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Sherrie L. Birts Teacher Academy of Mathematics and Science
10 West 35th Street
Chicago IL 60616
These lessons can be adapted and made appropriate for grade 6-12.
Students will be able to: 1) understand the meaning of a polymer, 2) observe
and compare the properties of a polymer, 3) describe the relationship between
smaller individual molecules joined together to form the larger polymer
molecules, 4) explore common uses of polymers, 5) learn safety and experimental
Material per student
1 polystyrene foam (recycled cup is very cost effective)
1 glass petri dish (aluminum pan can be substituted)
paper towel or newspaper
3oz. paper cup with 15ml of monomer A
3oz. paper cup with 15ml of monomer B
two plastic bags or gloves
1 bottle New Elmer's School Glue Gel
4% borax solution
Gladloc plastic bag
warm tap water
Experiment A: Observation of Plastics: What's in the Cup?
Using the 25ml graduated cylinder, measure out 10ml of acetone and pour it into
the petri dish.
Take an ordinary, foam, polystyrene coffee cup and place the polystyrene cup
into the acetone in the petri dish. Describe what you see happening.
Remove the lump of material from the acetone with your fingers. Examine the
polymer now and describe its appearance and properties.
Form the polymer into some interesting shape (ball, donut, cube) and allow it to
dry on your lab bench or at home. Write down what you observe the next day
about the polymer.
Experiment B: Polyurethane Foam
Put gloves on and remind the students to keep gloves on at all times when
working with the polyurethane foam.
Spread the paper towel on the bench top. The bench top should remain covered
while working with the monomers.
Add 3-5 drops of food coloring to one of the monomers, then mix it up thoroughly
with the wooden splint.
Pour the other liquid into the cup. Mix the two liquids thoroughly with the
wood splint for at least 2 minutes. Continue to stir until the volume of the
mixture begins to increase. At this point, stop stirring the mixture and remove
DO NOT TOUCH THE FOAM! It must not be handled until it is completely set, since
it may contain unreacted materials. It will be ready to handle after 24 hours.
Experiment C: A Fun Polymer: Slime
Mix 3 parts tap water with 1 part glue gel (For instance, use 10ml glue and 30
ml water) in the GladLoc plastic bag. Stir until completely dissolved. This
may take 2-3 minutes. Warm water works faster.
Add 1-2 drops of food color, if desired, into the glue-water mixture.
Add 1 teaspoon (5ml) of 4% borax solution and stir until the slime adheres to
the stick in a large blob. You are now ready to play with it and observe its
CAUTION: Keep in a plastic bag when not using it. Keep it off of clothes,
upholstered furniture and varnished wood.
The students should be able to:
1. Build a polymer model (form a hat or mushroom) using polyurethane foam. They
will decorate their model with food color, buttons, or any craft materials.
2. Form a shape with the polystyrene cup and observe the shape after a 24 hours
The students work should be displayed and graded.
3. Have the students complete a worksheet identifying every polymer in their
Moore, John W. (1992). Crystal Growing and Polymers. Chem Camp Handbook:
Institute for Chemical Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Sherman, Marie. Making Gel-Gluep From Elmer's School Glue Gel. Ursuline
Academy, St. Louis.