Biology In Elementary Schools is a Saint Michael's College student project from a course that ran between 2007 and 2010 and fully described in this book chapter. The student-created resources have been preserved here for posterity. Link under 'toolbox' for printer-friendly versions of the exercises. Click on handouts to print full resolution versions. Please see Wikieducator's disclaimer, our safety statement, and the Creative Commons licensing in English and in legalese.
The experiment has been completed successfully by our team on multiple small groups of students.
Primary biological content area covered
During this experiment, the children will focus on what germs are and how they can be prevented, but also how easily they are spread.
We Will Need:
- Black Light (3)
- Glo Germ Lotion
- Glo Germ Powder (2-3 Containers)
- Paper Towels
- Hand Sanitizer
- Covering for the floor
- Dark Room
Steps for Experiment:
1) Ask students what they know about germs and how they spread.
2) Turn lights off and show students their hands with the black light before we use the powder and lotion.
3) The teacher will rub the Glo germ lotion or powder on their hands and high five or shake their hands. The students will then shake each other’s hands so that they can get the lotion and powder all over their hands
4) Turn off the lights and turn on the black light and look at their hands to see how much the germs have spread and how many germs each child has.
5) Before washing hands, the teacher will show the students how not covering your mouth while sneezing spreads germs.
6) The teacher will place a pile of the Glo powder in their hands and sneeze out while the black lights are focusing on where the powder goes. This shows them the affect of sneezing and not covering their mouths.
7) The students will then try themselves the sneezing with the powder. You can also show the students their hands after they have sneezed to show how much germs have been placed on their hands.
8) The students should go wash their hands with only water and then have them come back and see how much of the germs washed off and how much is still on their hands.
9) Send the students back to the bathroom to wash their hands but with soap and water this time. Some of the students will use Purel to try to kill the germs rather than washing their hands.
10) Look at the differences between washing their hands with soap and water and just water and also look at the differences between washing with soap and water and just using Purel.
11) Send the children who only used Purel to wash their hands and then look at everyone's hands one more time before ending the experiment.
12) Ask the students what they have learned from this experiment.
Description of activity
In this activity the students will learn how easy it is to spread germs. First all the children will be asked to wash their hands. Some children will put Glo lotion or powder on their hands and then shake hands with another student who has clean hands. Using the black light the class will examine how the lotion or powder spreads onto other's hands, representing how easily germs are spread. After all the students wash their hands again they will examine with the black light how well they washed and whether the "germs" are truly gone.
In this experiment, we will have half of the students use the Glo germ lotion while the other half use the Glo germ powder. With the use of the black light, the students will be able to see how easily germs spread by highfiving, shaking hands, and simply touching the table in front of them. Next they will wash their hands with just water and we will use the black light again to see if the germs have completely gone away. If they find that just rinsing their hands with water does not kill the germs, we will then have them use soap and hopefully see better results and no germs. Another thing we did in this experiment is have children watch how far germs from a sneeze can travel if you do not cover your mouth. The teacher puts a good amount of powder into his or her hands and turns out the light. With the black lights shining, the teacher pretends to sneeze and blows into the powder. The children can see from the side that the powder flies everywhere and can get on anything, just as germs in a sneeze can.
- While doing this project, we learned that we would need a space where we could place some sort of cover on the floor because the powder was caked onto the ground and it was hard to get it off the floor.
- Although this may not be something that we can do anything about, we noticed that the powder and lotion was getting onto our clothing and some of the student's clothing. It was also getting on our faces. I think it would just be helpful for someone doing this project later to have the knowledge of the mess that it makes before they perform it so they can be fully prepared.
The activity relates to grade-appropriate health skills because the students are looking at how quickly the germs spread. Students at this level will be able to understand the health problems with how germs spread and how they need to be taken care of by washing hands for around 20-30 seconds. Germs can cause many different diseases and sicknesses so children need to see the importance of washing their hands as well as keeping them clean.
Living with Germs: In Sickness and In Health by John Playfair. Oxford Publishing (2004).
Germs are Not for Sharing by Elizabeth Verdick. Free Spirit Publication (2006).
Magic School Bus Inside Ralphie: A Book about Germs by Beth Nadler. Scholastic Books (1995).
Connections to educational standards
Students demonstrate their understanding of Energy Flow in an Ecosystem by Identifying the source of energy for the survival of organisms
Students demonstrate their understanding of Equilibrium in an Ecosystem by Explaining how one organism depends upon another organism to survive.
Students demonstrate their understanding of the patterns of human health/disease by explaining how tears, saliva, and skin can protect the body from harmful germs.
While doing our experiment, one of the parents that was observing brought up the idea of testing out how well hand sanitizer works. In some of the experiment runs through, we had half of the children go wash their hands with soap and water while the others just used Purell® hand sanitizer. When examining the difference under the black light, it turns out that the "germs" are all still there after using the Purell®, just more rubbed in. Washing hands the traditional way with soap and water appears to work much better. However, it is worth noting that hand sanitizer is designed to kill bacteria but not necessarily remove them.
After doing the experiment with six small groups of third grade students, I think that the experiment went very well. The children really got into it because it was such a hands on and active experiment. The part that really worked well was that the glo-lotion/powder was still very visible on the children's hands after only using water. Once the children used soap and water and thoroughly washed their hands, the "germs" were for the most part completely gone. The black lights that we used in the experiment we very exciting and new for children, which I think helped keep their attention and willingness to learn. One surprising thing was that a few children were nervous and scared around the “germs,” but once we explained that they were not actual germs, just a demonstration, the students were fine. The experiment was a fun activity for both the teachers and the students and I think it was very successful. I could see that the demonstration was effective when I noticed that later in the day when the children had snack, a few students first jumped up and said they had to wash their hands first. -Molly
This experiment was probably one of my favorite activities that we have done so far. I found that it was interesting but also that the children really enjoyed this activity while we were doing it. They loved how they were able to see the "germs" when we turned the lights off and turned on the black lights and seemed to be extremely entertained when we showed the length in which when we do not cover our mouths how far the germs go. I found that having the teachers and parents there made us extra enthusiastic and they actually participated in our experiment and one mother actually gave us the idea of using the Purel with our experiment. I am glad that we did this project and hope that other people using this experiment find it as enjoyable as I did. - Katie
This experiment was awesome. It ran very smoothly, took up the full 20 minutes, and the students loved it. By completing the experiment in different steps, we were able to keep their interest, which was definitely a plus. With the use of black lights, glo germ lotion and powder the students were able to see just how quickly and easily germs spread from person to person as well as surface to surface. Most of the children were familiar with germs and many had fun facts that they were more than willing to share with the rest of the group. For the final component of the experiment, students split into groups and half washed their hands with soap while the other half used hand sanitizer. They were so excited to guess and see the final results. We were able to conclude our experiment by telling the students that washing their hands with soap and water is in fact the best way to get rid of germs as well as keep them away to begin with. This has been my favorite experiment so far and is definitely something I would consider using in the future. -Erin
Glo Germ. Found February 10, 2010 from: http://www.glogerm.com/using.html
Verdick, Elizabeth, and Marieka Heinlen. Germs Are Not for Sharing. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Pub., 2006. Print.
Cole, Joanna. The Magic School Bus inside Ralphie: a Book about Germs. New York: Scholastic, 1995. Print.
Playfair, J. H. L. Living with Germs in Sickness and in Health. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print