Bronsted-Lowry Balloon Blast Brain Break

Bronsted-Lowry Balloon Blast Brain Break preview image with two figures tossing a water balloon with a H+ along with a bucket of 3 water balloons

As educators, we are always looking for ways to make complex concepts more accessible and memorable. In the early 2000s, I attended the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE), where I learned about a brilliant brain break activity from renowned chemistry teacher Lee Marek. The game, called "Head Butt," ingeniously reinforces the principles of Brønsted-Lowry acids and bases.

With the 2024 BCCE Conference just around the corner, I can't help but reflect on how these conferences have transformed my teaching practices. This year's conference, scheduled for July 28th to August 1st at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, promises to be another enriching experience for educators looking to enhance their teaching methods. You can register at https://bcce.divched.org/.

Back to "Head Butt." This simple yet effective game involves students wearing Velcro hats and tossing soft Velcro balls in the air, symbolizing the movement of H+ or hydronium ions in acid-base reactions. As they throw the "H+" (represented by the Velcro balls), they shout "Acid," signifying the donation of H+ ions by acids. When their partner catches the ball on their Velcro hat, they shout "Base," symbolizing the acceptance of H+ ions by bases. The competitive nature of the game, where points are awarded for successful catches, adds excitement and intensity to the classroom. You can purchase the Head Butt game on Amazon (LINK). “Head Butt” has been a staple game in my AP Chemistry class for many years, but be forewarned - this game can get intense and loud! I play this game in the gym or give a friendly warning to neighboring classrooms! 

 

Brønsted-Lowry Balloon Blast

This year, I wanted to recreate the magic of "Head Butt" while teaching Brønsted-Lowry acids and bases to my first-year chemistry students. With the end of the academic year approaching and the weather improving, I devised a water balloon toss game called “Brønsted-Lowry Balloon Blast” as an alternative (see image 1). The gameplay was simple yet impactful: students paired up, with each pair receiving a water balloon labeled "H+" to represent the proton.

Image 1: Students playing "Brønsted-Lowry Balloon Blast"

 

On the count of three, one student—the "acid"— throws a H+ water balloon to their partner while shouting "Acid!" The partner catches the balloon and yells "Base!" Then the balloon is thrown back to the original person. The thrower shouts “Conjugate Acid!” and the catcher yells, “Conjugate Base!”

If a pair successfully completes the toss, they take a large step back and try again. This cycle demonstrates the transfer of H+ ions between acids and bases, forming conjugate acids and bases. The game continues until only one pair is left with an unbroken water balloon.

When the game is complete, students were shown image 2 and asked to describe similarities between Brønsted-Lowry acid base behaviors and the Balloon Blast game. I also reinforce these concepts using the Acids and Bases POGIL activity in the Flinn POGIL Activities for High School Book (LINK).

Image 2: Brønsted-Lowry Game of Catch diagram created by Melissa Hemling

 

The feedback from students was overwhelmingly positive. They found the “Brønsted-Lowry Balloon Blast” not only enjoyable but also incredibly insightful, providing them with a tangible experience that enhanced their understanding of acids, bases, conjugate acids, and conjugate bases. Assessment scores were 17% higher in classes that played this game compared to those that did not. By incorporating elements of play and physical engagement, we were able to demystify a challenging concept and make it more accessible to learners of all backgrounds and abilities. 

Beyond its academic benefits, the water balloon toss served as a valuable brain break. Research has shown that regular brain breaks can improve students' focus, engagement, and retention of information. By momentarily shifting their attention away from academic content and engaging in a fun, interactive activity, students can recharge their mental batteries and approach subsequent learning tasks with renewed energy and enthusiasm. You can check out additional ChemEd X brain breaks: Refresh and Reinforce: Water Maze Challenge Brain Break Activity (states of matter and intermolecular forces) and Balancing Forces - A Magnetic Chess Brain Break (potential energy versus interparticle distance graphs) here and here.

The success of activities like "Head Butt" and the “Brønsted-Lowry Balloon Blast” lies in their ability to engage students in learning. As we eagerly anticipate the upcoming BCCE Conference, let us continue to embrace innovative approaches to education, guided by the belief that learning should be engaging, inclusive, and above all, a “blast”!

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