Chemistry lab table

Elephant Toothpaste – Fun with Science

Expectation

Elephant Toothpaste – does it sound absurd? On the contrary, it is quite a popular Science experiment. I have conducted it many times, watched it even more times, and enjoyed every single experience. However, it has been some years since I did this experiment. Last week in my 9th grade Chemistry class, we were discussing states of matter and the changes in states.

In the middle of the discussion, one student distracted all of us by randomly bringing Elephant toothpaste into the mix. I joined in the discussion and we decided we will conduct the experiment in our next class. All of them seemed to be familiar with the experiment. When I asked them about it, they said they had watched videos. They also vaguely remembered their Science teacher showing it to them last year.

We closed the topic by planning the experiment for next class and assigned each student to bring one ingredient. I returned home excited because it had been a few years since I last did this, and I was looking forward to it. My students also returned with enthusiasm, eagerly waiting for the action. Little did I know what picture they had in their mind. The video below might give you a hint.

Reality

Armed with the necessary ingredients, we all gathered for the class this week. The students could not wait to begin. I insisted that we complete our class discussion before we head out for the experiment. At long last, we finished our discussion and stepped out for the experiment. The plan of Elephant toothpaste was on!

We found a safe place in the corner of the ground to set it up. We invited other students to join us too because they had some free time. There we gathered all the ingredients together and conducted the experiment. This is how it went.

There was a completely mixed response. Some of the younger children ooh’d and aah’d, comparing it to elephant toothpaste and whatever else their imagination could conjure up. But the 9th graders showed a deflated response. They did not find it so exciting after all, in person.

As I stood there watching, I found it fascinating as always. However, I was influenced by their disappointment and came away feeling sad.

Introspection after Elephant Toothpaste

Later in the day, I reflected on the experience and discussed it with my fellow Science educator (who is also my husband). I could not help but feel that I failed both Science and my students that day. The Science worked flawlessly as always, within the conditions provided in the experimental set up. I did not fully appreciate that in the moment. On the other hand, my students were expecting something more spectacular, and I did not give it to them.

I gave explanations to myself. “Experiments are subject to variables and students need to learn that. So, today’s elephant toothpaste experiment was a success.” I also thought about how this generation of students are used to instant gratification. Even a 10 second delay feels too long.

As a facilitator of learning, my takeaway from the experience was that striking a balance is crucial. Matching students’ expectations of excitement and ensuring that they learn something substantial is a tight balancing act. Every batch of students is different. As a facilitator, it is my duty to gauge their pulse and plan my sessions accordingly. It was definitely an incident to learn from, and course-correct for the future.

I find this process of reflection a crucial aspect in my learning journey. No matter how many years I teach the same concepts, there is always something new to learn. From individual students and student groups. That is the most fascinating thing about being a teacher. Learning never stops! As teachers and parents, let us be curious and pursue our own learning every day.

Read about some more home experiences with Science here and here.

Until next time, continue to stay curious!

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You can find other articles related to Science, Maths, and Education on our blog.

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Featured image credits: Bokskapet from Pixabay

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Dr. Soumya Sreehari

Dr. Soumya Sreehari

Co-Founder and Specialist at NumberNagar®
Dr. Soumya is an Educator and Researcher with a passion for reading, writing and teaching. She holds a PhD in Chemistry (Michigan Technological University, Houghton, USA). Her experience as a student and a teacher in two countries led her to pursue a career in Education. Her core work at NumberNagar® involves quality delivery of product and services at every stage of the customer life cycle. She leads the team that makes this happen. Previously she has taught Chemistry to first year undergraduate students at Michigan Technological University. She is a voracious reader and challenges herself to read 50 books every year.

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