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Activities for the Classroom

Activity List

The Nose Knows

Goal: Teach students how to recognize and identify different smells, including propane
Ages: Appropriate for all ages

What to do:

  1. Set up 5 or 6 opaque, disposable plastic containers with holes punched in the lid on a table.
  2. In each of the containers, except one, place objects that emit familiar odors, such as chocolate, fruit, peppermint toothpaste, etc. (Note: Be sure to ask your students about any food allergies.)
  3. In the remaining container, place a few drops of skunk cover scent, which can be found in any store's hunting section (click here to see a product example).
  4. Explain to your students that propane is naturally colorless and odorless, so propane companies add a chemical — mercaptan — to help you detect propane gas leaking into the air. This chemical resembles the odor of rotten eggs or a skunk.
  5. In groups or individually, have each of the students close their eyes (or use a blindfold) to smell each “mysterious odor.” After they have tested each container, have them guess which one smells the most like propane.
  6. Reward students who can correctly identify the smell of propane with small prizes.

Bringing it all together:
Once again remind students that in its natural form, propane is an invisible, odorless gas, but propane companies add a chemical with an unpleasant odor so that propane can be detected if it leaks. Make sure they can identify what this smells like (rotten eggs or a skunk).

Also point out that there are situations when this odor may become difficult to detect:

  • If someone has a cold or allergies
  • In old age, sense of smell becomes less sensitive
  • Family members are asleep
  • It is masked by a stronger scent, like cigarette smoke or food
  • The propane is located in an area that is not often visited (like a basement)

For these reasons, students should check to see if their parents have installed propane gas detectors in their homes. Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are also a good idea.

Molecules in Motion

Goal: Teach students the differences between solids, liquids, and gases and how they relate to propane
Ages: Ideal for grades 2 through 5

What to do:
This is a great interactive, fun activity for kids to learn the basic science of different states of matter, but the lesson can also be applied to the formation, storage, and release of propane.

First, give students a brief history of where propane comes from. Propane was formed millions of years ago (when dinosaurs roamed the planet!) from the remains of tiny sea animals and plants that were buried under many layers of sand and silt that were then put under extreme heat and pressure from the ocean. Eventually, pockets of liquid were formed within these layers, forming liquified petroleum, or propane. Today, companies drill deep into the ocean floor to extract propane and bring it to the surface.

Now, create an open area in your classroom and gather all your students together. For solids, have your students (or “molecules”) link arms together tightly, then play music for them to dance to. Point out that it’s more difficult for them to dance because they are close together — this is a solid, like the rocks that were formed when sand, silt, and fossils were put under extreme pressure.

For liquids, have your students hold hands and move slowly around the room. Note that it is a bit easier for them to move around the room because they are not so “squished” together — this is a liquid. When propane is stored in a tank, it is a liquid — a very, very cold liquid!

Finally, for gases, let all the students float freely around the room without touching each other — this is a gas. Propane is released from tanks as a gas, and this is when we can smell propane if it is leaking.

Bringing it all together:
Review the three different states of matter and, once again, point out how they relate to propane. Most importantly, make sure they know that if they smell something similar to rotten eggs or a skunk, it may mean that propane gas is leaking into the air, and they should tell a grown-up immediately.

Think Fast Game Show

Goal: Assess students’ knowledge of propane safety practices and general safety practices they have learned from
Ages: Ideal for grades 4 and up, depending on the difficulty of game questions

What to do:
After students have had a chance to explore and play on the PropaneKids website, test what they have learned about what propane is and how it is created, how it is used in everyday activities, how to detect a propane leak, and other general safety practices that can help prevent accidents.

Break your students into two teams and have each team gather around a group of desks or a table. Give each team a bell, buzzer, or any object that makes noise so they can “buzz in” on a question.

Explain the rules to your students: You will ask one question at a time, and whichever team buzzes in first and answers the question correctly gets 1 point. They have 30 seconds to consult with their teammates before they answer, but if they don’t answer correctly, the other team gets a chance to answer and win that point. Questions can vary from quick (true or false or fill in the blank) to more extensive (list as many uses of propane as you can in 1 minute, and whichever team lists the most wins 5 points). Play for as long as you’d like or until you’ve run out of questions (click here to download a list of questions to get you started). Reward the winning team with small prizes.

Bringing it all together:
This “game show,” which should be fun and exciting for students, will hopefully give you a strong sense of how much propane safety information students have grasped by playing and exploring on PropaneKids. This activity can be customized to various age groups, depending on the difficulty of the questions, and can also incorporate more general safety messages that you feel are important for your students to remember and use every day.

Carbon Comparison Experiment

Purpose: The purpose of this experiment is to demonstrate to your students that when fuels burn, they don’t burn completely and leave byproducts that can be harmful for the environment. However, not all fuels release the same amount of bad particles into the air. For example, when burned, propane produces less carbon dioxide than other fuels such as coal, gasoline, or heating oil. This experiment is a great way to introduce to your students the concept of pollution and how it affects the environment.
Ages: Ideal for grades 5 and up

Background for students:
When fuels burn, they don’t always burn completely. What's left over — commonly seen in the smoke from a chimney or an exhaust pipe of a car or truck — includes carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. Too much carbon dioxide in the air causes pollution and global warming, and is harmful to plants, animals, and people. However, different fuels produce different amounts of carbon dioxide.

What you'll need:

  • Candle in a holder
  • Matches
  • Propane burner (such as a camping lantern)
  • Aluminum foil
  • White paper
  • Pair of tongs
  • Fire mittens or gloves (for safety)

What to do:

  1. Using a match, light the candle in the middle of a table where it is clearly visible. Make sure all students are at a safe distance from the candle and do not have access to the matches or propane burner.
  2. While the candle is burning brightly, use the tongs to slowly wave a strip of aluminum foil in the flame above the wick.
  3. After 20 seconds or so, remove the aluminum foil from the flame and let it cool off.
  4. After you are sure it has cooled (keep gloves on just in case), rub the side of the foil you held in the flame across a piece of white paper. You should see a dark, sooty streak.
  5. Show this paper to your students, explaining that what they see is actually carbon soot that was created because the candle didn’t burn completely.
  6. Repeat the same process with the propane burner, making sure the flame is proportionate to the candle's flame. This time, the piece of paper should have less dark streaks on it.

Bringing it all together:
Hold both pieces of paper up to show the difference in carbon soot levels on the paper from the candle and the propane. Ask your students to describe their observations and determine the effect on the environment from various fuels.

Bonus challenge: As a class, compile a list of ways to reduce the amount of harmful gases that are released into the atmosphere (for example, riding a bike to a friend's house instead of having a parent drive).

Smog-in-a-Jar Activity

Purpose: The purpose of this experiment is to demonstrate to students how pollution and smog are formed by creating a miniature “smoggy” environment in a glass jar.
Ages: Ideal for grades 3 and up

Background for students:
When factories burn certain fuels, like coal, and cars and trucks burn gasoline and diesel fuel, emissions are released into the air — this is called "pollution." When pollution mixes with tiny droplets of water in the air and carbon dioxide (which you created in the “Carbon Creation” activity), it forms a dirty and smelly fog called “smog,” which is very harmful to plants, animals, and people, too. Although smog is usually found in and around large cities, it can be carried by the wind to other areas as well.

What you'll need:

  • Glass jar
  • Water
  • Aluminum foil
  • Ice cubes
  • Paper
  • Rubber band
  • Scissors
  • Matches

What to do:

  1. Cut a strip of paper about 10 inches by ½ inch, then fold the strip in half along its length and twist the paper. Make sure the area is clear and the matches, scissors, and any other hazards are safely out of students' reach.
  2. Using the aluminum foil, make a lid that will seal the glass jar and set it aside (you will use this in a later step).
  3. Pour enough water into the jar to swirl it around and wet the inside. When you are sure the entire inside surface of the jar is wet, pour out the remaining water.
  4. Place three ice cubes on top of the foil lid to make it cold.
  5. Light the paper strip on fire and immediately drop it (and the match) into the jar. Quickly place the foil lid on top of the jar and seal tightly with the rubber band. Keep the ice cubes on top of the foil.
  6. Have your students draw pictures and discuss what they see forming in the jar.

Bringing it all together:
As the students can clearly see, by burning certain things (like the paper) for fuel, pollution is formed, and our air can become dirty. Our planet has an atmosphere to protect us from the sun (the tin foil), but unfortunately, it also traps all of the pollution and smog in the air in our environment, where it is harmful to the entire ecosystem.

Bonus activity: Have your students draw pictures of what they think a clean, healthy environment looks like (compared to the drawings of what they saw in the jar), and hang them up for everyone to see.

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