Category Archives: Physical Science

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.

 

 

 

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.

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!

Vocabulary Relays

One of the ways students practice vocabulary in my classes is by competing in Vocabulary Relays.  For each team, I make a card for every vocabulary word and a card for each definition.  (Multiple sets can be printed using a computer, and then laminated for future use.)  I mix up the word cards and definition cards, and place them at the end of the gym opposite each relay team.  One member from each team runs to their cards, finds a word card and matching definition card, and brings them back to the team.  This continues until all vocabulary words are matched with a definition.

Other ideas:

  • Give each team a different color of cards (ex. – one team has blue cards, one team has green cards, etc.).  This makes it easier to identify all the words and definitions for each team.
  • During the relays, students can discuss definitions with teammates so they can easily find a match when it is their turn to participate.
  • Incorrect matches can be returned to make a correct match.
  • Announce a different activity for each relay (ex. – running, walking backwards, etc.).
  • Teams could write sentences using each vocabulary word.

Students love getting the opportunity to move around and interact with others during class.   Let me know if you try this activity in your classroom!