When I began to feel the chemistry…

Chintan Girish Modi

I am not much of a science person. I did score well in chemistry, physics and biology while at school but marks or grades are hardly any indication of interest or aptitude. Coming from a teacher, this might sound strange. However, it is common knowledge that it is possible to get an A+ on a subject without really liking it. If you are willing to slog it out, or have been adequately schooled in test-taking skills and have a good memory to back you, scoring well is no rocket science. Sad but true. Why blame the poor child when education boards and schools are less concerned with application and more with definitions and chemical equations?

I must confess I cannot tell the difference between ‘ferrous’ and ‘ferric’ without consulting Google but I am excited to watch one thing react with another and produce something new. It is a mix of fun, curiosity, and surprise that gets me going. I wish my time at school had cashed in on those qualities. I might have ended up liking chemistry instead of merely studying it. Luckily, I had the opportunity to visit Agastya International Foundation near Bangalore where I was able to experience some of this hands-on sort of science learning. It suddenly became simpler, immediate and something I wanted to do. I mean this only for a handful of sessions though. Ten days filled with science was a bit too much for me to take.

This happened on an outstation field trip with eighth graders at Shishuvan, a Mumbai-based school I used to work with. A lot of my students’ enthusiasm rubbed off on to me, and I enjoyed two experiments in particular; the one in which we were taught to make a litmus paper using a hibiscus flower and the other one wherein we had a soil digging activity in groups to collect different soil samples and measure their pH value. I was included in one of the student groups, and we all worked together. Sensing my resistance, they happily helped me out while conducting the experiments and in noting down the results in the prescribed format. It was a pleasure to see roles being reversed so spontaneously and joyfully. Here are some excerpts from my notes:

These were fun experiments to work on. Things that are part of my home, my neighbourhood – hibiscus flowers, lemons, soil, screw drivers – were suddenly transformed into mysterious, magical objects waiting to be discovered. I wish schools did more of this.

Experiment 1

Aim: To make a natural litmus paper
Apparatus: Strip of paper, piece of lemon, hibiscus petal
Biological specimen: Hibiscus flower

Procedure:
1. Rub a hibiscus petal on a strip of paper.
2. Once the strip turns blue, squeeze a piece of lemon on it.
3. Observe what happens.

Observations:
1. When the hibiscus petal is rubbed on paper, the paper turns blue.
2. When the lemon is squeezed, the citric acid in it turns the colour of the paper from blue to red.

Experiment 2

Aim: Measuring the pH value of soil samples
Apparatus: Soil samples, beakers, water, stirrer, screw driver for digging
Biological specimen: Soil samples

Procedure:

  1. Collect three different soil samples. Each sample should be approximately 50 grams. Collect from 15cm below the top layer of soil.
  2. Put the soil samples in separate beakers and add 100 ml of water to each.
  3. Stir.
  4. Let the soil particles settle down.
  5. Dip the pH paper strip in each beaker in order to measure the pH value of soil samples.

Observations:

Soil sample pH value Acid/Base Weak/Strong
1 8 Base Weak
2 8 Base Weak
3 8 Base Weak

(Note: All three soil samples collected by our group had the pH value 8 but the other groups collected samples with varying pH values, ranging from 6 to 9.)

Conclusions
1. Soil can be acidic or basic in nature. Different soil samples have different pH values.
2. Plants grow well in soil with pH value 8.

Photos by: Yashvi Gada

To know more about Agastya International Foundation, check www.agastya.org

The author is a freelance educator, writer and researcher. He also runs the online group People in Education. He may be contacted at [email protected].

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