# Balancing Chemical Equations With Lego Bricks

Our fantastic science mom, Staci, has created another engaging science activity for us. This time she shows us how we can teach our kids how to balance chemical equations using Lego bricks!

Before you read the activity, print out the Chemical Equations Worksheet so that you can refer to it as Staci explains how to use it!

#### From our science mom:

Recently, my son found a song about the periodic table on YouTube.  He watched it repeatedly and then followed it up with episodes about Chemistry on YouTube from CrashCourse.  I wanted to think of something I could do with him for our Science Saturdays that expanded on the topics he was learning.  I came up with an idea to balance chemical equations using Lego bricks.  I thought using Lego Bricks as manipulatives would make the concept more concrete and easier to grasp, and also because we have eleventy billion Lego bricks scattered in all the corners of our home.  If you don’t have many Lego bricks of many colors readily available, mathlink cubes could be another good option.  We own several molecular modeling kits, but there aren’t as many different color atoms available in these kits and the bonds are often difficult to manipulate.

I started by creating 20 equations for my son to solve.  I made equations with “chemical symbols” that referred to the color Lego he should use rather than actual chemical symbol to avoid unnecessary confusion.  We then gathered around 8 blocks each of 5 different color Lego bricks (white, blue, green, yellow, and red).  We started our activity by talking about a key concept: Conservation of Matter.  The Law of the Conservation of Matter states that the mass of a system must remain constant over time in a closed system.  In reference to balancing chemical equations, this means that the number of atoms of reactants must equal the number of atoms in the product.  Or as we said “what goes in, must come out”.  We also needed to understand the way that chemical formulas are written.  When a number is written in subscript it shows the quantity of atoms of the element it immediately follows.  When a number is written in front of a molecule it applies to all the atoms in the molecule.  For example: H2 shows 1 molecule of 2 hydrogens bonded together, while 2NaCl shows 2 separate molecules of Na bonded to Cl, or 2 Na atoms and 2 Cl atoms in total.

Next, we talked about how we would begin to solve the equations.  My son solved the first 5 or so equations entirely using the Lego bricks.  He began by assembling one molecule of each reactant and then breaking them down to form the molecules of the products.  He quickly observed that sometimes more molecules of reactants would need to be present in order to form the different molecules of product and sometimes there would be leftover atoms that would need to find a home in the equation, perhaps by increasing the number of molecules of product. Using the Lego bricks he was able to visualize where all the atoms were going and where they came from.

Starting with the 6th equation, he decided he wanted to try to balance the equation using math and then check it with the Lego bricks.  If you are unfamiliar with solving chemical equations, the easiest way is to start by counting the number of atoms in the reactant(s) (the left side of the equation) and then counting the number of atoms in the product(s) (the right side of the equation).  Compare the number of atoms of each element in the reactant(s) to the number of atoms of each element in the product(s).  If the number of atoms are unequal, you next must find the simplest way to equalize them on both sides of the equation.  If you have more than one element to balance, solve for the element that only appears in one molecule of reactant and one molecule of product first.  Add coefficients as needed based on this element and then recalculate the other elements in the other molecules of the equation.  Continue this process until you have balanced your equation.  I was surprised how quickly my son was able to figure out the math of this process and I was impressed when he began to see patterns forming that helped him solve the equations even more quickly.  He gave up checking the equations with Lego bricks about 10 equations into our exercise.

After finishing the 20 equations I had written out for him, he expressed an interest in balancing equations using real chemical symbols that make up real molecules.  I made a short list of 5 equations just for him to try out.  He was able to transfer the knowledge he used with our made up chemical equations to real world equations very easily.  And as a bonus, this gave us a chance to practice identifying elements by their chemical symbol and also the nomenclature of molecules.

After spending so much time doing math and worksheets, I thought it might be fun to see a chemical equation in action!  I wrote the equation for the reaction of baking soda and vinegar and asked my son if he recognized any of the molecules and asked him if it was a balanced equation as written.

NaHCO3 + CH3COOH → CO2 + Na+ + H2O + CH3COO-

Note:  Vinegar is a mixture of many different chemicals.  It is typically 5% acetic acid dissolved in water, so the molecular formula for acetic acid is used in this equation.

This equation is balanced as written, but we wondered how we could prove that the equation is an accurate description of what took place.  Usually we play with baking soda and vinegar in a way that will result in an uncontrolled eruption, but this time we wanted a smaller reaction that we could observe more closely.  We combined a small amount baking soda and vinegar in resealable sandwich bag, and sealed it up to watch the bubbling reaction.  What happens to the bag as the reaction takes place?  How could you test the contents of the bag to validate the chemical equation?  (Hint: O2 is necessary for flame, H2 causes an explosive pop of flame, CO2 will extinguish a flame)

We really enjoyed this activity.  I initially worried that it might be a little advanced for my 8 year old son, but he surprised me with his enthusiasm and quick comprehension.  A few days after we did this activity, I found a Lego “molecule” sitting on the dining room table with a legend defining Lego brick color to chemical symbol and the instructions to solve his Lego molecule’s chemical formula.  I love when enthusiasm for learning something new is carried over into playtime on his own, it makes these activities worth it!

# Encouraging Literacy Through Seek and Find Books

One of the best things about seek and find books is their ability to promote conversation between the parent and child as they read together.  Let’s explore how seek and find books along with your guidance can enhance your child’s literacy development!

FTC Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

### Vocabulary Growth

Seek and find books are often saturated with objects in a picture, which means they are also saturated with words. Everything in the picture can be verbally labeled. Chances are there is something in the overall scene that is new to your child. There might be a small thimble, Uncle Sam, or a portrait. If you see an object in the scene that you think your child may not know, point it out and label it. Have your child repeat the word and talk about it a little bit to help cement the new word into his or her vocabulary.

### Understanding Prepositional Words and Phrases

Prepositions and prepositional phrases are an important part of grammar. Understanding what they are and how they are used will help your child’s writing and editing.

When my child is having trouble finding an object in a seek and find book, I like to give him hints.  I purposefully use prepositional words or phrases to help guide him. For example, I may say that I see the object next to a dog, or behind the rubber ducky, or above the tree. Through this exposure he is hearing how prepositions are used in a sentence. Essentially, this is a grammar lesson. As he internalizes what he hears, he is beginning to understand the concept even if he doesn’t know the term, “preposition”. Once he does learn grammar in a more structured way, he has a foundation to build from. And yes, I just ended that sentence with a preposition.

### Creativity

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have” — Maya Angelou

Creativity is the fuel that will help your child generate new ideas, write stories, and become thoughtful thinkers. In seek and find books, you often see things that are not true to reality. For example, in Look! A Book! by Bob Staake (shown below), there is a picture of a cat wearing clown garments. This could be a great starting point for creativity. You could ask your child, “Why do you think the cat is dressed like a clown?” Your child will likely have a creative answer. You can continue the idea by asking more questions about the cat or thinking up a story using the cat as a character. With so many pictures in a scene and imaginative settings, there is an innumerable amount of opportunities for creative thought. Your child will be practicing his or her speaking skills and use of language as they convey these ideas to you!

Need some book suggestions? I got you covered! I found four books created by well-respected authors and illustrators.

Click on the book covers to see them on Amazon.

The Find it Book by Margaret Wise Brown

Look! A Book! by Bob Staake

Look! Another Book! by Bob Staake

# Calling All Ninjas! Nine Ninja Books and Fun Math (and Motor) Activity

Do you have a child that loves ninjas or martial arts?  This is the place for you. I have nine awesome books to delight your little one and a fun way to incorporate math into martial arts. Get ready to turn your child into a math ninja!

*Note: This post contains affiliate links.

First, get your little ninja inspired by reading one of these stories:

## Activity:

Since ninjas must be agile, strong, and mentally sharp they must train their bodies and minds. This activity will have your child feeling like a ninja in training.

### Materials:

There are two options for materials. You can easily use stuff around your home or you can use martial arts gear.  To illustrate the activity, I used store bought gear. We had the items at home already!

### Option 2- Things around your home:

• Small square pillows to punch
• Bare hands
• Post-it notes (for the older kid version of this activity)

This activity is so simple! Give your child a math fact that he or she can do in his or her head. It may be simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc.; It all depends on your child’s math level. When your child provides the answer he or she must punch the bags in an alternating fashion the same number of times as their answer. If the answer was seven, your child would punch the bags seven times.

Another option for older kids who may get very large answers, is to assign one bag as the tens and one bag as the ones. You can even label the bags. So, if your child gets an answer of 95, s/he would punch the “tens” bag nine times and the “ones” bag five times. For children learning base ten concepts, this option may be useful.

You can make this activity even simpler for toddlers by just giving your child a number and punching the bags in that same quantity. If your child tries to punch too fast and thus punches too many times, slow your child down and show him or her how to accurately punch while saying each number (1, 2, 3…). It’s about having one punch for each number stated. Your child will be practicing one to one correspondence by doing this.

Keep giving your ninja math facts until you sense they are losing interest or breath.

# Non-Fiction Books For Baseball Lovers

This book collection is designed for a baseball loving kid!  These non-fiction books will give your child the chance to learn more about the sport, the players, and the science behind the game.

*Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. You can click on the book covers to purchase these on Amazon.

The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams

Suited for older elementary age and above, this book offers an abundance of information about hitting.

Sports Science: The Physics of Balls In Motion by Madeline Goodstein

This book includes fun physics lessons using all kinds of balls used in sports.

Baseball: How It Works by David Dreier

From how a baseball is made to the rules of the game, this book supplies a ton of information!

The Best of Everything: Baseball Book by Nate LeBoutillier

This book really does have a little of everything. Plus, the vast amount of pictures adds to its appeal.

We Are The Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

Rich with detail, this book takes you on a journey from the beginning of Negro League baseball to its end. The artwork in this is fantastic! For teachers, this would be a great addition to a classroom library.

Play Ball Like the Pros by Steven Krasner

This book has a question and answer section, glossary of terms, and memory page for each of the players interviewed. Kids will find this book helpful and entertaining.

The Closer by Mariano Rivera

This autobiography is written for older elementary and middle school students.

Jackie Robinson: Strong Inside and Out by Editors of Time for Kids

This biography gives children insight into how Robinson’s emotional strength helped him become the first African American Major League player in a time of extreme racism.

Pitchers: Twenty-Seven Of Baseball’s Greatest by George Sullivan

The book will introduce your child to the careers of some of baseball’s best pitchers!

I came across the book Mindful Parenting for ADHD by Mark Bertin, M.D. at my local library. As I began reading it, I knew I had to share it with you! While I do not have a child with an ADHD diagnosis, as an educator I like to read as much as I can to understand the diverse learning and behavioral needs of children. This book is a must read for caring parents who are looking for a helpful explanation of ADHD.

*Note: This post contains affiliate links

This book starts by focusing on the adult–how our thoughts, expectations, and attitudes affect how we parent. As a parent of a child with ADHD, it is important to understand that a lot of the behaviors your child may exhibit is part of an underlying problem with executive functioning. Understanding your child and understanding ADHD is essential for you to go about helping your child the best way you can. The more aware we are, the better we can react and respond to difficult behaviors. The way we parent will make a difference in our children’s lives.  This book reminds us that our actions impact our children and guides us towards a positive impact. The author suggests that we keep in mind how much positive versus negative feedback that a child with ADHD hears from us.  Because kids with ADHD often need a lot of behavioral correction, the child may be receiving too much negative feedback. Being mindful of this will help a parent balance the ratio between negative and positive feedback (p.89).

Once we have worked on controlling our own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, we can begin to help our child do the same. The next few chapters give parents concrete ways they can help guide a child’s behavior and set clear limits with consistency.  After this, the focus turns to addressing a child’s needs in school. I can imagine that this will be very helpful for parents as they advocate for their child. The author gives insight into what type of instruction benefits children with ADHD and what level of organizational support may be required.

One weighty decision parents likely face is whether or not their child requires medication to help their executive functioning. It appears to me that the author’s goal in this chapter is to give parents researched-based information on medication, not to persuade parents that they should medicate their children.  The only way to make an informed decision is to gather information. I like how the author brings in the concept of mindfulness to this issue stating, “Don’t believe something only because someone else says it’s true” (p.162). This can be applied to any source of information (especially on the internet) and it is wise to seek out information sources that are credible. Even after reading this book, parents should continue their research on medications from other reliable sources.

In the final chapter, the author delves into mindfulness activities for children. He shares suggestions to help in areas such as: paying attention, responsiveness, awareness of thoughts, awareness of emotions, compassion and gratitude. In each of these areas, he shows us how we demonstrate these behaviors ourselves and how we can foster them in our children. Being a role model of mindfulness for our children is crucial. Social modeling is a powerful learning tool. To educate yourself more on the importance of social modeling, google “Albert Bandura” and “Social Learning Theory” to find reliable sources to read on the subject matter.

Keep up the good work moms and dads

To purchase a copy of this book, click on the picture below:

Need a book written for kids? I love this one: