Mahomet Second-Graders Experience Hands-On Chemistry Courtesy of REACT

April 5, 2017


REACT board member Emilee Nawa engages with a second grader who's making predictions during a visit to Ms. Jones' classroom on April 5th.

When members of Illinois’ REACT (Reaching and Educating America's Chemists of Tomorrow) program visited Sangamon Elementary School’s 2nd grade classrooms the week of April 4–8 to lead the students in several chemistry activities, it was a win-win for all involved. The teachers met some of their Next Generation Science standards about the properties of matter. REACT students had the rewarding experience of giving back to their community. And while participating in several hands-on activities and demonstrations, the 2nd-graders learned some things about chemistry…and discovered that science is fun.


REACT volunteers explain a hands-on activity to Ms. Jones' second grade students.

Teachers in Illinois are now required to meet the new Next Generation Science Standards for science instruction. So when the second grade teachers in Mahomet’s Sangamon Elementary were wrestling with how to make this material come alive, Kelli Benner, a second grade teacher, decided to contact Illinois’ REACT program for some help.

“We wanted to come up with ways that students could get hands-on learning experiences that correlate with what we're teaching in class,” Benner explains. “So the REACT program from Chemistry said that they could create a presentation to put on for our students that would match up with our standards.”


REACT volunteer Kelsey Finnamore demonstrates the bottle rocket to the students.

And according to Benner, it was exactly what they needed. “It worked perfectly!" she claims. “It talked about all the different properties of matter, and we're studying that right now. So along with the introduction that we're doing in our classrooms, it matched up perfectly and they were able to do experiments with what we've been learning about.”

The activities the REACT students did dealt with the states of matter (solids, liquids, and gases), density, and how chemical reactions can cause pressure to build up and be released. For instance, during one activity, students created a lava lamp. Oil was added to a small amount of colored water which, because it was denser, settled to the bottom. Then, to make the “lava” erupt, a half tablet of Alka-Seltzer was added; the chemical reaction caused ome of the red liquid bubble up to the top like a lava lamp.

In another activity, a bottle rocket, a small amount of baking soda was added to water in a bottle, which was corked. To the students’ delight, enough air pressure built up to pop the cork.


A student writes down what he predicts will happen during the activity.

To increase students' learning during the hands-on activities, they also did worksheets. Before each activity, they were to predict what they thought would happen, then record what actually happened and if they had been right or wrong.

Benner is a big fan of hands-on activities like the ones the REACT team introduced to her students.


REACT volunteer Vincent Cornelius (left) and a second grader look to see if a the golf ball is floating in the salt water.

“I feel like it makes a better impact on their learning. It helps them to remember it. A lot of kids are visual learners and learn better by experiencing it and doing it, rather than just seeing it and learning it in a book or on paper or even in a video. I feel like just by them experiencing it, it's going to leave a lasting impact on their education.”

According to Benner, the REACT team’s activities had a very positive impact on her students.

“My students just loved it,” Benner says, regarding the five different experiments the REACT team did with her students. “They just thought every single one of them was engaging and exciting, and they couldn't wait to see what happened next.”


A Sangamon 2nd grader (left) enjoys discovering which of her predictions were correct.

Helping during the presentation to Ms. Jones’ second grade class was REACT board member Emilee Nawa.  A senior majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology, with a minor in Chemistry, she's also the REACT 3rd Grade Coordinator. Nawa enjoys participating in REACT because of the impact it has on the children they interact with. 


REACT board member Emilee Nawa interacts with a second grader during the outreach.

“Every visit I have been on, the students show so much gratitude and excitement towards the experiments we bring with us,” she says. “It is a great feeling to be able to help them learn about chemistry in a hands-on way.”

Nawa believes outreach efforts like the classroom visits at Sangamon are beneficial “to show these kids that we can relate science to everyday life.” Another benefit? The possibility of recruiting youngsters into science:

“We engage students in a fun way, especially those interested in pursuing science when they get older,” she admits.

Email REACT



REACT volunteer Vincent Cornelius waits for the raisins in the right beaker to float.

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.

More: K-6 Outreach, Chemistry, REACT, 2017

For more articles about Chemistry and REACT, see:


Sangamon second graders watch as their "lava lamp" bubbles.




Program prepares STEM educators to teach all students

November 30, 2021
This summer, a group of educators gathered to learn about engaging STEM activities they can do with their students.
Full Story

Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program

November 11, 2021
Undergrads get a taste of research through I-MRSEC’s REU program.
Full Story

Goldstein’s Renaissance Engineering Summer Camp

November 1, 2021
Goldstein’s Renaissance Engineering Summer Camp Incorporates Art, Design, Mechatronics, and Mentoring
Full Story

TechTogether Chicago to Redefine the Hacker Stereotype

July 10, 2021
New workshops that can help inspire students to pursue careers in technology..
Full Story

Aerospace Engineering Launches Virtual Summer Camps to Pique Students’ Interest in Aero.

July 2, 2021
Design an aircraft then watch it soar after launching it with a huge rubber band. Build a Mars lander to safely transport a real egg, then test the contraption by dropping it from a second story window.
Full Story

Undergrads Experience Materials Science Research Courtesy of the I-MRSEC REU

June 16, 2021
Ten undergraduate students are spending the summer of 2021 discovering what research is like.
Full Story

MatSE Afterschool Academy

MatSE Afterschool Academy

June 14, 2021
MatSE Afterschool Academy to Introduce Students to Materials Science and Beyond.
Full Story

Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interest

Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interest

June 14, 2021
Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interest While Researching Task Collaboration.
Full Story

Exposes Franklin Middle Schoolers to Science, CS

What Studying Engineering at Illinois is Like?

May 25, 2021
NSBE’s Michaela Horn Exposes Franklin Middle Schoolers to Science, CS, and What Studying Engineering at Illinois is Like.
Full Story

Jenny Saves a Convertible.

Children’s-Book-Writing Duo/

May 19, 2021
Convertibles and Thunderstorms—Children’s-Book-Writing Duo on Their Way Thanks to Illinois Training and Encouragement from Mentors.
Full Story

Improve Learning in Engineering

Improve Learning in Engineering

May 17, 2021
Liebenberg Espouses Mini-Projects to Engage Students Emotionally, Improve Learning in Engineering.
Full Story

Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.

BIOE435 Capstone Projects

May 12, 2021
BIOE435 Capstone Projects - BIOE Seniors Use Knowledge/Skills to Problem Solve.
Full Story

Elani and Gonzalo shine a UV light on a rose that has absorbed a solution that has made it fluorescent.

Illinois Scientists Shine a (UV) Light on Fluorescence

May 7, 2021
What is fluorescence? What causes it?
Full Story

Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.

HackIllinois 2021 “Rekindled Connections” With The Tech Community

May 5, 2021
Annual student hackathon HackIllinois with the aim of developing projects on current problems facing society.
Full Story

A Shane Mayer-Gawlik image of the Bridger Aurora, part of his Night Skies photography collection exhibited at the Art-Science Festival.

The Art-Science Festival

April 26, 2021
Illinois Art-Science Festival: Illuminating the Universe...from the Quantum World to the Cosmos.
Full Story

Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.

Illinois Engineering Seniors Prepared to Change the World

April 22, 2021
Ready. Set. Go! Illinois Engineering Seniors Prepared to Change the World.
Full Story

HML 2021 Virtual Health

HML 2021 Virtual Health

April 19, 2021
Make-a-Thon Gives Citizen Scientists a Shot at Making Their Health-Related Innovations a Reality.
Full Story

I-MRSEC’s Music Video

I-MRSEC’s Music Video

April 7, 2021
I-MRSEC’s Music Video for EOH ’21 Plugs Graphene, 2D Materials
Full Story

Health Make-a-Thon Orientation

HML 2021 Health Orientation

March 30, 2021
HML 2021 Health Make-a-Thon Orientation Prepares Finalists for Competition.
Full Story

Andrea Perry shows Franklin students how to take apart the magnetic drawing board they received in their kit

Musical Magnetism

March 25, 2021
Musical Magnetism: Encouraging Franklin Middle Schoolers to Express Science Via the Arts.
Full Story

Carmen Paquette street performing.

Love of Science

March 9, 2021
Paquette Conveys Her Love of Science, Dance to Franklin STEAM Students Via Musical Magnetism.
Full Stroy

An Engineering Exploration participant exhibits the tower they built as part of the engineering challenge related to Civil Engineering

Engineering Exploration

March 2, 2021
SWE’s Engineering Exploration Outreach Lives Up to Its Name.

ChiS&E’s Family STEM Day

ChiS&E’s Family STEM Day

February 23, 2021
Helps Chicago Youngsters Progress Along the STEM Pipeline Toward Engineering.

Kathny Walsh

Kathy Walsh

February 17, 2021
On Her First Foray into STEAM, Kathy Walsh Acquaints Franklin Students with Microscopy, Haiku.

ChiS&E student

ChiS&E CPS Students

January 19, 2021
Illinois Undergrads Encourage ChiS&E CPS Students Toward Possible Careers in Engineering.

I-MRSEC’s Music Video

CISTEME365 Provides Year-Round PD/Community

January 4, 2021
to Illinois Teachers in Support of Informal STEM Education Efforts to Underserved Students.