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5 Ways to Make Acids and Bases a More Approachable Topic for Students

Usama Attiq
Teaching with Labster

Introduction: Acids and bases

Acids and bases play a significant role in our daily lives and in the environment. These are the chemical substances that we use in our daily routine.  For instance, lemon juice contains acid while soap contains the base. In chemistry, the substances are divided into acid, base(alkali), and neutral according to the pH.

Acid substances taste sour because they have the ability to damage cells. They can react with metals and produce salt and hydrogen gas as end products. The reaction of an acid with carbonates produces salt, water, and carbon dioxide. Bases are substances that can destroy other substances in a chemical reaction. Additionally, bases are slippery substances that can damage the protein. Strong bases can burn your skin because they start damaging the protein of your skin.

The pH scale is used to specify the acidity or alkalinity of the solutions. It shows the number of free hydrogen ions present in a solution. Pure water has a pH of 7 and is a neutral solution. The solutions that have a pH of more than 7 are considered alkaline and the solutions, and the solutions with a pH of less than 7 are called acids. Another scale is the pOH scale which shows the number of free hydrogen peroxide ions present in a solution.

                                                                            14 = pH + pOH

There are several aspects of acids and bases that are quite confusing for students. At Labster, we can provide information about the difficulties that students experience during their studies. Also, we can explain the methods that can make learning acids and bases easier. In the end, we’ll convince you why a virtual lab like Labster simulation is effective to share the topic with the students.

Why can acids and bases be tricky to understand?

The three main reasons that make acids and bases a difficult topic for students, even for diligent ones.

1. Too many reactions to remember

In the topic of acids and bases, different substances can react with acids and bases. Therefore, this topic depends upon learning chemical reactions, how acids react with substances, and how base reacts with other substances. Sometimes, it is difficult for students to remember all the reactions. That’s why they might find this topic boring and time-consuming.

2. It feels abstract

Abstract concepts like hydrogen ions, hydrogen peroxides, lone pairs, and protons are frequently used in acids and bases. Students cannot see molecules, protons, and lone pairs with their naked eyes. They need to imagine these concepts and learn the topic. For instance, acid is a substance that donates the proton, and the base can accept the proton. The protons are so small that you cannot see them. So, it may be confusing for students to learn the acids and bases.

3. It's complicated

The acids and bases have several definitions because many scientists describe the topic in their own opinion. All the definitions represent different kinds of reactions. The reactions can be completed in several steps to get the desired product. So, it is difficult for students to deeply learn the acids and bases from the textbook. They may be confused and start avoiding this topic to learn.

5 ways to make acids and bases more approachable topics

Since we are familiar with the problems that students may face during learning about acids and bases. There are five ways that make acids and bases a simpler and easier topic for students to understand.

1. Learn about the people behind that science

Many scientists introduced different definitions of acids and bases in different ways. Acids and bases are used in our daily life. Students should learn about Svante Arrhenius who developed a unique concept about acids and bases.

Svante Arrhenius (1859 – 1927):

Svante Arrhenius is a Swedish scientist who introduced the first advanced definition of acids and bases in 1884. Due to his great work, he received the Nobel Prize in 1903 in chemistry. According to Arrhenius, an acid is a substance that contains hydrogen ions and donates it to the aqueous medium. Whereas, the base is a substance that contains a hydroxide compound and gives hydrogen peroxide (OH-) in an aqueous medium.

Johannes Nicolaus Bronsted and Martin Lowry developed an idea of the protonation of bases and deprotonation of acids.

2. Share basic knowledge about acids and bases

Students should know the definitions of acids and bases according to the Bronsted Lowry concept. Acids and bases are the two types of compounds that have great importance in the field of chemistry. According to the Bronsted Lowry acid, an acid is a substance that donates a proton. Bronsted Lowry base is a molecule that accepts the proton. Conjugate acids and conjugate bases are also important terms in the Bronsted Lowry concept. Conjugated acids are produced when a proton is added to the base. While conjugated bases are produced when a proton is removed from the acid. 

Strong and weak acids: Strong acids are molecules that completely dissociate into H+ ions. For example, HCl, HI, and H2SO4. Weak acids are incompletely ionized molecules in an aqueous medium. Examples of weak acids are HCN, HCOOH, and HF.

Strong and weak bases: Strong bases are molecules that dissociate entirely in the aqueous medium. Examples of strong acids are KOH, CsOH, NaOH, and LiOH. Weak bases are molecules that dissociate incompletely. For example, NH3 and C5H5N.

Titration: Titration is a process that is used for the determination of concentrations of acids and bases. In a titration, the number of moles of acid becomes equal to the number of moles of base. It shows that the chemical reaction is neutralized.

                          Neutralization: number of moles of acid = number of moles of base

3. Relate it to the real world

Students find it interesting when they know the examples of acids and bases in the real world. During teaching, a teacher can relate the topic to the applications that are used in daily life. It can help students to compare what they learn to what they experience.

Acids have a sour taste and several foods with sour taste are acidic. Acids are corrosive substances that change litmus paper from blue to red.  Therefore, acid is present in the foods and drinks that we use in our homes. 

  • For example, vinegar is an acetic acid that is used in the preparation of many foods. You can add vinegar to pickles as well as in salads.

  • Additionally, oranges, lemons, and wines contain acid.

  • Another important example is hydrochloric acid (HCL) present in the stomach. Without stomach acid, our body is not able to digest food.

  • Carbonated drinks such as soda and colds are produced by carbonic acid.

Bases are soapy compounds that are not consumed by humans. But these compounds are used in the manufacturing of various applications that are used in our daily life.  

  • Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is a base that is used in soap production. Moreover, all detergents and washing powder contain sodium hydroxide.

  • Another example of a base is calcium hydroxide which is present in cement.

  • Baking soda is a weak base that is safe for humans to consume. So, it is used for baking and cooking purposes. 

  • Ammonium hydroxide is used to remove grease and ink spots from clothes. 

acids and bases ph levels

Figure: An image shows the pH graph of products from Labster’s virtual laboratory on acids and bases

4. Seeing is believing

It is important to use color diagrams and images to understand a tough topic like acids and bases. Using virtual diagrams for learning can make the topic simpler. Students can understand the difference between acids and bases, the equations, and pH calculations through the images. It is a better way to deliver the concept of acids and bases to learners. 

The image below represents the solution in the beaker that can be added to the pH meter. After seeing this image, you can learn about the solution, beaker, and pH meter more effectively because you save the picture in your imagination.  

acids and bases principle

Figure: An image of a chemical experiment from Labster’s virtual laboratory on acids and bases principle

5. Use virtual lab simulations

A virtual lab simulation is a great way to learn about acids and bases. At Labster, we provide advanced 3D laboratory simulations that contain gamification elements like storytelling and a scoring system.

Check out the virtual lab simulation at Labster that explains acids and bases principles (avoid falling in a lake of acid), acidity and alkalinity in everyday substances, and advanced acids and bases.

In these simulations, you will understand the acids and bases present everywhere, the pH scale, calculations related to pH, and identify acids and bases by using pH scales. Moreover, it explains the Bronsted-Lowry definition of acids and bases, the identification between the pH and lake conditions, and the calculation of weak acids and bases.

acids and bases GIF

Get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual simulations to explain the acids and bases to your students.

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