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Teaching Science with a Kiln

Patricia Duda teaching science with the aid of a kiln.


Teaching Science with a Kiln

Recent Q&A: When to replace elements


When I was 13 years old, our science class made a small electric motor from common parts. It was fascinating to see the motor spin into a blur when the teacher connected it to a battery. Science demonstrations are always more interesting than reading a science book. Even many years later, I still remember that motor.

As you know from experience, high temperature produces dramatic changes in materials. This can be an excellent demonstration of science principles. In the following article, high school teacher Patricia Duda shares her experiences. –Arnold Howard


By Patricia Duda

Cibola High School, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87114

I and a group of teachers in the Albuquerque Public Schools have found the Paragon Home Artist 120 kiln perfect for infusing art and materials science into our chemistry classes. We use it for three activities: comparing fired and unfired clay, fusing glass, and making raku pottery. One teacher has also used it in conjunction with our lab to extract copper from malachite.

In each case, we are teaching scientific principals: Making detailed observations; the physical and chemical properties and changes of materials, percent composition, and chemical reactions. Thanks to ASM Education Foundation for their Summer Teachers’ Materials Workshop that gave us the courage and knowledge to step into new arenas!

Pinch Pots

We have the students make two similar, small pinch pots with clay and record their observations (the more the better to practice observation skills). They weigh the pots and then set them aside to dry for a few days. They record more observations and weigh them again to calculate the percentage of water lost.

We fire one set of pots, and the students compare and contrast the fired and unfired pots including another weight measurement. Both pots are placed in a small container of water, and the next day observations reveal that the unfired pot has “disintegrated.” We then discuss whether a physical or chemical change took place when the pot was fired.

Fused Glass

After discussing the various types of glass, composition, properties, and in particular the coefficient of expansion, the students construct a fused glass pendant. Due to cost of materials, each student makes a pendant about 1/2 x 1 inch (rectangles, triangles, etc.) with a clear glass base and top and their choice of colored glass pieces, colored glass frit, and one or two small pieces of dichroic glass. We place these on a mat, and students write their name on the corresponding square on a sheet of paper. You would not believe how many students don’t know which one is theirs after it comes out of the kiln looking different, so keeping track is important! We fuse the glass in the kiln on shelf so we can easily reach in and out with the mat. The results are beautiful! Some students just keep the “stone” to put in their pocket, and others glue a finding (E6000 works well) onto one end for a chain.

Raku Pottery

For our ceramics unit, after we have finished our unit on metals and reactions with metals, the students make a small raku pottery piece of their own design within some limitations (no more than 1/4 inch thick and 4 inches tall, and it must project an area within a 4 x 4 inch card). We do this because we have 160 – 180 students’ pieces to fire! The students write their names on the cards and place their piece on it to dry (we place these in a box tray).

We fire the pots, stacking as many onto three shelves as we can, in about three batches. The students then glaze the pots and can add to some standard raku glazes small amounts of copper, cobalt, or other metal carbonates. From an artistic standpoint, we add too much, but it works well because the students can see metal colors after the raku process. We discuss the results of the chemical reaction that we expect to see from the reducing atmosphere when we place the pots in a covered bucket with newspaper shredding and then remove them and quickly quench them in a bucket of water.


Q. How will I know when the elements are worn out? My Paragon is relatively new, and the temperature seems to rise quickly with each firing, but will I notice a slowing of the temperature when elements wear out?

A. As the elements begin to wear, you will notice a very gradual increase in firing time. By keeping records of your firings, you will get a precise feel for how long a firing should take.

A firing that suddenly takes longer is usually due to low voltage during periods of peak electrical demand such as the summer time when air conditioners are running. Firings that very gradually become longer are due to elements beginning to wear. Replace the elements when firing times become excessive or when the kiln will no longer reach temperature.

Thank you,

With best wishes,

Arnold Howard Paragon Industries, L.P. – Better Designed Kilns 2011 South Town East Blvd. Mesquite, TX 75149-1122 Voice: 972-288-7557 & 800-876-4328 / Fax: 972-222-0646 /

PRIVACY NOTICE: Under no circumstance do we share or sell your email address.

Copyright 2008, by Paragon Industries, L.P.

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