The Academy for Mad Scientists and Evil Wizards Has Opened Its Doors

Trisha and I started our “Potions and Enchantments” Unit Study yesterday. Obviously, this is just very basic chemistry, set up to provide the opportunity to make discoveries about acids and bases. My main objectives were simple:

  • to get her intrigued with chemistry
  • to observe and support the fact that she’s making and testing predictions and drawing conclusions (basic scientific method)
  • to introduce habits integral to science labs, such as making precise measurements and documenting results
  • to see where she’ll go with an activity like this — my kids always have their own quirkified way of doing things
  • to make an insane amount of mess

Trisha is no stranger to tried and true experiments with chemical reactions. We’ve done the classics — baking soda and vinegar and Diet Coke and Mentos — many times. But we’ve never approached it this way before, setting up a “lab” and letting her decide what to do with it.

She seemed to have a lot of fun with this. I offered some direction (e.g. “measure,” “write down exactly what you do and your observations”) and just let her run with it.

004Ingredients included grape juice, lemon juice, vinegar, Coca-Cola, baking soda, and cornstarch. There were also extra containers “labeled” with blank index cards in case she wanted to choose some substances of her own.

It wasn’t necessary to suggest that she make and test predictions and draw conclusions, because she did that anyway — I believe this is something kids do intuitively.


I did prompt her  a bit, trying to guide her to draw the conclusions I was hoping for (e.g. “I wonder why the baking soda fizzed when you added it to the vinegar but did nothing when you put it in the Coke? … I bet it has something to do with vinegar’s acidity — that’s what makes it sour. You know how sometimes you don’t like the taste of the slaw I make, and you say it’s the flavor of the vinegar?”)

Potions5She pondered the acidity question for a minute, then she became curious about whether that’s why Grape Juicy Juice is sweeter than Welch’s Grape Juice, even though both advertise “no sugar added” — “Maybe the Welch’s has more acid.” Interesting question. Maybe that’ll be one of our next experiments. I’d rather test a hypothesis coming from Trisha rather than one from me or Pinterest. 😛

Potions6I tried to provide enough direction so she wouldn’t flounder with the activity without offering too much. I think a common mistake teachers make with science activities (and in writing) is to give overly precise instructions, squelching critical thinking. I threw out non-directive questions like “I wonder why … ?” and “I wonder what would happen if … ?”

By the way, I didn’t overtly talk about acids and bases this time. We’ll let that germinate a little while and revisit it later.


We also made some “glow water” to make the experiment more colorful. We used a recipe from Growing a Jeweled Rose. We were disappointed in the results, even though we used the same fluorescent paint the blogger used. It definitely looked nothing like her picture. 🙂 I don’t know why; maybe we got the proportions wrong on the water and paint. Still, we thought it looked cool.


At some point, the pursuit of scientific knowledge took a back seat, and the artist in Trisha became more interested in seeing the results of mixing various colors. Then she really got on a roll with creating potions. This isn’t surprising since       1. “potions” is in the name of our unit study and 2. she went the same direction, a year and a half ago, with an unrelated science experiment.

She whipped up a few truly diabolical potions in Petri dishes, including a Potion of Poison and a Potion of Unknown Illness. The Potion of Dreams and Potion of Mysterious Illusion apparently cause the victim to have bizarre hallucinations. She also created a Potion of Luck, a Potion of Flight, a Potion of Defense, a Potion of Animal Friendship, and a Potion of Water Breath (in case you need to breathe underwater and don’t have any gillyweed on hand). Plus a Forest Mold Sludge (no one knows what that does), and a Potion of Unknown Effects, in case you feel like living dangerously.

001002James helped Trisha do one final baking soda and vinegar “explosion.” When I say “helped,” I mean “ensured that as much mess as possible was made in the endeavor.” Trisha dubbed this potion “Pink Disaster.”

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