Keep Calm and Chemistry On: Tips for the New Chemistry Teacher
Looking for lab activities that work every time? Explore these easy, engaging, and safe chemistry activities that are sure to produce a reaction from your students. Whether you’re new to chemistry or feeling out of your element, you’ll learn fresh ways to create excitement in your lab.
Demos are a safe alternative
One of a new chemistry teacher’s biggest concerns is student safety in the lab. A way to minimize risk is to perform teacher-led demos that allow your students to observe the experiments from a safe distance. For example, flame tests are a classic lab activity for teaching atomic structure and emission spectroscopy, but they require students to work around an open flame. Doing these tests as a demo keeps students a safe distance away while allowing them to observe and record data.
To perform the demonstration:
- Make sure students are a safe distance away from the demo area and that you have a fire extinguisher on hand.
- Select chloride salts to use for the flame test (NaCl, KCl, CaCl2, SrCl2, and LiCl produce a nice variety of colors).
- Prepare the demonstration area.
- Clear at least 1 m2 of space on a flame-resistant surface.
- Make sure the area is clear of flammable materials.
- Tie back loose hair and clothing.
- Line up aluminum weighing boats about 2" apart, one for each salt, in the demo area. Label each weighing boat with the name of the salt it contains so you can identify the chemical during the demonstration.
- Add pea-sized amounts of chloride salts to their respective boats. Avoid cross-contaminating the salts.
- Carefully and without spilling, add approximately 1 mL of methanol to each boat.
- Be sure to move the bottle of methanol away from the demonstration area before lighting the boats.
- Use a wooden splint to light the methanol vapors over each boat. Caution: Methanol burns with a transparent, nearly invisible flame. Be sure the flame is completely extinguished before abandoning the demonstration.
- Turn off the classroom lights for better viewing. Ask students to record their observations.
Chemistry games can add to the fun
If you ask students what they dread most about chemistry class, the majority will answer having to memorize the periodic table. Minimize student fears of the periodic table, and make learning fun, by turning the topic into a game that will increase their understanding of periodic trends and the table. Prepare a card for each element that lists its chemical and physical properties (atomic radius, electronegativity, ionization energy, etc.). Next, task students with grouping the elements (cards) based on those properties and then organizing them into a table of recurring properties.
How-to videos are great for new procedures
Carolina.com has a wide array of how-to videos for science teachers and students. Have you forgotten how to set up a buret and perform a titration? Watch this video and be ready to demonstrate the technique to your students in tomorrow’s lab. If you’re not sure students in the back of the room can see your demonstration, play the video for the class.
Manipulatives are great for tough concepts
For many students, balancing chemical equations is a tough skill to master. Use colored beads or blocks to represent the atoms in the reaction. This helps students understand the law of conservation of mass and visualize the number of atoms participating on each side of the chemical equation.
There’s an app for that!
Students need repetitive practice to master chemistry topics such as using chemical nomenclature, writing formulas, and balancing equations. Don’t let the learning stop when the bell rings. Have students practice their chemistry skills outside of class with chemistry apps on their mobile devices. Apps are a great way to turn drill and grill into fun and thrill.
Microscale makes for easy clean up
Using smaller chemical volumes doesn’t just save you money on the purchase of materials; it can help you avoid costly chemical disposal fees and makes clean up a breeze. For example, when studying reaction types, have students use single drops of reactants on an acetate sheet or in a 96-well plate. A color change, formation of a precipitant, or formation of a gas can be easily detected from these 2-drop reactions.
Don’t fall for viral videos
If you haven’t seen them yourself, your students have surely told you about a dozen different chemistry experiments they’ve seen posted on the Internet or that have “gone viral” in social media. Many of these “experiments” are faked by camera tricks, don’t actually produce the result shown, or are very dangerous. Caution: Never perform labs or experiments you or your students found on the Internet from sources that have not been thoroughly vetted. There are plenty of well-known chemistry demos and labs that can be found from reputable sources that will produce amazing results.
Stock up on free resources from a trusted source
Carolina.com has tons of free resources to help you have a successful year of teaching chemistry. Visit for access to apps for Apple® mobile devices, how-to videos, lab instructions, chemical SDSs, and much more.