Written by Jack Hughes: Marketing Coordinator
Helping me Feel like less of a Plum – One man’s journey into science for children
At Tradebe we are proud to Sponsor Chemistry with Cabbage, an award winning educational initiative which provides interactive chemistry workshops for over 200 primary schools and 6,000 pupils every year with the aim of inspiring the younger generation to study chemistry and consider a future career in the sciences.
You could say that chemistry was my Achilles heel at school, but that might be doing a disservice to physics, biology and maths (my art and music teachers may have something to say on the matter as well). Nevertheless it was not a strength, and in the 15 or so years since I was thankfully allowed to retire my Bunsen Burner I’ve managed fairly well to hide my not insignificant ignorance on the subject. It hasn’t always been easy; especially with a father who was a chemistry teacher and now working in the environmental services sector myself, occasionally the subject of chemistry does rear its ugly head in day to day life. When my nephews ask why chopping onions makes you cry, or why ice floats I do what any normal uncle would do and inform them that it’s just magic, or tell them to stop asking questions.
It was with some trepidation then that for one day only I went back to school, to attend one of our Tradebe-sponsored Chemistry with Cabbage workshops at a Lancaster primary school. I went in search of the truth – Is chemistry impossible to understand? Can an everyday layperson really get a grasp of the basics of the science? Where was the problem, with chemistry or with me?
It was with me.
That morning I took my place with the Year Six class (were the chairs always that small?), ready to engage and learn from Ruth, our CWC instructor for the day. Our first class discussion covered the basics, acids, neutrals and alkalis (I was keeping up with Year Six at this point). We talk about what they are and where we find them, which led us into our first experiment, making an acid-base indicator using red cabbage. From there we moved on to how to test household products for acidity, alkalinity and neutrality. We learned how to perform a neutralisation and how to test the strengths of individual acids and alkalis. All this using just some cabbage, vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and some other everyday household items. There were gasps of awe and cries of “It bubbles, it bubbles!” when bicarbonate of soda was added to an acidic solution. The fledgling scientists around me took detailed notes and on more than one occasion I was asked how to spell ‘fizzes’. Later in the morning we looked deeper and learned what these compounds actually are and how we interact with them on a daily basis.
Speaking to our instructor Ruth during our lunch break, I could see that this approach is at the heart of how Chemistry with Cabbage works. “We come here to perform practical experiments that tell us about the real world” Ruth told me, “experiments that pupils can reproduce at home with their parents using things like cabbage, milk and vinegar. You don’t need a full chemistry set to really get involved with science at a young age. Pyrotechnics can be fun, but we want to make big impressions, not just big explosions.”
In the afternoon we continued with some of the more eye-catching experiments on offer. We dissolved a polystyrene cup in acetone, much to the delight of the class, and cleaned a collection of grubby coins in an acidic solution. We finished the day with a couple of set piece reactions that conjured smoke and bubbles, and more gasps and awe from the budding scientists around me. Finally, we rounded up some questions about what we’d learned throughout the day, about compounds, reactions, products and processes which I sagely nodded along with. Then Ruth threw a curve-ball and asked us an A-Level standard question. I froze, racking my brain for any hint of GCSE chemistry knowledge… and then an eleven year old next to me put her hand up and answered (inevitably she got it right).
Tradebe first partnered with Chemistry with Cabbage in 2016 because we believed in their mission of inspiring the younger generation to study chemistry and consider a future career in the sciences. Over the past two years we have sponsored a series of workshops at schools close to our sites across the UK.
As an employer, business partner and neighbour we are proud of the positive roles we play in our local communities. We understand the importance of Inspiring our younger generations to consider a future career in chemistry and we are committed to interacting with our communities, supporting young people in education and encouraging younger generations to become involved with scientific initiatives. For more information on Chemistry with Cabbage please visit www.lorellywilson.co.uk