Merced County Times Newspaper
The Power of Positive Press
Times Photos by Beverly Barela

Peggy Heller students enjoy being scientists during a hands-on lesson!

During the last week of school, teachers and administrators typically plan a lot of fun and entertaining things for students to do.

This school year, Carrie O’Bara, who teaches Transitional Kindergarten (“TK”) at Peggy Heller School in Atwater, thought of a hands-on way to teach her students Science – – an experiment the kids could easily do themselves at their tables using paper plates, milk, food coloring, and Blue Dawn dish soap, which resulted in a chemical reaction they could see happen.

O’Bara has a knack for making lessons appropriate for the age group she is teaching.

The four and five-year-olds were thrilled when they were told they had become scientists and would get to do a fun experiment.

Each student had a paper plate filled with milk. To the white milk was added one drop each of red, yellow and blue food coloring.

The students each had a Q-tip and were told to touch the solution on their plates.

O’Bara asked, “What happened?”

The observant students responded that the colors moved a little bit, but mostly stayed.

Then, following O’Bara’s instructions, each student put a bit of Blue Dawn dish soap from a cup onto a Q-tip and touched the solution.

What happened this time?

The colors promptly moved a lot and when they stopped moving, the kids had a lot of pretty color combinations on their plates.

O’Bara explained to the class, “It’s a chemical reaction. The chemicals don’t like each other so they move away.”

What is the scientific explanation of the bursting colors?

Whole milk is mostly water, but also has vitamins, minerals, proteins, and little droplets of fat suspended in solution.

The secret of the fast-moving colors is in the chemistry of the drop of soap. Like other oils, milk fat is a non-polar molecule, which doesn’t dissolve in water. But when soap is mixed in, the non-polar portion of micelles divides and collects the non-polar fat molecules. Then the polar surface of the micelle connects to a polar water molecule with the fat held inside the soap micelle. Due to the soap connection, the non-polar fat is carried by the polar water.

The molecules of fat contort in all directions as the molecules of soap move speedily to join up with the fat molecules. During all of this fat molecule activity, the food coloring molecules are bumped and shoved everywhere, and the kids could observe that activity on their plate as an array of colors in various patterns.

The students were intrigued with the chemical reaction.

O’Bara asked, “Did you like being scientists?”

“Yes!” was the enthusiastic answer.

After the experiment was over, the young students happily went out to the school garden with O’Bara to pick some vegetables to make a salad.

One of the projects she spearheaded during the school year was the creation of a school garden, and one of her goals was realized when at the end of school, the students had harvested and could eat a salad on campus, illustrating how everyday food we eat is grown.

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