Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Exploding Elixirs and Magic Mud: Making Some Harry Potter Magic!

A few months ago, my supervisor applied to be a hosting library for the traveling "Harry Potter's World: Renaissance Science, Medicine, and Magic" exhibit from the National Library of Medicine. We receive some large panels that detailed the different historical and scientific aspects found in Harry Potter's world. In conjunction, we were asked to put on a series of programs for grades 3 to 8 that went along with the themes from the exhibit. Being a huge fan of doing science-y programs, I immediately volunteered to do a Potions Class a la Professor Snape.

As the tweens came in, I handed out an Advanced Potions Making booklet. Inside I included the recipes for everything we were making so that they could try everything again at home. You can find a PDF version of it here: http://bit.ly/1a5LezB. For fun, I made up "magical names" for the ingredients and then created a key with the "muggle names" as well.

I knew I wanted to use a stations-based approach to the program. I split the kids up into groups and they rotated every 10-15 minutes to a new table so that everyone would get to do everything. After that, we then all came together to complete the final potion: ice cream in a bag! Here are the stations:

1. Magic Mud: (a.k.a. Gak, Flubber, etc.) - Mix 1 part Liquid Starch to 2 parts white glue (in our case, we did 1/4 cup glue to 2 Tbsp. starch). Mix in 2-3 drops of food coloring and stir until you get the correct consistency. I found that if the mud didn't set up right away, I had them pour it into a sandwich bag and let it set at home.

2. Burn/Heal Potion: (a.k.a. mini-lava lamps) - This one is super easy and fun. I scavenged plastic water bottles from the recycling bins. Take one and fill it up 2/3 of the way with vegetable oil. Then fill it the rest of the way with water, leaving about an inch at the top. Add some food coloring and watch it mix with the water. Then take an Alka Seltzer tablet (or any off-brand) and break it into 3 or 4 pieces. Drop one in and let it fizz! The lava lamp still works without the Alka-Seltzer, but it's much more fun to see it bubble.

3. Marauder's Messages: (a.k.a. invisible ink) - Admittedly, this one was a little bit of a bust. I've never really had great luck with this activity, but for some reason I keep trying it hoping for success. You take 1 part baking soda and 1 part water (in our case, 1 tsp. of each) and mix it together in a small cup. Then you can use a Q-tip to write your message on plain white paper. Wait for the paper to dry. Then use grape juice concentrate and brush it over the message to reveal it.

The problem with this was that it took way too long to dry and held the other groups up. Next time, I may have them reveal their messages at home or just scrap it altogether.

4. Felix Felices Potion: This one took me a few tries to get the perfect ingredients. I ended up using glycerin and edible pearl dust. Both I bought from my local craft store. It isn't tasty, but if the tweens drink it, it's completely edible. I then bought some little glass bottles and cording so that they could make necklace and wear their potion. They mixed the glycerin and dust with a toothpick and it looked amazing.

5. Exploding Elixer: I just purchased a can of Kool-Aid fruit punch mix and Pop Rocks. The tweens mixed 1 Tbsp. of Kool-Aid powder with water in an 8 oz. cup then added a mini-pouch of Pop Rocks. It didn't explode or fizz like I wanted it to, but it crackled a lot and sounded cool as they drank it.

6. Honeyduke's Homemade Ice Cream: (a.k.a. ice cream in a bag) - This one is always a hit. You take 1 cup of whole milk, 2 Tbsp. sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla and put it in a quart-sized freezer bag and seal it with duct tape. Then you put 6 cups of ice and 6 Tbsp. ice cream salt into a gallon-sized freezer bag. Put the quart bag into the gallon bag and seal with duct tape again. Massage and gently shake the bag for 5 to 10 minutes or until ice cream forms. I had the tweens pair up and brought dish towels from home so that their hands didn't get too cold when shaking the bag. Then you can put the ice cream into cups and enjoy!

All in all, the program was a success. I had 30 very excited Harry Potter fans attend. The invisible ink activity did hold up the group and put a kink in the flow of the program, but the tweens didn't notice and got to take home a lot of neat potions at the end.