Historic Anaheim Campus Science Lab: The Sludge Test

Last month, 8th graders at the Historic Anaheim Campus rushed into their science class, eager to begin a timed science lab to find the masses, densities, and volume of different materials. Students grouped up at lab tables, putting on lab aprons and safety goggles in preparation for their teacher, Mr. Briner, supplying them with a mixture (nicknamed “sludge”) of seven different materials necessary for them to begin.

A student separates out one material of the Sludge Test using magnetism.

“Our job is to separate all of [the materials] and to identify the mass and density, and to also identify the substance,” explained 8th grader Vivian L.

As soon as Briner placed the substances in front of the lab groups, a mad dash ensued as the students attempted to separate out the materials — they were in a rush to beat out the clock before their next period, giving them only 90 minutes to make their identifications.

“In this lab, we learn about separating mixtures using magnetism, water displacement, filtration, and evaporation,” 8th grader Nathan C. said as he very carefully boiled a measuring cup of water over a Bunsen burner.

Separating the mixtures may have been the most difficult part. Lab groups bustled around trying to find an ideal balance between being extremely thorough and being quick enough to beat out the clock. Students used the utmost care (while still needing to keep up the pace) to cautiously separate out the materials using magnets, tweezers, and other tools.

The hands-on science lab is unique to Fairmont; Briner calls it the “Sludge Test.” In the eight weeks leading up to the lab, Briner teaches his students about separation methods and how to identify a substance based on its physical properties. During the lab, the students must use what they’ve learned during those eight weeks to correctly attain the masses and densities of the seven mystery substances, as well as the volume of one. Once they find those measurements, they can then identify the substances.

8th grader Elle F. describes the Sludge Test while her group waits for water to boil to move on to the next step of the lab.

Once the students finished sorting the substances, they moved on to measuring masses, densities, and volumes. As students worked, Briner reminded them of the time they had left, encouraging them to keep focus and not lose sight of the lab’s overall objective. He walked around, helping where needed (mostly with assistance correctly turning on the Bunsen burners) and made sure all of the students were practicing responsible lab safety.

The class period went by quickly and the abrupt sound of the school bell (disrupting the focused students), signaled the end of the lab. Students hurriedly cleaned up their lab tables and turned in their results to Briner, all hoping they had identified the substances correctly.

“They did very well,” Briner said after the class.

He also shared some advice for any teachers recreating this lab or performing one similar.

“Overall the students will like this lab,” he said, but advised “run a few practice trials and focus on only one separation technique at a time.”

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