copper and that when copper oxidizes it changes from the color of a penny to a patina green. I noticed the kids where a little more than stumped by this concept. They needed to see it in action to actually grasp what in the heck I was blabbering about.

Turns out the P.E. teacher at my school is just as nuts as I am. Here we are as Lady Liberty and Frederic Bartoldhi, the sculptor behind the statue. We appeared on our school's morning sharing info on the artist and his masterpiece.

So I did a little research online and found the supplies needed for oxidizing copper could be picked up at Home Depot. When I went there, I found a couple more-than-curious employees that helped me find my supplies. I guess they don't have too many crazy art teachers coming in with requests for "just a little copper tube and some stuff to make it turn green". They sold me a tube but then referred me to Michael's for a patina kit. Muriatic acid is what is normally used to patina copper but it is highly toxic. Thankfully Michael's came through with a patina kit...however, I recently learned that Windex may have worked just as well.

The collection of pennies I happened to have in my wallet. They were a great example of the oxidation process to show the kids.

Right before the kids walked in, I decided to dig through my change for a couple of pennies. I know they handle pennies daily, so I thought that showing them the change would hit closer to home for them. I struck gold, er copper, with my collection. I love the varying change in oxidation as did the kids. We chatted about how the surface of the Statue of Liberty was covered in copper just like the pennies.

The copper tubing I picked up for a couple of bucks at Home Depot before the patina chemical was added.

Then I showed them the tubing. Using a sharpie, I divided the tubing into sections so each class could see the results of their experiment. I explained to them that the chemical I was putting on the tube would oxidize the copper, changing it to a patina. They were told that we now had to wait a week to see the results of the experiment.

After this first step in the experiment, I asked the kids the following questions: what supplies did we use? Who can trace the steps of the experiment we just performed? What do you predict the results will be? What they dictate to me is always fascinating. We have had interesting conversations on why the copper patinas instead of rusts (which I got a little lesson on from genius hubs); how chemicals cause a reaction and how this all relates back to our Lady Liberty being green like The Hulk.

After seeing this result, I realized I needed to sand the surface of the pipe to scuff it up a bit. This helped the chemical adhere to the tubing better and made the patina more even.
 One week later, we returned to our tube to find that it had indeed changed. As a wrap-up, the kids answered the questions on the second half of the sheet. You can see some of their answers below.
In all, I think it was a good experiment. It was inexpensive, short, educational and fun. Aside from this experiment and the mummified apple, we've also tried our hand at making papyrus out of rhubarb. And I've already got our next experiment in the works: dying yarn with Kool-Aid ice cubes, an idea pulled from pinterest, of course! I'll keep you posted on those results.

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