Category Archives: Activity

M&M Lab Activity

It’s a very simple lab experiment, but a good one.  Place an M&M candy in a shallow dish of water and make your observations. I found this activity on the American Chemical Society website, Inquiry in Action. Students will see how the colored candy shell dissolves and creates a pattern in the water.

There are so many ways that this activity can be differentiated for students.  It is an excellent lab for practicing the scientific method and can be used when discussing physical properties and physical changes.

The M&M Lab is also a great introductory lab for students to use when designing their own experiments.  After completing this lab, students begin to think of additional experiments that could be tested:

  • Does the temperature of the water affect the rate that the candy shell dissolves?
  • Does a frozen candy produce the same results as a candy at room temperature?
  • Does the color of the candy have an effect on the dissolving rate or pattern?
  • What happens when other types of candy are placed in water?

Give your students the opportunity to perform the M&M Lab and see what experiments they can come up with.




Making Hypotheses: Dogs and Turnips Activity

I came across the Dogs and Turnips Activity and knew I wanted to try it with my students during our study of the scientific method.  The purpose of the activity is to allow students to practice forming hypotheses based upon their current knowledge.  Then they make revisions to their hypotheses as they gain more information.

My students loved this activity!  They were interested, challenged, and engaged the whole time.   They also learned that even with all the same information, not everyone reached the same conclusions in the end.  I will be using the Dogs and Turnips Activity with future classes to practice making hypotheses.

Introducing the Scientific Method: How Many Water Drops Fit on a Penny?

To introduce the scientific method, I have my students perform an experiment that answers this question:  How many water drops fit on a penny?  Before reading on any further, make your own hypothesis.  After you have done that, continue reading!

I came across this activity years ago and have used it successfully many times.  This lab activity is quick and easy which makes it a great introductory experiment.  Students are able to make hypotheses, perform an experiment, collect data, analyze results, and begin drawing conclusions.  To perform this experiment, you will need the following materials:

  • pennies (1 for each student or group depending on class size)
  • droppers (1 for each student or group)
  • small cup of water
  • paper towels or tray to set penny on
  • notebook and pencil to record results

Before announcing the question to be answered, I always remind students that I do not want them to announce their hypotheses.  I don’t want their guesses influencing others’ ideas.

I then ask the question that we are attempting to answer and students record their hypotheses in their lab notebooks.  (Some students will ask how big the drops are, so you may need to show them the dropper and squeeze a few drops out onto a paper towel or into a cup so they can make an educated guess.)  If needed, divide students into groups and then distribute materials.

Students then place the penny on a paper towel or tray, fill the dropper with water, and count the number of drops that can fit on the penny before the water runs off.  Record results from each trial.  Repeated trials make results more reliable so allow students plenty of time to repeat the experiment.  Just make sure they start each trial with a dry penny.

Students are usually very impressed with the number of water drops that fit on a penny.  I have found that this one simple experiment often leads students to begin asking more questions.  What happens with other liquids on a penny?  Does it matter if the penny is turned to heads or tails?  How many drops would fit on a dime or quarter?  There are so many ways to extend this project if time and interest allow.  Use this as an introductory experiment or a lab during a study of water molecules.  Either way, it is an easy, engaging activity that students really enjoy.

Lab Materials Identification Activity

As students begin their study of science in junior high, I like to introduce commonly used lab materials and equipment.  To complete the Lab Materials Identification activity, I set each lab material or piece of equipment on a desk or counter.  Next to it, I place a numbered index card that is labeled with the name of that piece of lab equipment.  Students move throughout the room and copy the name of each piece of lab equipment into their lab notebook.  They also make a drawing so they can easily identify it later.  Below are some of the items I include in the Lab Materials Identification activity:

  • graduated cylinder
  • meterstick
  • beaker
  • triple beam balance
  • microscope
  • microscope slide
  • petri dish
  • stirring rod
  • hot plate
  • dropper
  • test tube
  • spring scale
  • flask

Seeing some of the materials and equipment that will be used helps to build anticipation about experiments that we will be performing throughout the year.  It also makes the students feel like “real” scientists!

Let me know if you plan to try this in your classroom.  Also, feel free to give suggestions for items you would add to the list.

Introduction to the Chemistry Unit

Whenever I start a new unit in my science classes, I like to give students an opportunity to have a hands-on experience right away.  Doing this helps to grab their attention and make connections to real life.

I was struggling with how to introduce the chemistry unit a few weeks ago.  I wanted students to realize that scientists had to figure out so much without actually being able to see individual atoms or subatomic particles.

I came across an activity in an older Glencoe Science textbook that would allow the students to realize that sometimes scientists are limited in how they can gain knowledge.  However, they may be able to use clues to help them figure out those things that are not easily seen.

Prior to class, I stuck one metal object (a hexnut, screw, washer, etc.) into lumps of clay.  Students were instructed to determine what object was in each piece of clay (no hints were given).  Each group was given only a toothpick to obtain information.  They were also told to make a drawing of the object hidden in the clay.

Students were engaged, frustrated, involved, and even annoyed at times.  By poking the clay with the toothpick, they soon realized that they could gain information about what was inside each piece of clay without actually pulling it apart and seeing the inside.  It gave them just a glimpse of how scientists had to discover unconventional ways to learn about the atom and its parts.

This activity was a great way to introduce the 8th grade chemistry unit.  It could effectively be used for a wide range of grades and would also be a great problem-solving or group activity.  I will definitely be using this activity with future classes!

Revolutionary War History Plays

After finishing a unit on the Revolutionary War, I wanted to wrap up all of the different topics we had discussed.  Students were divided into small groups and given an assignment:  create a play depicting an event during the Revolutionary War.  I was actually absent the day the students received the assignment, but the requirements were clear and the students did an excellent job getting started the first day.  The following items were included in the instructions:

  • Choose a topic or event relating to the Revolutionary War.  (Students were asked to share their topics because I did not want multiple groups reenacting the same event.)
  • Determine characters and the setting.
  • Write and edit a script.
  • Although there is some flexibility in the speaking parts, plays should be historically correct.

I also included a few additional requirements due to class size and the time available.  My students were instructed to include at least three different scenes with a total of 4-11 characters in the play.

A few days before giving the assignment, I had students read through several different history plays.  This exposed the students to a different way to learn history and allowed us to have a class discussion on learning history from a play compared to learning history from a textbook.

The students were engaged and creative during the writing process and were excited to give other students an opportunity to act in their play.  I loved seeing their interpretations of historical events and will be using this assignment with future classes.


Cardiovascular System SPLAT – Fly Swatter Review Activity

Warning:  Students will be using fly swatters in this activity!

I created the Cardiovascular System SPLAT – Fly Swatter Review Activity to practice vocabulary and concepts during a recent unit on circulation.  The activity consists of questions relating to the heart, blood vessels, and blood.  It was created as a presentation in which students view a slide with a question, the following slide contains two possible answer choices, and the next slide reveals the answer.  This format is used for all 25 questions.  The presentation is projected in the classroom.

Students are divided into two teams.  A desk is placed in the front of the room with two index cards taped on it.  One card represents choice “A” and a second card represents choice “B”.  One student from each team stands on opposite sides of the desk holding a fly swatter down at his/her side. (Be sure that each team has a clear view of the slides being projected.)

This is where the fun and reviewing begin.  The teacher projects the slide containing the first question.  The question can be read aloud by the teacher or students can be required to read the question silently.  When the next slide appears, students read the two options as quickly as possible and attempt to be the first to smack the fly swatter onto the index card which matches the letter of  the correct answer.  The students hold their fly swatters until the next slide reveals the correct answer.  If keeping score, award a point to the team with the fastest, correct SPLAT and call a new member from each team up to the desk.  Points can be tallied to determine a winning team.

Other thoughts:

  • Use fly swatters with plastic handles to ensure the safety of the students.
  • Classrooms with struggling readers may need to adapt this activity.  The teacher could read the two possible answers aloud and then count to three before students are allowed to swat.
  • Instead of teams, students could be randomly chosen to participate.

Feel free to check out my Cardiovascular System SPLAT – Fly Swatter Review Activity and let me know if you try it in your classroom!

Move on Mondays

On many Monday mornings, students return to classrooms sluggish, unmotivated, and tired from a busy weekend.  One way to help students become more alert and engaged is by having them move around.

Allowing students to be up and out of their seats in a productive way often wakes them up and encourages them to become more involved in the class on a slow Monday morning.

Some options to try in your classes:

1.  Instruct students to do a few exercises next to their desk.  Students can run in place or do a set of jumping jacks.

2.   Incorporate movement by having students participate in a quick review activity.  Activities, such as Beach Ball Bones or Vocabulary Relays, help students to become more engaged while reviewing subject material.

3.  Plan stations or centers that allow students to move throughout the classroom.  This is a productive way to let students move while introducing new content or giving students the opportunity to practice skills.

A few quick exercises or a structured activity that allows for movement in the classroom may be a great solution for those sluggish students on Monday mornings.

Taped Towers

Taped Towers is a fun, yet challenging, hands-on activity I have used in my classes.   Depending on class size and supplies available, this activity can be completed individually or students can be divided into small groups with 2-3 students per group.

Materials for this activity are minimal and easy to obtain:

  • newspaper (same amount for each group)
  • masking tape (same amount for each group – I use an arm’s length)

After materials are distributed, students are given the challenge:  Build the tallest, free-standing tower, using only the supplies given, in the time provided.

Taped Towers gives students the opportunity to be creative and test new ideas.  It can be used as a team-building activity, an engineering challenge, or a  way to incorporate some fun into the classroom that also encourages students to think in new and different ways.

Grab some newspapers out of the recycling bin and get started!