Curious Chemicals and Creepy Creatures: Cool Caves

Scientists engage in making lots of predictions during the course of their day.

To inspire their young scientists to make thoughtful inquiries and predictions, the teachers of Cool Caves intentionally didn’t tell them what to expect from an experiment.

“I think we’re maybe making borax crystals?” said Wyatt after learning that one of the ingredients was borax.

Alyssa thought it might be all about watching a process, not creating a product.

“I’m thinking we might be trying to make something like rocks,” predicted Garrett. “We’re trying to make a chemical reaction that can make something, like a rock.”

The chemical reaction involved mixing together sodium borate (Borax) , alum, and water. Teacher Jeff Lynum cautioned the students that they would witness a chemical reaction in slow motion. “It’s kind of like watching paint dry,” he told the students.

After securing their supplies and ingredients, Aiden began stirring the mixture in a large glass jar. “Oh, this smells good!” commented Garrett.

The boys placed a cone of paper towels into the mouth of the jar. “The water is crawling up the paper towel!” Aiden observed. “But nothing much is happening yet.”

“This is so boring!” Garrett lamented at one point.

“Remember, it’s slow motion,” reminded Aiden.

Despite his momentary impatience, Garrett said the Cool Caves class was “super fun.”

“I really love caves. I’ve been to some in Virginia. I just knew it’d be fun to do and that I’d make a lot of friends,” he said. “It’s fun to explore the caves and to learn about caves so I can do all these things on my own.”

Sophia reminded her group to be careful around their jar. “Now nobody touch the desk because it could mess up the project,” she warned her partners. Sophia said she thought the paper towel might suck up the borax. “I think it’s going to be a hanging rock.”

After the class came back from break, Evelyn said the chemical reaction had done its magic. “It looked like there was stalactites hanging down from the paper towel,” she said. “And some were connected to the bottom. There were also some columns.”

Evelyn said she thought the experiment was “cool”.

“I want to be a caver when I grown up because I’m into this sort of stuff.”

After experimenting with cave formations, students learned about the creatures that live in unique cave habitats.

“Today we’re making imaginary bugs,” Evelyn explained. “They have to live in the dark zones of the caves.”

The creatures are based on real cave dwellers, like salamanders and scorpions. Evelyn’s “scorpialamander” combines those two animals into one creature, called Scorpi, for short.

Rhett made a snail-moth combination. “It looks like a snail, but it can fly,” he said. “It’s only 2 millimeters big.” Rhett constructed his flying snail out of Model Magic. When it’s dry, he plans to paint the wings pink and the shell brown.

My guess is that these cave dwelling creatures will end up inside the students’ final projects – fully decked out caves with hanging rocks, formations, and creepy creatures lurking in dark corners. Make sure to check out the caves in the elementary cafeteria during Open House!