The process of plating metals is typically thought of as hazardous, and industrial plating processes can indeed be very dangerous. However, for the purposes of demonstrating how metal plating works, there are a few methods that are relatively simple and safe to do with children. First grade students appreciate demonstrations that are very visual as copper plating is.
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Fill a glass with water but do not fill it completely. Add a little copper sulphate pentahydrate, which is used commonly as a root killer and fungicide. Stir it until it's completely dissolved. The water will turn blue. Take two pieces of insulated copper wire and strip some insulation from both ends. Wrap one end of a piece around the end of a silver spoon and attach the other end to the negative post of a 9-volt battery. Take the other wire and wrap one end around a piece of copper and attach the other end to the positive end of the battery. Put both the spoon and copper into the copper sulphate pentahydrate solution, ensuring that the wires do not fall in. The spoon will begin accumulating a layer of copper, and your copper piece will have become slightly smaller. This experiment should be done as a demonstration only; the copper solution can be toxic, and the electricity is dangerous. The battery may also become hot during the experiment. Wires with alligator clips can make this experiment easier.
Plating with Vinegar
Pour some distilled white vinegar into the bottom of a ceramic bowl, then mix in a little salt and add some dull pennies. After a while, the pennies will become shiny. Remove the pennies, rinse them off and put an ungalvanized nail into the bowl. After a while, you will see bubbles form along the nail, and it will begin to collect a brown substance. This is copper that has been drawn from the vinegar solution. The vinegar dissolved copper oxide from the pennies, making them shiny, and copper from this substance is now being collected on the nail. This experiment is fairly simple and has few dangerous aspects, so students can do much of this experiment under close supervision.
Electroplating with Vinegar
Plating using electricity is faster than letting the process happen in a purely chemical way. You can create a vinegar and copper solution in the same manner as in the plating with vinegar experiment. However, instead of adding an ungalvanized nail, take two pieces of insulated copper wire with the ends stripped off and wrap one end around the end of the nail and attach the other end to the negative post of a 9-volt battery. With the other wire, wrap one end around a piece of copper and attach the other end to the positive end of the battery. Put the copper piece and nail into the solution, making sure that the wires don't fall in, then wait. This experiment should be done as a demonstration due to the electrical component. Again, the battery may become hot, and alligator clips can make the experiment easier. You can compare the results from this process to the results of plating without electricity.
Learning from Copper Plating
First grade students are not prepared to learn about catalysts or other complex chemistry concepts. However, there are many things that can be learnt from copper plating experiments. For instance, pennies, which are the sources of copper most students will be familiar with, are not pure copper. They are plated. You can explain this concept as well as discuss why pennies are not made from pure copper due to the mineral's expense, so modern pennies are copper-plated zinc to lower their production cost. Plating is often used to cover a less valuable substance with a more valuable substance. You can also encourage students to learn very basic scientific procedures. For instance, in the experiment where a nail is plated without electricity, you can change the variables. Repeat the experiment to see what happens if you do not add salt or what happens if you use an acid that is different from vinegar, such as lemon juice.
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