Category Archives: Science Experiments

How to Study Density with Popcorn

by Christy McGuire, Contributor

Thanksgiving is almost here! You can use one of the original foods from the first Thanksgiving to discuss density with your students. Popcorn is fascinating because it changes so drastically during the cooking process. The color, shape and texture of a popped kernel are all different than those of an unpopped kernel. If you can spare the day before Thanksgiving break, this simple density experiment would be a great way to practice their inquiry skills, and a great excuse to have a treat in class!

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn/How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

If your students have already covered density, this is a great time to practice doing a full exploration complete with a written report. You might simply give them access to the relevant materials and set them loose with this challenge:

Find how density changes for popped verses upopped corn. Check the results of your experiment and write a description of your findings, including an error analysis.

If density is a new concept, or if your students are struggling to get the hang of the scientific method, you can help them figure out the procedure. Make them do as much of the thinking as possible though! Science is more fun for the engineer making the decisions than for the technician doing as he is told.

Leading questions to help students develop their procedures

How do we calculate density? (mass per volume)

What measurements will we need to take in order to find density? (mass and volume)

How do we measure mass? How do we measure volume? (balance, and appropriate beakers)

How are we changing the popcorn? (popping method)

The Science of Popcorn

Hints for a successful experiment

You can expect your popcorn to increase in volume by about 16X.

To  pop the corn over heat, put a couple of tablespoons of oil in the pot or beaker, add corn and heat over medium heat.

If you are using a microwave, you can measure the volume of the popcorn in a bag of microwave popcorn and assume the same volume is in a second bag of popcorn that you pop before class.

Increase accuracy by repeating with varying quantities of popcorn, or by combining data from multiple lab groups.

Science of Popcorn

Data Analysis

If you wish, you can have your students graph mass a function of volume for various amounts of unpopped corn, then do another graph for the popped corn. The slope of these graphs will be the density of the popcorn.

You can also ask your students to compute density algebraically, then graph density as a function of popped or unpopped.

Requiring students to analyze the accuracy of their results could provide some very interesting feedback. Lab groups could compare results with the rest of the class. They can also compare the initial and final masses and try to defend any changes that they find. My experience is that the mass of the popcorn actually increases during this experiment. Don’t tell your students! See what they can come up with to justify their own answers. Factors that they may want to consider include the mass and volume of the oil used to cook the kernels and the humidity on the day of the experiment.

No matter what your students’ level, this experiment can be adjusted to provide a challenging, and interesting exercise. I hope you will enjoy. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Christy McGuire is a trained physics teacher who loves developing new ways for students to engage with science.  While taking a break from the high school classroom, Christy rediscovered that young children are tons of fun, and can learn powerful science and math too.  Now she is attempting to cross the excitement of early childhood style learning with serious STEM study to benefit students on both ends of the learning process.    Find activities and reflections on STEM learning on her blog: www.ThrivingSTEM.com.

How to Use Popcorn to Teach Rates

by Christy McGuire, Contributor

This time of year, students’ minds are starting to drift to the upcoming Thanksgiving Holidays. Why not use popcorn to channel a little of that excitement into your classroom? Use popcorn to teach graphing, rate, and slope. Let your students eat your props, and you will quickly be one of the coolest teachers to ever discuss rates.Here is how to use popcorn to teach rates.

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn/How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

The Slow Approach

Materials:

  • Popcorn
  • Paper towel
  • Small plastic bag
  • Cups of Potting Soil
  • Ruler

Last week I gave some ideas for teaching younger students about seeds using popcorn.  Corn germinates quickly and grows quickly too, which makes it a great plant to measure over a period of time. You can get a meaningful graph by measuring every day or so.

 

  1. Start having students set up corn to germinate in the window. You can expect germination to take about three days.
  2. Then plant it in a pot with soil.
  3. Have your students measure the height of the plants every day or every two days between now and Thanksgiving, and record your findings on a labeled data chart.
  4. On the last class before Thanksgiving break, you can have them graph their findings. You may want to remind them that time is the independent variable, and thus belongs on the x (across the page) axis. Height is the dependent variable and thus belongs on the y (vertical) axis.

How to Use Popcorn to Teach Rates

The Fast Approach

Materials:

  • Popcorn
  • Stop watch
  • Oil
  • Cooking Pot
  • Heat Source

(You can also use a bag of popcorn and a microwave)

Have your students get set with lined paper and their pencils. Tell them that during each twenty-second interval, they are to make a mark for each pop that they hear.
When you call time, move to the next line and make a mark for each pop. They will repeat until all the corn is popped.

  1. Put a couple tablespoons of oil in the cooking pot and about a quarter cup of popcorn. Cook on medium heat with the lid covering the pot.
  2. When you are finished, pop some more corn, and let your students enjoy while they make their data charts and graphs. Time is again the independent variable and belongs on the x (horizontal) axis.
  3. If there is interest, try repeating for differing amounts of popcorn and think about how the amounts affect your data.
How to Use Popcorn to Teach Rates
Analyzing the Data for Either Approach (or Both!)

Depending on where you are in your curriculum, there are a few different directions you can take your class after completing their graphs.

If you do both of these projects, ask students to write a paragraph comparing and contrasting the graphs.

Or, You can have your students draw tangent lines near the beginning and end of the curve. Tell them to find the slope of each and write an explanation of why the slopes are different.

Or, ask your students to add best fit lines to the graph and calculate their slopes. Students can write a paragraph in which they compare and contrast the results of the best fit line to those of the tangent line and give an opinion on which is more useful.

Or, tell students to add a third tangent line in the middle, and find that slope. Then, graph the slopes verses time.   Ask students to write a paragraph explain the meaning of this new slope.

Put popcorn on the shopping list and plan to have some fun in your class this week.

 

Christy McGuire is a trained physics teacher who loves developing new ways for students to engage with science.  While taking a break from the high school classroom, Christy rediscovered that young children are tons of fun, and can learn powerful science and math too.  Now she is attempting to cross the excitement of early childhood style learning with serious STEM study to benefit students on both ends of the learning process.    Find activities and reflections on STEM learning on her blog: www.ThrivingSTEM.com.

How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn
by Christy McGuire, Contributor

Students’ minds are turning to the holidays. You can harness some of that excitement by including some holiday-themed activities in your classroom.

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn/How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

There are many great learning activities that follow holiday themes. Here are two activities that combine Thanksgiving and science.

We love studying (eating!) popcorn seeds year round at our house.

Here are two activities that will help your students understand the parts and functions of a seed.

Used together you have a hands-on opportunity to discuss all the parts of a seed and their functions, and the general characteristics of a seed as well.

A key to making these activities irresistible. Is to use the same popcorn for all parts of the demonstration. If possible, pop the corn in front of your students.

Activity one : Grow a Popcorn Plant

This classic demonstration is more intriguing done with popcorn.

Materials:  

  • unpopped corn
  • baggies
  • wet paper towels
  • tape
  • windows

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn/How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

Steps: 

1. Let your students place three or so kernels in the baggy with a wet napkin.

2. Write their names on the baggies and tape them to the window.

Corn germinates quickly, so if you set this demonstration up on Friday, chances are good that by Monday you will have something fun to look at.

Some questions to ask the day that the seeds germinate:

“Where does the energy for the little plant to grow come from?”

“Why do all of our plants look similar to each other?”

“Why is corn planted in the spring and not in the fall?”

 

Activity two: Seed coat observation

This activity was actually developed by my children. Playing in water is always a hit!

For maximum excitement, pull this activity out on the day your students find the germinated popcorn seeds as a kind of extension.

Materials:  

  • unpopped corn
  • a method for popping the corn
  • water in small dishes

Steps: 

1. Hand out popped and unpopped corn.

2. Tell your students to draw pictures and write descriptions in their science journals.

3. Have your students place unpopped corn in a dish of water.

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn/How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

4. Pop some corn.

5. Have your students place it in a second dish of water.

6. Wait for five minutes or so. While you are waiting, discuss the seeds.

“What is the difference between these two types of popcorn?”

“What is the yellow shiny thing on the outside of the unpopped corn?”

“Why do you think seed coats are important?”

How to Study Seeds with Popcorn/How to Combine Thanksgiving and Science in your Elementary Classroom

7. When the five minutes has passed, encourage your students to make observations and record them by drawing pictures and  writing descriptions. First have them just look at the seeds, then allow them to touch the seeds as well.

Some questions to ask in summary:

What about the seeds changed?”

“What stayed the same?”

“Why do you think the seed coat is important?”

Finally after all that work, be sure to EAT some popcorn.   (Check for corn allergies first.) Nothing is better than eating your own experiment! Oh, and while you are munching, “What is it about seeds that makes them good to eat?”

 

 

Christy McGuire is a trained physics teacher who loves developing new ways for students to engage with science.  While taking a break from the high school classroom, Christy rediscovered that young children are tons of fun, and can learn powerful science and math too.  Now she is attempting to cross the excitement of early childhood style learning with serious STEM study to benefit students on both ends of the learning process.    Find activities and reflections on STEM learning on her blog: www.ThrivingSTEM.com.

 

 

Hands-on Science at Home: Needless or Necessary?

Some of us grew up with fantastic science teachers. Mrs. Russell, Mr. Steward, and Mr. Landis are names that you won’t necessarily recognize, but they’re the three science teachers I’ve had in my entire lifetime. I will never forget them, because they were and are awesome science teachers. (Forget the fact that I graduated with less than 20 kids in my class and that the last of those teachers is my best friend’s dad, or that my sister married my best friend’s little brother… Hooray small towns!) But some kids will never have that, that’s why you need to get hands-on science at home.


Classroom Thumwar with DJ
I assume that not everyone had the beneficial science teacher experience that I did, but it blows my mind. How can that even be possible? Then I discovered that the “science teacher” is an endangered species.

Especially when it comes to elementary-aged chitlens, there aren’t teachers dedicated to educating 6- to 12-year-olds on the FREAKING AMAZING WORLD OF SCIENCE! If you were to remove science education from my elementary education, I can personally guarantee that I would not have graduated. Math never made sense unless there was a scientific application. Science is the answer to “when will I ever use this?”

Tomorrow. You'll use this tomorrow... what's the squiggly line mean, again?
Tomorrow. You’ll use this tomorrow… what’s the squiggly line mean, again?                            (Source)

I’m definitely NOT saying that the current teachers being tasked with educating the youth on science are incompetent. They’re already stretched beyond their means, for Bill Nye’s sake. I’m saying that science deserves its own special time, teacher, and even room in the school. I want to scream, because it isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

When I worked in customer service here at Steve Spangler Science, I cannot count on all of my fingers and toes how many times I heard that there’s no budget for science, or that it is being cut, or that teachers had to squeeze it into after-school programs. DEAR SCHOOL BOARDS: Science is the reason that there is a school in the first place, that your children aren’t dropping dead from small pox, and is the basis of all advancement for our planet.

Math = important. Language = important. History = important. Science = meh.

Yeah. That looks super boring and unimportant.
Yeah. That looks super boring and unimportant.

That just doesn’t add up. And again, I’m not arguing importance of anything except science, here. Without language, how could results be replicated? Without math, how would we understand measurements necessary to science? And history… well, there’s the whole saying about it repeating itself. Then there’s science, down at the bottom of the budget list below the coffee expenses.

But, as we’ve seen in recent history, schools take for-eh-ver to change their ways, and the government takes even longer. So how do you inject science into your children’s education? YOU have to do it. You don’t need to home school your kids, but I’ve got all kinds of props for parent/teacher hybrids that I like to call Parajucators. But, take some time out after dinner, before bed, or when the kids get home from school to do some hands-on science.

I'm partial, but may I kindly suggest... YouTube.com/SickScience
I’m partial, but may I  suggest… YouTube.com/SickScience

Don’t have a lot of dough for science supplies? You don’t need it! There are plenty of simple experiments, projects, and activities that can be done right at home and there are plenty of resources to go off of… *cough* SteveSpanglerScience.com *cough*

I’m not going to toot my own horn. Instead, I’m going to conduct the entire band. Have you seen our Sick Science videos? They’re less than 10 minutes long, every time, and walk you through the steps of simple hands-on science projects to do at home. Worried about cost? You probably have well over 90% of what you need right at home!

I’ve spent over 4 years writing the step-by-step instructions for our write-ups, but when I finally started doing the activities with my 6- and 8-year-olds at home, I realized just how easy it is to get them excited about ciencia (that’s science in Spanish). Now, even if there just isn’t time for the actual hands-on experience, they mix in science how-to videos with all of their usual video games and talking cats. Your kids can do it, too, I bet. But I don’t gamble.


 

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Fresh Prince of the Science Fair.
Writer for Steve Spangler Science.
Dad of 2. Expecting 1 more.
Husband. Amateur adventurer.

Expert idiot.

5 Cool Science Experiments Using Pretty Much Nothing But Water!

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on science supplies. Heck, with these, all you need to do is turn on the water faucet!

1.  Okay, ice is water, right?  How do ice skaters glide across the ice so smoothly and quickly?  It’s all about the science.  Get out a dinner plate and put a large glass on it, upside down.  Put an ice cube on the glass.

water experiment 1

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