Search NOVA Teachers

Back to Teachers Home


Ideas from Teachers

(Gr. 8)
To understand the chemical changes that occur as a candle burns.


  • NOVA's "Fireworks!" interactive, On Fire

My 8th grade Physical Science students do a lab on changes in a burning candle, in which they look for evidence of the various physical and chemical changes that take place when a candle burns. It involves testing for CO2 production using limewater and identifying carbon residue on the bottom of the beaker. At the same time, the class studies combustion and the fire triangle.

The interactive, On Fire, provides a great follow-up activity for them. It reinforces their observations and helps them draw conclusions about what they have seen. It also allows me to differentiate my curriculum. The more advanced students finish their labs first and move on to the classroom computers. They are the ones that are more ready for the type of chemistry detail that the activity includes.

Sent in by
Susan Chollar
Aptos Junior High School
Aptos, CA

(Gr. 9-12)
About 10 days before NOVA's "Fireworks!" program aired, my class had been studying the metals in the periodic table. In an earlier unit on atomic structure, they had learned about exciting electrons and the energy an excited electron releases when it falls back into its own energy level. In studying the metals, we referred back to those lessons to explain the colors produced when burning metal salts by relating the energy released to the frequency of the light (and thus the color).

Examples we discussed were those fireplace blocks that can be burned to produce different colors and, of course, the colors of fireworks. We did a lab in which my students observed the colors of various metal salt solutions injected into a Bunsen burner flame through a capillary tube. They then identified an unknown salt by its color. (Next year I plan to have them observe the flames through hand-held spectrophotometers.)

Our media specialist sent me a copy of the NOVA Teacher's Guide and I saw that the NOVA "Fireworks!" program was about to air. I immediately began planning the week-long exploration of fireworks revolving around the program.

We used the NOVA "Fireworks!" printable activity to complement the program. We began the lesson by talking about fireworks in general. I outlined what students could expect to see in the program. Students wrote a "stream of consciousness"-type essay about they last time they saw fireworks, trying to recall as many observations as they could.

I wrote the list of suggested topics on the blackboard, adding the topic of safety, and each student signed up for a topic. We ended up with groups of three.

I then played the program, and students took any notes that pertained to their topic. They really enjoyed the program itself and gave it their full attention (not always true of educational videotapes!).

The next day the whole class went to the Media Center, and in groups researched more information about their topics. Some topics had suggested questions, and students looked for answers. Some just wanted more information, while others looked for photographs or other visual materials.

Students spent the remaining class periods organizing their information into six large posters, including a timeline showing the history of fireworks. The students outlined the important points of each topic. The last thing we did was ask groups to share their information orally with the rest of the class.

Students were evaluated individually on the essay and the notes taken during the video. Each group was evaluated collectively on its poster and oral presentation.

Sent in by
Rosemarie G. Wilson
Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School
Groton, CT

(Gr. 9-12)
I created a worksheet from the transcript for NOVA's "Fireworks!" program in which I created blank spaces for key concepts throughout the program.

Students follow along with the program and fill in blanks on the transcript as they watch. This way, the students are not likely to sleep or ignore what is in the video—the video notes keep them busy watching the entire program. Students can rewind as necessary, and parts that I want them to really pay attention to—such as demonstrations on the types of fireworks, or colors from the salts, or the types of noises—I play a second time.

After the video, I do a demonstration lab showing flame tests and correlate it back to the video. I also discuss the history of fireworks. Questions on the lab include ties to the TV program CSI, fireworks, and testing for unknowns for a courtcase using flame testing. It makes for a great presentation on metallic salts when teaching about the periodic table in Chemistry.

Sent in by
Catherine Ryan
Alvin High School
Alvin, TX

Teacher's Guide

Support provided by