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Low Cost Chemistry Labs

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Since most school budgets are tight, what are your ideas for low cost secondary chemistry labs? Also, do you know of anywhere to purchase used analytical lab equipment?

Alyce Dalzell Alyce Dalzell 64075 Points

Adah, The resources you collected for low cost labs is outstanding. I've read the free chapters that NSTA has posted online from the Frugal Science Teacher and love them. I happened to be at a Goodwill Store and found several Easy-Bake ovens that were referred to in the Science Scope article for $2-$3. Now I'm ready to tackle some new labs!

Angie Fairweather Angelika Fairweather 12180 Points

Hello, I love this thread, it reminds me that great lessons can be achieved on a dime. I never thought about using Easy Bake ovens! One of my favorite low cost critical thinking activities is to send each student home with a wintergreen lifesaver to investigate the urban legend that if you crunch on a wintergreen lifesaver in the dark, it will make a spark. I had many students tell me their parents rushed to the store to get a whole bag and the entire family got involved.

Angelika, you mentioned urban you ever incorporate lessons based upon the show "Myth-busters"? Terry H.

Adah, I love the recyling center resource in your collection. I never knew that clean plastic bottles and other materials were available for use by science teachers. The activities such as making the hovercrafts and the teacher demo of air circulation with recycled materials are very creative. Terry Houghton

The NSF had a good teacher resource about the science of cooking have anyone ever used it?

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

I have used and modified these alka seltzer experiements

Angie Fairweather Angelika Fairweather 12180 Points

Thank you all for sharing these resources. I think it is wonderful to show students we can perform really exciting science activities from everyday items. I love the CD hover craft idea in The Frugal Science Teacher! Thank you, Angie

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

This is a homeschooling site with some interesting ideas

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

This University of Missouri link provides links to elementary chemj activities. Warning not all links are live

Alyce Dalzell Alyce Dalzell 64075 Points

When I found this Web Seminar I knew we couldn't find a lab cheaper than this! NASA/NSTA is hosting The Virtual Lab Web Seminar on 12/2/10, 1/24/11 and 3/15/11.

This Webinar will focus on using free computer programs that simulate a scanning electron miroscope. Selected speimens from life sciences, physical sciences, and Earth and Space Sciences related to current NASA research will be featured.

Registration is free...go to:

Therese Houghton Therese Houghton 7210 Points

Alyce, Thanks for posting about the virtual lab webinar. I'm amazed at the quality of the virtual labs for students, and believe that they have a place in the modern secondary classroom. IMO, we need to continue provide for quality hands-on laboratory experiments for our students, so they can experience scientific phenomena directly, and build the necessary confidence in their own laboratory techniques. I will never forget when I taught a 6th grade class physical/chemical changes lab using a candle, tin foil and different substances like baking soda, sugar,water, a little piece of crumpled paper etc. The students had to heat the substance, observe and record whether it was a chemical or a physical change. This little boy wanted to work alone and was mesmerized/intensely focused on his experiment.I will never forget it as long as I live.Individual science fair projects are another way let them experience the thrill of scientific discovery.

Patricia Rourke Patricia Rourke 45925 Points

I'd like to piggy-back on this great strand and ask all of you great 'teaching minds' - what activities would you use to teach physical science, not chemistry, with kitchen items, items from the grocery store, or items from the craft store. Let's stay away from using toys. Resources on that are great and at least 3 great books are in the NSTA store. I've always used 'string and sticky tape' activities in addition to cutting edge technology so I am interested in mining for your resources to examine. Thanks to everyone for chiming in. I'm sure that everyone has at least one 'story' resource to share with me. :) Patty R

Beth Mezyk Beth Mezyk 285 Points

Thank you everyone for your posts on low cost chemistry labs. If I find any myself, I will be sure to post them. :)

Alyce Dalzell Alyce Dalzell 64075 Points

This low cost chemistry resource is an issue of Celebrating Chemistry. Topics include soaps, detergents, water filtration, water chemistry, surface tension, solubility, and bubbles. The 12-page pdf includes seven activities for exploring the properties of water, soap, and detergents. A brief explanation of the chemistry of each activity is included.

This resource is not a complete lesson plan or unit. The activities and information could be incorporated into a lesson or unit on chemical changes and/or the properties of water.

Go to:

Enjoy your week! Alyce

Lara Smetana Lara Smetana 6260 Points

What a nice collection of resources! Does anyone have anything they've found particularly useful for middle grades classrooms?

Dawn Keckley Dawn Keckley 20 Points

Yes! I homeschool and used this one year. I printed all materials, one bound copy for me and the student handouts for my boys, using an inexpensive copy website. I loved it so much. There are even free online videos for it.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Lara asks, 'Does anyone have anything they've found particularly useful for middle grades classrooms?'

Hi Lara, I have to admit to not having tried these, but they are two articles from our middle school NSTA science journal. They sounded like what your might be looking for:
Science Sampler: Chemistry in action – Triple delight
No More Leaks: A Process-Oriented Lesson Exploring the Invention and Chemistry of Disposable Diapers
It was fun to use the advanced search feature of the Learning Center to look for some ideas on this topic.
Be Well,

Dawn Keckley Dawn Keckley 20 Points

It's free.

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

Well I have spent some time searching for resources. There seems to very little out there specifically referenced as low cost or low budget. It would seem to me that there may be an opportunity for someone to collect, write and or edit something on this topic. It would be most helpful if there were a list of materials that was sourced and priced. One of my favorite current sources albeit far from perfect is "illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments" ISBN 978-0-596-51492-1

Dorian Janney Dorian Janney 10505 Points

"I have made a collection called "Inexpensive Labs" that I would like to share. It contains journal articles and two book excepts from the Frugal Teacher Middle School and the Frugal Teacher Elementary. You can access it at the following location: I hope you will find it useful." from Adah Stock Adah, Thanks so much for sharing this with us! I am getting ready to plan our labs for our upcoming chemistry unit, and money is indeed tight this year. I will let you know which labs we use and how things go! By the way, I am looking for labs that demonstrate the principle of Conservation of Mass. Any ideas?!

Nancy Bort Nancy Bort 7025 Points

Patty Rourke? I am sure you are the Patty Rourke from PTRA? Who practically invented all physics ideas on a shoe string budget? If not, I apologize for the mistake. I know it was mentioned above about kitchen utensils for simple machines. I send the students home with an assignment to identify at least 10 simple machines within their house--great things in the kitchen, bathroom and one student identified the stairs as the modified inclined plane that it is. Screws, nails, washers, etc. make great pendulums (pendula?). Refrigerator magnets are also very useful for various physics labs. Cotton, plastics, cloth scraps are good for static electricity labs.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Susan and Everyone! Susan, I loved the materials used in the Cartesian diver activity you posted earlier. I have always used medicine droppers for the Cartesian divers. Using a straw, rubber band and paper clip is a more economical alternative. Thank you! By the way, could you try your second attachment to see if it is functional. It might just be my computer, but I could not download the density activity.

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

I just found this website for home science experiments

Loren Nomura Loren Nomura 4055 Points

One low cost lab that you could due is to give students a mixture of salt and sand. This is what I remember from my high school chemistry teacher's lab. Have the students devise an experiment to separate the salt from the sand that is feasible. So the way that we did this was to put the sand and salt mixture into a beaker of water, heat it up. The salt is soluble so it dissolves in the water, but the sand doesn't. Separate the sand now and then evaporate the water and you'll have the salt all by itself. It wouldn't cost a lot and it's fairly straightforward and easy to setup - it also teaches students about how there are different methods of separation depending on the substances you are trying to separate.

Colin Delos Reyes Colin Delos Reyes 1430 Points

This has to be one the best topics I've come across in my short time on the forums. Indeed money is tight and I's always looking for ways to stretch resources in my classroom. The labs on this thread are great and I can't wait to try some of them out in the near future. I like the sand and salt separation lab because it is cheap and living in Hawaii we are surrounded by both. I have also been searching online for the ziploc chemistry labs and some are pretty cool. I have done the ice cream lab with the bags. The only thing I don't like about is all the plastic that gets thrown away, I feel guilty about this so I to minimize my use of plastic bags. We have a problem around the islands with sea turtles consuming plastic bags thinking that they are jellyfish (obviously I don't dispose of the bag in this manner) and some are seriously harmed. I do use an acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate lab using balloons to teach the concept of limiting reactants. We place different amounts of the bicarbonate in balloons and place the same amount of acetic acid in test tubes and place the balloons over the test tubes. When the balloons are lifted the reaction happens and the balloons inflate. Students get a visual evidence, after a certain amount (when acetic is the limiting reactant) the balloons all inflate to the same volume. I often refer back to this lab when explaining because it is one of those "ah ha" moments for many of the students.

Kate Dickinson Kate Dickinson 510 Points

For acids and bases you can use milk of magnesia Mg(OH)2, vinegar and universal indicator or red cabbage juice to show neutralization reactions and talk about balancing. You can also show hydrolysis by hooking up a 9V battery to a petri dish of salt water and indicator. With a little bit of wiring you can show the formation of H2 and O2 since it changes colors due to the indicator.

Kristin Fitzgerald Kristin Fitzgerald 350 Points

These are great resources. Thanks everyone!

Patricia Rourke Patricia Rourke 45925 Points

Hi Nancy, It's been a long time but I don't think my email of many months past ever reached you, so I'll try here. Yes, I am an early PTRA person and the only one named Patty Rourke - at least I have never met my clone. Are you active in AAPT or PTRA yet? What and where are you teaching? It's great to see you active on these forums, too. ~patty

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

I am a fan of Doc Brown's Science pages. These are from the UK so beware of the spelling. Here is a link to "Cheap and Interesting Chemistry Practicals" (Practicals = Labs)

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Pam, I loved the Doc Brown's Chemistry site. Thank you!
I just finished reading and reviewing a neat journal article called, 'Korean Kimchi Chemistry'. If you don't mind your lab smelling of a little sauerkraut, this is a fairly inexpensive way to teach fermentation. I would love to have all of these great ideas in one big collection in the Learning Center. Anyone game for creating it?

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67955 Points

Has anyone had a chance to look at the new Gourmet Labs book in its entirety? The chapter provided for free has promise, but it looks like there may be a bit of overlap. The pretzel lab covered a lot of concepts, and could be fun in a hands-on environment.

Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67955 Points

Hi Carolyn, I would love to participate such a venture! I really get into hands-on, low cost stuff. I taught the course last summer! How do you see it going? There is so much out there, and so many disciplines.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Jennifer. I guess I would start by coming up with 3 or 4 categories under Inexpensive Labs that would take in all the ideas shared in this thread. Say Inexpensive Labs for Teaching Density, Inexpensive Labs for Teaching Chemical Reactions, Inexpensive Labs for Teaching ... etc.
I will read through these posts, too, and we can share what we 'see'.
In the meantime, I just found a new low cost chem lab (about chemical bonding or polymers) that has not been shared yet: Hydrogel Beads: The New Slime Lab?

Lorrie Armfield Lorrie Armfield 51438 Points

Excellent resources all. Thanks for sharing.

Sung Yi Sung Yi 1555 Points

If you are tight on money for your lab you could also go to This is a website where you could apply for equipment and supplies for your class. Hope this helps.

Renee Hashimoto Renee Hashimoto 1595 Points

Not anything new as far as ideas go, but I've always done microscale versions of lab experiments whenever possible. A plastic page protector works well as a "reaction surface" (Lots cheaper than well plates!) and you can slip a paper of whatever contrasting color as the background. Works well for things like solubility - slip in a piece of black construction paper, and any precipitates become readily visible with just a drop or two of your reactants. I went 4-years on the same 300mL or so bottles of reagents for one particular lab without having to reorder, and there was still at least half the bottle left when I left that behind to transfer to teaching at a new school. The "kit" the reagents originally came with said that there were enough for one class of 30 working in pairs - I stretched it to well over 24 classes of 30 working in pairs. =) If you're looking at color changes (like with indicators), switch to a sheet of white paper instead. It's a versatile thing - with kids who struggle to keep data organized (I teach inclusion classes with Special Ed students mixed in and this is a huge problem sometimes), you can even print out a sample data table to slip in and they can use that as a guide to keep track of what was mised with what. Much less chemical waste, much less risk of spills (especially if you give your students prefilled plastic pipettes!) and easy clean up too: a quick wipe down with a dry paper towel followed by a damp one, and clean-up is done! It can be a hassle to label and prefill the plastic pipettes, but once they're set-up once, it's a matter of just refilling them for the next round and you can keep using the same ones over and over again.

Donna Martin Donna Martin 4025 Points

Some of the science supply has have occasional lists of low cost labs. I have to constantly comb every area for labs since we do not have much of a science lab and our budget is almost non-existent in our high school. I am new and discovered that we did not have a whole lot of supplies or equipment. We have done things like the putty lab and an antacid lab. Mostly what I can afford to buy out of my pocket and since I have such a massive salary I must keep it cheap.

Ronaldo Relador Ronaldo Relador 45315 Points

I have found this web resource that you may find interesting:

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