Open-and-go lessons that inspire kids to love science.

Sign up now for tons of free lessons like this one!

Chemical Magic Unit
Mystery 1 of 5
Are magic potions real?
Scroll for prep
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen

DISCUSS (1 of 2):

Do you think there could really be a potion that does something amazing or valuable? (Do you think there are really liquids or mixtures that can transform things?) Why or why not?

Full Screen
Exit Full Screen

DISCUSS (2 of 2):

If you could make a potion, what would you want it to do?

Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen

GET A SUPPLY:

Everyone get 1 dull, brown penny. Then:

DISCUSS:

Suppose you wanted to make this dull brown penny bright and shiny. Can you think of any liquids in your house that might do that?

Why do you think those liquids might work?

Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen

DISCUSS:

Do you think oxygen turns the penny dark brown all the way through, or just on the surface? How could you figure it out?

Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen

DISCUSS:

How could you figure out which of these three ideas is true? Wind Map

Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Beginning Complete!

You've completed the Exploration & Activity!

If you have more time, view the assessment, reading, and extension activity in the extensions.

Full Screen
Exit Full Screen

Extensions

Below are ideas for extending this topic beyond the activity & exploration which you just completed.
Full Screen
Exit Full Screen

Readings

Learn more about the alchemists and how their work laid the foundation for the science of chemistry with these readings:

  • “Can You Turn Iron into Gold?” from Wonderopolis, a website dedicated to curiosity and imagination, created by the National Center for Families Learning.

  • From Alchemy to Chemistry from Newsela, a free service for teachers. (Reading includes comprehension questions and can be adjusted for reading level.)

Full Screen
Exit Full Screen

Activity: Disappearing Penny

Try this Disappearing Penny experiment with a US penny made after 1982. These coins have a center made of zinc, a silvery metal that reacts with vinegar and salt.

Print out the instructions here.

Full Screen
Exit Full Screen

Video: Rusty Steel in Vinegar

Watch this time-lapse video, then discuss:

  • What do you think happened to the rust that was on the steel?
  • Do you have any ideas about why putting oil on the steel might keep it from rusting again?

To find out more about what happens to rust and tarnish in vinegar, watch the next Mystery, "Could you transform something worthless into gold?"

Full Screen
Exit Full Screen
Overview
Grade 5th
Topic Chemical Reactions & Properties Of Matter
Focus Chemistry & Conservation of Matter
Print Prep
Activity Prep

LESSON REVISED 1/11/18. If you prepped before then, use the previous version.
In this Mystery, students meet the alchemists, a historic group that used “potions” to try to transform materials. In the activity, Test Like An Alchemist, students test liquids to see which ones will clean the tarnish off a penny. Then, when one penny changes from dark and dirty to bright and shiny, they’ll have a chance to think about where the tarnish went.

Preview activity

Number of students:
Clean-up Supplies (Eg. Paper Towels)
1 roll
Liquid Soap
Can also use liquid detergent.
Details
2 tablespoons
Scotch Tape
1 roll
Measuring Cup
1 cup
Measuring Spoons
1 set
Plastic Containers w/ Lids
Each container needs to hold just over 3 cups.
Details
4 containers
Salt
You’ll need another cup of salt for Mystery 3, so we suggest getting a 26 oz container.
Details
1 cup
White Vinegar
You will also need vinegar for other lessons in this unit, so we suggest getting a gallon.
Details
4 cups
Pennies (must be pre-1982)
Each student needs one penny, but if you're working in a small group you need a minimum of 20. We suggest having a few extra in case some get lost.
Details
30 coins
Steel Nails
It’s important that you get steel nails (or steel washers)—NOT stainless-steel and NOT galvanized steel. For Mystery 2, each group of 4 students will also need one nail. Jumbo paper clips will also work, but the results are harder to see.
Details
1 nail
Alchemist’s Potion, Part 1 printout Print 30 copies
Container Labels printout Print 1 copy
Test Like An Alchemist printout Print 8 copies
Prep Instructions

We recommend students work in groups of four. Homeschool students can work on their own.

You will need access to water for this activity.

You will need old, tarnished pennies for this activity. You must use pennies dating from BEFORE 1982, when they were made from 95% copper. (Pennies made after 1982 are copper-plated zinc, which won’t work for this activity.)

We suggest asking students to bring in pennies made before 1982. You can also buy penny rolls at the bank. We bought $3 worth, sorted out the pre-1982 pennies, and had exactly 40 to work with. If you are working with a homeschool student or small group, you’ll need a minimum of 20 pennies.

Optional: Orange and brown crayons for coloring dull and shiny pennies on worksheets.

In the next Mystery, you’ll need to reuse some of the materials from this Mystery so students can copper plate a steel nail. See instructions below.

Prepare Your Testing Liquids

Cut out the Container Labels and tape one to each of your four plastic containers. You now need to prepare 2 cups of each testing solution. If you’re working with a homeschool student or small group, you can make 1 cup of each solution, rather than 2. When you set up your stations, just cut the following “recipes” in half.

  • Soapy Water Station: Mix 2 tablespoons liquid soap (or detergent) with 2 cups water.
  • Vinegar Station: Pour 2 cups of vinegar.
  • Salt and Vinegar Station: Mix 6 tablespoons salt with 2 cups vinegar. The salt won't all dissolve, but add it anyway.
  • Salty Water Station: Mix 6 tablespoons salt with 2 cups water. The salt won't all dissolve, but add it anyway.

We recommend placing each container in a separate area of the classroom as a test station.

Save Materials and Prepare for the Next Mystery

  • Save student work: Students will need their completed “Alchemist’s Potion, Part 1” printouts for the next Mystery. Make sure they’re stored somewhere safe.

  • Save the pennies in the Salty Vinegar solution: At the end of this Mystery, you’ll dump all the pennies into the Salty Vinegar to soak overnight. (If you made just 1 cup of Salty Vinegar, dump at least 20 pennies into it.)

  • Add a nail: After students have left class, we recommend that you put a nail into the Salty Vinegar solution with the pennies — but don’t tell your students you’re doing it. You’ll find out why in the next Mystery, when your students will discover that the solution the pennies soaked in can change steel in a surprising way.

Overview
Grade 5th
Topic Chemical Reactions & Properties Of Matter
Focus Chemistry & Conservation of Matter
Extensions