FARMINGTON — Fifth-grader Zachary Jacobs put one teaspoon of Borax laundry detergent into a mason jar with warm water and stirred it with a spoon. He added three more teaspoons of powder, stirring after each one.

He held up the jar Thursday to see if the water had become saturated. A thin layer of white powder at the bottom indicated it had.

Jacobs and other fifth-graders in Lynn Wells’ class at Cascade Brook School have been learning about chemistry and solutions from University of Maine at Farmington students who are majoring in secondary science education.

Pre-service teachers, Emily Gray, a senior from South Portland, and Jacob Vining, a junior from Poland, were in the fifth week of teaching students and plan to conclude their lessons next week.

It is part of a partnership between UMF, local educators and schools, and the 4-H STEM Ambassadors Program, according to Dave Allen, a 4-H youth development professional with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Student Aislin Reynolds said she liked the hands-on lessons.

Gray told students Thursday that they were going to talk about solutions and mixing things into them.

“In previous lessons, we learned how molecules and atoms will rise with heat,” Jacobs said.

When you mix two substances together, water and a dry substance such as salt, the dry substance dissolves, Gray said.

Occasionally, there comes a time when you cannot mix the solutions together, Vining said. The mix becomes saturated and some of the dry substance settles to the bottom, Vining said.

Gray and Vining did an exercise with two large pickle jars and table salt. One contained warm water; the other, cold. They showed students how the warm water dissolved the salt quickly into a cloudy white solution and when too much salt was added, the solution became saturated and the salt settled at the bottom.

The solution can no longer have something mixed into it, Vining said.

The children were given mason jars, pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks and string.

Gray told them to make any shape they wanted out of the pipe cleaner. Among the shapes created were hearts, swirls, triangles, bunnies and an unidentified flying object.

“We are making crystals so make it any shape you want it to be, but it has to be contained in the jar,” she said.

Students tied the string to the pipe cleaner shape and the other end of the string to the center of the Popsicle stick.

Gray asked the students place the stick across the top of the jar with the pipe cleaner shapes dangling inside, making sure they didn’t touch the sides or the bottom of the jar. 

Once the students checked this, the pipe cleaners were removed and hot water was added to the jars.

Plastic bowls and spoons containing Borax were distributed.

“You are going to keep adding teaspoons of powdered Borax to the water until it is saturated,” Gray said.

Jacobs put in four teaspoons of the detergent and put the cover on the jar and shook it. It was saturated, but he wanted to make it super-saturated so he added four more spoonfuls.

Each student had a chance to add food coloring to the mixture. Jacobs asked for yellow, his second choice.

He stirred it in and lowered the pipe cleaner shape into the jar, resting the Popsicle stick on top, as he had been instructed.

“It looks like liquid gold,” Jacobs said.

Wells put the names of each student on the sticks.

“It is going to take 24 hours for crystals to form,” Gray said.

Student Caleb Norton said once it sits over a period of time, everything is going to connect to it to create a crystal.

On Friday, the students will pull the sticks out of the solution, allowing the crystallized pipe cleaner sculptures to dry. They will take them home on Monday.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.