Grade level: 3rd-4th
Author: Melissa Moser
No one knows who first invented fireworks. Some historians say that it was the Chinese, and that they were brought back to Europe from China by the Italian Explorer, Marco Polo. Others believe that it was the Arabs, still, others think that a German magician invented them in the 1300's. One fact that is known for sure, is that people have been celebrating with fireworks for over 600 years.
The people who used to make and handle fireworks were called "firemasters", "wild men" or "green men". These masters of fire were in great demand in many kingdoms and palaces. They were in charge of the entertainment at the many celebrations, military victories, religious festivals and crowning of royalty ceremonies. They were a lot like the jesters, running through the crowd warning people to back away and letting off firecrackers. Many of the firemasters were killed or injured as they entertained others with their dangerous profession.
In the mid 1800's firework experts from Italy, France, and other European countries brought their firework knowledge to America (they then became a part of the fourth of July celebration).
Two-thirds of the fireworks that we use in the United States today are imported from China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other countries.
How Fireworks Work
In the small generic firecracker, black powder is packed into a small roll or paper and a fuse is attached. The production of commercial fireworks used in theatrical, musical, and public shows is more complicated.
When making the large aerial fireworks, finely ground black powder is mixed with chemicals that will create colors when they burn. This mixture is then loosely packed into small pellets called "stars". Then the stars are packed into a "shell" made from material such as paper mache or clay which will burn easily. A large shell can hold close to 100 stars. Course black powder is then packed tightly into the shell, around the stars, with one end of a fuse attached inside near the stars and the other end outside the shell.
As the fuse is lit, it ignites the coarse gun powder which forms gases that stream out of the end of the shell, propelling the firework up into the air. Then when the fuse reaches the finer gunpowder that is loosely packed in the center of the stars, the firework explodes. This is usually timed to occur when the firework has reached it's highest point in the air.
To make brightly colored fireworks, experts add small amounts of special chemicals to black powder to produce the brilliant colors. Adding sodium creates the color red, copper and barium make blue and green, aluminum or magnesium produce white. Adding charcoal to black powder gives the fireworks a flaming tail that sparkles as it shoots into the sky.
Fireworks have always been dangerous. The firemasters were considered to have a dangerous job, as do those who handle and work with fireworks today. In America, the fourth of July has always been a noisy holiday with guns, drums and cannons. In the 1890's the "Society for Suppression of Unnecessary Noise" was formed. It tried to get people to stop using fireworks near certain areas of town, but to no avail. It was the first group to attempt to make fireworks illegal.
Later, between 1903 and 1907, the American Medical Association kept records of the number of injuries which took place during the fourth of July celebrations. During those years 1,153 people were killed and 21,520 were injured. The first state to outlaw fireworks was Springfield Massachusetts. Other states and cities began following Springfield's example. Today fireworks are illegal in 35 out of the 50 United States and there are many restrictions placed on their use.
In present day, the United States Treasury Department Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are in charge of reinforcing the bans and laws regarding firework safety.
Fireworks are used in many different countries for many different types of celebrations. They are utilized in religious, political and social traditions. Following are just a few of the celebrations which utilize fireworks: New Years, Mardi Gras, Japanese New Year, Diwali Festivle, Fourth of July, Tenjin Matsuri, Dominion Day, Guy Fox Day, Sports events, theatrical productions and Centennial Celebrations.
Graves, C.P. (1963). Fourth of July. Champaign, IL: Garrad.
Giblin, J.C. (1983). Fireworks, picnics, and flags. New York,
NY: Houghton Mifflin.
"Sizzling summer activities." (1992). Connecting Holidays and
Literature. Hunington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials.
Roth J. "Fireworks." The Worldbook Encylopedia. Vol.7. (1981).
USA: Worldbook-Childcraft International.
Time allotment: Approximately 3-4 class periods plus research time.
a dismantled commercial firework (optional) black construction paper straws paint posterboard markers celebration or holiday books
Review the information on the history of fireworks. Explain to students that no one is sure exactly where or when fireworks came into existence, but share the different theories that exist. Briefly cover the "firemasters" and their role in the presence of fireworks at celebrations throughout history. Tell students that fireworks were brought to the North American Continent in the mid 1800's by experts from Italy, France and other European countries. Check for understanding with review questions and review material as needed. Ask students to pick one of the theories that were discussed earlier on the creation of fireworks, that they think could be the correct explanation. Have them write the theory and tell why they think that is how fireworks were invented.
B. Concept Development
Review the information on how fireworks work. Define the concepts of "stars," "shells," and "fuse." You can discuss how different colors are created. If possible have a commercial firework with the fuse removed. Open it up and show the students the different parts. Explain that even though it isn't identical to the aerial fireworks, the concept and parts are the same. Ask students questions and review the different parts of fireworks with them.
C. Hands-on Art Activity
Give each student a 9"x13" piece of black construction paper. Using some brightly colored fluorescent paint, place small amounts randomly on the paper and blow through the straw to make your own fireworks. Have paints that correspond with the colors discussed in the background information. As each child comes to receive the paint to complete the activity, question them as to what chemical they would have to add to gun powder to create that color.
D. Guest Speaker/Questioning Activity (KWL)
Contact the local fire department. Ask if someone would be willing to come into your classroom and discuss firework safety with the students. Before the guest speaker arrives, do a K-W-L activity with your students. What do they KNOW about fireworks and safety? What else do they WANT TO LEARN? Develop some questions for them to ask the guest speaker when he arrives. Write them down on a large piece of paper, leaving space to answer the question later. Practice asking questions in a formal manner, taking turns, waiting to be called on, etc. After the students have had a chance to ask all of their questions and the guest speaker is finished, ask the students what they LEARNED from the experience. Go back to the paper and have students write down all of the answers that they can.
E. Review Activity
Ask students what some basic rules are for firework safety. List these on the board. Divide the students into four groups. Have each group come up with an advertisement (either live form, or a poster) to share with other children the important safety tips which they have learned. Have posterboard and markers available if students choose to make a poster. Give the students about 20 minutes to plan and create their advertisement. Hang the posters in the hallways of your school and present live advertisements to other classrooms.
Ask students to identify which holidays and celebrations use fireworks. Write these on the board. Brainstorm with the students adding celebrations that you are going to want them to research.
G. Jigsaw Activity
Divide the students into groups of 6-7 This will be their home group. Then number the students in each group. Each number will research a different celebration that uses fireworks. Number the ones listed on the board, picking the ones you want the children to learn about. Choose enough for each person in the home groups to have a different celebration. You can use any of those listed earlier. The celebration with the number that corresponds with their group number is the one that they will present on. Tell students that they will have that day's library time or reading time, and that night to find out the basics on that celebration. Give them some questions to help focus their research. What country or countries have this celebrations? What is the purpose? When did it start? Tell the students that they will need to prepare a brief 5 minute presentation on that celebration. Students with the same celebrations will get together before the presentation to the home groups and share the information that they found. Inform students that after sharing their information and listening to others in their home groups, a brief quiz will be given to insure participation.
Have several books on holidays and celebrations available for students to refer to.
H. Open Discussion
After all of the previous activities have been completed, ask students to respond to the following questions. What have you learned about fireworks? How are they used in celebrations?
Papers from the mini-lecture will be assessed.
Firework art will be assessed.
Answers from K-W-L activity will be assessed.
Advertisements will be assessed.
Quizzes from JIGSAW will be assessed.
Responses to Open discussion questions will be assessed.
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