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Subject: A Halloween Story

I created this Halloween story my first year of teaching. Having recently been to a local American Chemical Society chemical educators' discussion group meeting, I found out about a clock reaction demonstration called "Old Nassau," and wanted to find some way to use it in my classroom for some sort of Halloween demo. At about the same time, my district mentor had loaned to me a book by Tik Liem that was full of demonstrations. After about three days of thinking I ended up with the story that is outlined below. The story and riddle are original, the demos are borrowed.

My third year of teaching found me in a new school district. The administration registered me for the ACTIVE Chemistry Mentoring Program* at Miami University, Middletown, Ohio. Our first two-day weekend meeting in early October, 1999 was centered around the topic of "Dynamic Demos." It was during this meeting that I shared my thematic Halloween story with the other teachers in the program. Many of the teachers used my story for Halloween; some of them modified it to their own liking. (You will find two of the modifications included below.) As representatives of the ACTIVE Chemistry Mentoring Program at Miami University, we presented a modification of my original story at the 2001 Annual Meeting of The Science Education Council of Ohio, on February 15, 2001, at the Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The basic points of this story will work with the attached demonstrations very nicely. However, this story will only be as good as you make it. Adlib, personalize, and elaborate to the best of your abilities. The props you use with the demos will definitely enhance the story, as will your dress for the day. Moreover, I usually have a 2 liter graduated cylinder bubbling on my demonstration table to one side, and a large, black, plastic cauldron bubbling to my other side. They both are filled with water, and have several pieces of dry ice dropped in. I color the water in the graduated cylinder with food coloring. {bubbling columns demo} A plastic pumpkin also sits on my demonstration table next to a candle. You may also want to have some spooky music or noises playing quietly in the background and turn off some of the lights in your classroom.

The basic premise of the story is as follows:

A young boy and his friends are out trick-or-treating on Halloween night. They are nearing the end of their fun and they decide to visit the house of an old man who lives at the end of a nearby street. Everybody is afraid of the man, but no one passes by his house on Halloween night because he gives out the biggest candy bars. The group of boys approach his house (describe how it looks here - old, dark, set back from the street, on a hill) and they all build up the courage to go up to the door and ring the bell, all except one boy who is just too afraid. The group of boys rings the bell and old man ___________ answers. As he drops a candy bar in each bag, the boys turn and run down the long sidewalk back to the street. When they all gather back around they look in their bags to see what they received. Each got their favorite candy bar, and convince the one boy who remained that he should go up to the house to get his candy, but none of them will go up with him. The boy finally goes up to the house (describe it in more detail - the scarrier the better - remember to mention the pumpkin on the porch that is glowing from the candle within). When he reaches the front porch he rings the doorbell. At that very moment flames shoot out of the face of the pumpkin! {lycopodium powder demo done in a pumpkin}

The boy gets scared and, as he begins to turn to run, the front door opens. Old man ___________ says in a very deliberate tone, "And for you, a special gift!" as he drops a heavy object into the boy's bag. He disappears into the house as quickly as he appeared. The boy runs as fast as he can back to the street, screaming the whole way. Upon hearing this his friends scatter, leaving him behind. When he gets far enough away from the house that he feels safe, he ducks behind a tree to see what he received. He pulls out a large, dusty, but ornate bottle. He begins to rub it to wipe away some of the dust. At this point a genie comes out of the bottle. {genie in a bottle demo} When the genie appears he tells the boy that since he released the genie, he must solve a riddle. If he solves it correctly he will be granted three wishes; if he solves it incorrectly he will lose his life. He was given four hours to solve the following riddle:

Conquered by a little light,
A flame will take away its might.

The genie then gave him a map showing him how to find two special solutions which, when mixed together, would provide him with a big clue as to the answer of the riddle. He was also cautioned that he must burn the map after he finds the two solutions, but before he mixes them together. (Describe the map in some detail, and describe how the map details a wooded location very near the boys home, a place the boy was somewhat familiar with as he played there every once in a while.)

He sets out to find the solutions. (This is where you need to adlib. I usually mention something about finding the second solution up in a tree, in the crook of a branch. You can also get detailed and mention the type of container the solutions are found in.) Upon having both solutions, he combines the two solutions but nothing happens! {halloween colors demo, only mix solutions B and C} He doesn't understand why nothing is happening. Then he notices that his hands are bleeding, he is running out of time! {bloody picture demo} He remembers that he was to burn the map before mixing the two solutions, so he rolls up the map, stands it up and lights it. {the mysteriously rising napkin demo} Next, he adds a bit more of the solutions to see what will happen. {halloween colors demo, add solution A to the already mixed B & C} He then sees the clue and is able to solve the riddle. The genie appears and grants him his wishes.

Answer to the riddle...DARKNESS!

Note: for the Mysteriously Rising Napkin demo, use the thin sheets found in old mimeograph copies, it works best. You must also stand the "map" up to get the best effect. I have found that I need to pre-roll some "maps" before the class and use a glue stick to apply a VERY tiny spot that will keep the paper rolled. During the story telling I roll one up, set it aside, and then grab one of my pre-rolled "maps" to burn.

The only problem that has ever come up about the story is, how did the boy get matches to light the map if he never went home? He started smoking at a young age? It hasn't been that big of a deal yet.

(If you use this story, let me know how you liked it, how it worked for you, and what modifications you made. I find that the story grows better with each telling!)

At one of the subsequent ACTIVE Chemistry weekend meetings, in November, 1999, I was asked by one of the participants if I had come up with a similar type of thematic demo story for Christmas. Since I had not, this teacher decided to try to come up with her own story to use around Christmas. A copy of her thematic Christmas demo story is also included.

* The ACTIVE Chemistry Mentoring Program is a part of the Center For Chemistry Education at Miami University, Middletown Campus, Middletown, OH.