“In the Lab before Christmas” – A Chemical Demonstration and Education Show

In the Lab Before Christmas Title Screen

Most chemical educators will agree that exciting demonstrations are excellent motivators to create interest in science. They are also a way to create interest in the community, motivate the student-demonstrators, and perhaps to make a little money to support special activities of an ACS Chem Club. Chemical demonstration shows, organized around holidays or other special occasions have a long and honored history.  Pacifica High School (Garden Grove, CA) took its inspiration from the lecture-demonstrations of Michael Faraday, given during the Christmas holidays of 1860-61. (The Chemical History of A Candle).

"In the Lab Before Christmas" regularly attracted more than 400 students and community members, with an attendance of more than 800 at the final show in 2012. The annual event, begun in 2003, was billed as the start of the holiday season at the high school, and was eagerly anticipated by club members and other students. The show was conceived with three purposes, first to entice students to enroll in Advanced Placement Chemistry; second to introduce a variety of chemistry concepts to the general population of students and the community in an exciting and entertaining way; and finally as the principal fund-raising activity of the AP Chemistry class, and later the ACS Chem Club.

From 14 to 18 demonstrations were presented at each show. In addition to researching an interesting demonstration and the chemistry and safety issues it encompassed, students were also required to write and perform a short, "humorous" skit, and prepare a two- to four-minute PowerPoint presentation (preferably with animation) to illustrate the basic chemistry concept. Students were required to learn and apply the Division of Chemical Education "Minimum Safety Guidelines for Chemical Demonstrations" (rev. 1995).

Due to the limitations of time, resources, and venue, the show could not be interactive, and attendees watched the skits, demonstrations, and lessons, but could not participate actively. However, both the students doing the demonstrations, and those who watched were enthusiastic about the effort of the students, the educational opportunity, and the motivation to continue studies in science that resulted from the show.  The remainder of this article will outline the steps to preparing and presenting the show. Associated material gives sample programs, tickets, and PowerPoint lessons based on the demonstrations. Unfortunately (or, perhaps fortunately) scripts of the skits are not extant and cannot be included. I am happy to provide more information or suggestions from the experiences at Pacifica to anyone who is interested, and would be happy to have other ideas added to this blog entry.

Many of the support materials to assist other who want to produce a similar demonstrations show are associated with this blog. Unfortunately, ChemEdX does not alow uploading PowerPoint files at this time, so samples of the PowerPoint lessons cannot be shared.