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Triangle Coloring – Making beautiful artwork while classifying triangles!

Does anyone have one of those new coloring books that are totally cool? Filled with awesome designs, these books encourage you to just sit and color. In fact, studies suggest that coloring helps relieve stress and improve relaxation. I would agree. I like to sit and color while sitting on the couch or watching tv. Which is why I came up with this lesson for my students!

We are working through our geometry unit right now in both my seventh and eighth grade classes. Lots of angles, triangles and other polygons going on! I wanted to do something a little different than just a regular worksheet and take a break from our normal routine of class. I was browsing Pinterest (what else is new) and saw a picture of a whole bunch of shapes in different colors; shapes that could be used as artwork on walls. Immediately,an idea popped into my head! Math + art = awesome!

My seventh graders had just learned to classify triangles by their angles and sides. I decided to take triangles, and have students make them into cool designs while still practicing their classifying skills!

Triangle Coloring

Only a pencil, ruler, paper and colors were necessary for this activity.

Students drew lines across the page using their pencils and made several triangles. I warned students to not draw TOO many triangles because that might make way too much work for them later.

Next, students identified triangles on their page as scalene, isosceles or equilateral. They traced each type in a different color of their choosing, being sure to put their color choices on a key.

Finally, students shaded in each triangle according to the angles. Obtuse, acute and right triangles each received their own color. Colors used should also be recorded on the key.

The class loved the project. After I gave instructions, the class was quiet for several minutes, not because I told them to be, but because they were so focused on their triangles! Designs turned out really neat. I’m thinking a new bulletin board display is coming…!

Roller Coasters – Looking at Potential and Kinetic Energy

Who doesn’t like a roller coaster? Let me rephrase that… what middle schooler doesn’t like roller coasters? And if they don’t like riding them, I’m pretty sure they would still like the idea of building one!

This is one of my favorite activities of the year. It incorporates concepts of kinetic and potential energy, which is a big standard to cover in sixth grade, while engaging and challenging the students.

SLED Program

I definitely cannot take credit for coming up with this lesson. It was developed through the SLED program. (Science Learning Through Engineering Design) This program, funded by a grant through the NSTF, was a partnership between the SLED program directors and teachers of grades 3-6. Because the program was developed at Purdue University, many local school districts and teachers were able to be a part of developing these lessons. The focus was to increase science learning through engineering design. I worked with the SLED program and its amazing directors for several years and through it, added a bunch of awesome engineering-based projects that align perfectly to Indiana science standards. (Here   is more info if you want it!)

Before the Activity

Before starting the roller coasters, my students have learned/reviewed kinetic and potential energy. We do a lab where students “play” with wind up toys, mini circuits, bouncy balls and more, and trace how the energy is transferred in each situation.

I also LOVE showing them this video. It gets stuck in your head, so watch out! But then again, it will get stuck in students’ heads, which is fantastic!

I follow the SLED lesson plan, which you can find here

Designing the Roller Coasters

To introduce the activity to the students, we begin with the challenge: Indiana Beach wants to build a new roller coaster with a lot of loops, but wants to be as economical as possible. Can they help? Instantly, students are engaged. Indiana Beach? Roller Coasters? Hooked. However, we discuss several concepts before designing.

  • What’s the challenge? (To build a roller coaster with loops)
  • What is the goal? (The most loop diameter for a limited coast)
  • Who are we working for? (Indiana Beach)
  • What are somethings that might limit us? (Space, materials, TIME!)
  • What concepts in science have we been learning about that will help us here? (Kinetic and Potential energy!!!)
Materials used to build the coasters:
The tubing comes in packages like this. I find the 3/4″ works best.
  • Insulated pipe tubing. I use 3 ft sections cut in half. These make the “track” for our coaster. You can find them at any hardware store (Lowe’s, Home Depot) or online. You will have to cut them in half.
  • Duct tape
  • String
  • Tacks (longer tacks work better)
  • Large pieces of cardboard to secure the coasters on(think refrigerator, tv, large sporting equipment, etc. I had a connection to someone that worked in a bike shop and got several large boxes from him!

The tubing and cardboard can be reused, so you will not need to get all new supplies every year!

Once we review the materials and the goal, students get a few minutes to plan and sketch their designs individually. Next, I put them in groups of 3 (if necessary I make a group of two. Four students seems to be too many in this activity…) and together, they come up with ONE plan that they want to use for their roller coaster.

Each team gets a large cardboard piece which is propped up along the wall around my classroom. This is their roller coaster canvas. They may receive up to 5 pieces of “track” and unlimited amount of duct tape, string and tacks (although all come at a price!). Students typically need about 30 to 35 minutes to design and build their coasters (or really, that is all the time I can give them!). For the coaster, we use a marble. I do allow students to test their coasters as they go so they can make slight adjustments as needed.

While students are building:

I usually walk around during construction, asking questions such as:

  • Why did you need to make your second loop smaller than your first?
  • Why are you starting the marble so high?
  • I see that this loop isn’t working. What do you think the problem is?

Encourage students to think about kinetic and potential energy when responding!

 

Wrapping Up

Once time is up, student groups calculate their coaster’s final cost, measure the total loop diameter on the coaster, and calculate a team score. Team scores are the cost divided by the total loop diameter. Lower scores mean the coasters are more cost efficient or have a high loop diameter, which were the goals!

Finally, groups present and test their coasters in front of the class. We take a “roller coaster tour” and walk around the room. Students share their designs, their cost and their team score. Then the moment of truth… will the marble actually make it through the entire track!? I do give students several attempts, but usually there are a few groups that are unsuccessful, and that is ok! At each coaster, students put sticky notes on where they believe the most potential energy and the most kinetic energy are located–super helpful in reminding students  about these concepts!

Overall, this lesson takes me about three class periods. However, it solidifies students’ understanding on kinetic and potential energy. And it is fun! They will be talking about their coasters for weeks to come!

 

Quick Team Building or Just for Fun Tasks!

I believe that in any classroom, working as a team is important. However, dealing with others can be a challenge, no matter what the age! I like to incorporate activities throughout the year that focus on team building, but are also fun tasks for the students. These are just two of examples that are great for any grade level, any subject, or maybe even as a professional development exercise!

Marker Mayhem

  • Students are put into groups of 3 or 4 and given a marker with 3 or 4 strings attached
  • Each student may only hold the end of one string, and may not touch any other part of the string or the marker
  • Working together, students must draw a picture, write a word, etc.
The cat I drew that students tried to copy

When I did this activity, I first had students write letters, like ABC or CAT. They could talk and instruct each other on how and where to move the marker.

After the initial round, I asked the student groups to draw a picture of a cat. I drew a cat picture on the board and told the groups they should do their best to copy that picture. Right before they began, I said “You may not talk!”

Many protested initially, but when I said go, it was silent. Students were forced to communicate without words and make the best cat drawing they could.

It was hilarious watching some of the groups attempt the cat. A few looked like my 2 year old drew them (or worse), but some groups were surprisingly successful! With each round we did, groups improved on their communicating and improved on their drawings!

Straw Tower

The next activity is a simple one that uses straws and tape and that’s it! The goal is to use the materials to build the tallest straw tower possible in a short amount of time.

  • Students are put into groups of 2 or 3
  • Each group received 10 straws and about 30 inches of tape.
  • 2-3 minutes of planning time given.
  • About 10 minutes of building time given.

Before students were allowed to even TOUCH the supplies, I told them they had two minutes to talk with their partners and come up with a plan. They could sketch things out, strategize and share ideas.

Once the two minutes were up, I told students I hoped they were wise in how they spend their planning time because now they could NOT talk for the rest of the activity. I gave students 10 minutes to build their towers. And it HAD to be silent

It was very amusing watching students use other methods to communicate (and I did not allow any writing of messages either!) Hand motions, pointing and lots of head shaking were seen.

Some students had great plans that worked well. Others found their original plans did not work and that trying to form a new plan without talking was very difficult!

After the timer went off, students could no longer touch their towers. I came around and measured each tower with a meter stick to see who won the challenge!  (By the way, I LOVE using online-stop-watch. When the timer goes off, it always makes everyone in the room jump!)  

Discussion

We had a good class discussion afterwards about what was difficult and what worked well. Students agreed that making sure you had a plan ahead of time worked well. Communication is huge! If they couldn’t communicate, it made the task much more difficult to complete. We need to share our ideas, listen, and watch. If we can communicate more effectively, we can get a lot further!

These activities were very helpful in setting up how my students need to work together and communicate with each other. You can use these just for team building or class communication. And they can be done in middle school, high school, or even upper elementary grades!

Onion Cheese Loaf

When I first started my teaching career, I was single, living in a new town, and knew only one other person near by. Being a first year teacher is difficult by itself, but I also faced the challenges of trying to meet new people and figuring out a new area.

Luckily, the other teachers and staff at my school were amazing. And still are. I was immediately drawn into their circles and invited to events. Even though I was the only non-married person working at the school when I started (it’s a small school!) I didn’t feel lonely when I was there!

One of my favorite memories of that first year was one of these “events.” Another teacher, newly married, had been discussing how she wished she knew how to cook more things and ideas on what to make for dinner. She wanted to make meals for her husband and herself, but was stuck with the same recipes. I mentioned that I like to cook, but currently wasn’t cooking much since I was only making food for one. A more mature teacher, who had been married for more than a couple of decades, overheard this conversation. Immediately, an idea began to form and Cooking Class was invented!

My dear teacher friend invited another wise (and experienced in the kitchen) friend over to help a few of us younger ladies learn some kitchen tricks. We had an afternoon of grocery shopping and recipe sharing while prepping dinner. Then we stayed all night  to enjoy the yummy morsels we cooked up!

The first class (we ended up doing this about two more times throughout the next year or so!) had a soup and bread theme. The temperatures outside were blustery cold and soup with warm bread was exactly what we needed at that time of year. While we chopped vegetables, stirred soup and waited for bread to rise, we all shared stories about food and our lives. It was a moment where I felt at home, even though I wasn’t home, and I hadn’t known these people for very long. But there is something about slowly simmering soup, the smell of baking bread and the sound of laughter that brings immediate comfort. And that’s what I felt.

One of the recipes shared that day was for Onion Cheese Loaf. It has been one of my go to bread recipes since! It is hearty, tasty, and easy. No kneading or rising required in this one! I like to bake up a loaf with big batches of chili, or any kind of soup. It’s savory and delicious.

I hope you make a loaf for yourself. Invite friends over. While the bread is baking and the smell all things good is in the air, have time to sit, chat, laugh, and feel comfortable.

Onion Cheese Loaf

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine in mixing bowl:

1 cup white flour

1 cup whole wheat flour (if you don’t have this, you can just use 2 cups of white flour and it will turn out fine! But in my opinion the wheat flour definitely makes this bread heartier and more rich in flavor!)

1 tablespoon sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon salt

The dry ingredients

Cut in ¼ cup butter or margarine until the mixture resembles coarse meal

Add and stir lightly:

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese (I like extra sharp best!)

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Combine in separate bowl:

1 cup milk

1 egg

Add milk and egg to cheese and flour mixture and mix with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn mixture into a greased loaf pan.

Sprinkle over batter:

½ cup finely chopped onion

Paprika (to taste)

Bake loaf for 1 hour. Cool slightly before removing from pan.

This is best when eaten warm, but will last for several days if wrapped with plastic wrap.

Enjoy!

Mathonopoly – Solving Equations Game

I can’t take any credit for this one, but I had to share. I recently stumbled upon this gem of a review game. My 7th graders have been learning how to solve one and two step equations. Solving equations can be difficult for some students. Practice, practice and more practice helps! And who doesn’t like a game?

Before I gave students a quiz on these concepts, I wanted to do some review. I feel lucky to have found this… and it is free! You can find the game here  and download it as a powerpoint for free. Again, I did not make this and cannot take credit for it, but HAD to share such a creative activity.

I couldn’t find exact rules listed, so I just made them up based on what parts there are and the rules I know from Monopoly, which I share below. You can definitely adjust these to better fit your class!

Preparations:

I made four different sets so my whole class could play at the same time, and 3 to 4 people can play with one set. Before my students played, I had to cut out all the pieces (not fun) and put them all individually through the laminator (even more not fun!).  I do love a good lamination, but our machine NEVER works properly so it is always a gamble – are you going to get a nicely laminated product, or a ruined mess of melted plastic and 30 minutes of your precious prep time gone? Luckily, the machine was in a good mood for me that day! And, I had students with no homework to finish in a study hall, so I made them my card cutting slaves for the period. Awesome!

 

Setting up the game:

Each group receives a board, Chance cards, Community Chest cards and a set of “Property” cards, a set of dice, and whatever playing pieces you want to use (I used chess pieces because I have them in my classroom!)

Students stack the sets of Chance and Community Chest cards in the designated places. The property cards are set to the side in an organized way.

Students also need score sheets. Using blank sheets of paper worked well for me, but you may want to come up with a quick score sheet. I started each student with 25 points. No money is necessary in this version of the game!

Answer sheets can either be distributed to each group, but I decided to hold on to one, and when students solved the equation, they called me over to check. This way, one student would not be able to see the answers ahead of time and know the correct response without trying to solve it first.

Instructions:

To play the game, students roll the dice (you can do one or two) and move their pieces across the board, just like in Monopoly.

When they land on a property space, students must solve the equation correctly in order to “buy” the property. If another student then lands on that property space, they must give the “rent”  in their points to the owner. Rent amount is the same as the number listed at the top of each property.

The rest of the game is played very similarly to the real Monopoly. However, I did not do anything for when they landed on railroads or Free Parking. Maybe you have an idea for these spaces? Let me know!

Ending the game:

I stopped the class when we only had a few minutes left. Students did not want to stop playing! We determined the winner by who had the most points at the end. I guess you could keep playing until one person has all the points, but just like in real Monopoly, that might take days and days!

It was a blast and the students got tons of practice with solving equations of all different difficulty levels! Thanks dannytheref for such an awesome idea!

How’s It Going? Returning to Teaching After Maternity Leave

Just over a month ago, I had to go back to work after having my baby girl. My leave this time around was over 10 weeks. It felt like a long time and no time at all. How does two and a half months go by that quickly? I knew it was coming, but that doesn’t make coming back any easier.

Before the big day I had time to prepare and discuss a few things with the substitute who was there while I was gone (who was fantastic and made things go so smoothly!). I developed a few lessons and even found a few review games for my students.

The kids day care bags were packed, forms signed, and schedules planned. Meals cooked in advance for easy dinners were ready in the freezer.  I was ready on the outside.

How’s It Going?

People have been asking me, “How’s it going being back?” Well, that depends. How is it going leaving the two beings I love most in the world every Monday through Friday to the care of others? How is it going being away from them more than 40 hours a week throughout the school year? How is it going knowing that you will only have a few hours with them when you come home, but all that other home “stuff” that is pulling at my time? How is it going, knowing that I may be missing important milestones, missing smiles and laughs, or missing cuddles when they are sad? How do I answer that?

At the same time, I enjoy what I do. I like making lessons exciting for my students. There is a thrill in putting together an activity that will demonstrate exactly the point students need to know AND be one they continue talking about for the next few days. It’s awesome to see that light bulb moment for someone in the middle of class, especially from someone that normally struggles. I like joking with the kids in their awkward but endearing ways. The teasing, the lame puns, and silly talk. The students make me smile, cause frustration, laughs, and tears. This is why I do what I do.

It’s Going

So, how is it going? It’s going. It’s going because this is where God wants me to be right now. I know my place is to be at the school I am at, working with the kids I do. God has given me peace about the decision my husband and I made about our work situation. He has given me skills, that right now, I’m called to use in the workplace. Maybe in the future, he will call me to use those skills as a stay at home mom. Or maybe he won’t. But whatever happens, I know that God will keep me going and continue to give me peace as long as I am where he wants me to be.

I know many other of you moms are in similar positions. Maybe you need to work for financial reasons, or insurance reasons. Or both. Maybe you worked so hard for your degree (and have so many student loans) that you feel like this is the only option right now. Maybe you just love what you do so much, that you can’t imagine not working. There are so many reasons that moms have to leave their precious babies everyday.  

Or maybe some of you moms are at home, worried about finances because you aren’t working, feeling overwhelmed because you feel like you never have time to yourself and can’t even get a few minutes to go to the bathroom without little ones peeking under the door (It IS nice to be able to use the restroom in peace again, even if I only have a few seconds in between passing periods!). Maybe you selflessly gave up a career you adored to take care of your family.

It’s Going “Good”

Whatever situation you are in, trust that God knows where you need to be. I encourage you to continually seek out God for his plan, because God’s plans are greater than ours. He knows whether you need to be teaching other people’s precious babies. He knows if you need to be home with your own babies (no matter how old those babies are!). And if you are unsure of where you need to be, just ask Him!

So when people ask me “How is it going?”, I can simply say “Good.” God is good, and though life is a little crazy right now, my life is in Good hands.

DIY Nail Art – A Girl’s Night Activity!

I’m a part of a small group of people from my church that meet a couple times a month. We call it a “Lifegroup” because, as our church continually states, we “do life together!” We meet, we eat (obviously!), we do a Bible study, or sometimes we just talk. And we pray for each other. I think that alone makes our group tight. We share what God is doing and how we need God in our lives.

In about two years, our group went from about 8 adults and 2 kids to 8 adults, 6 kids and one on the way. Needless to say, our get-togethers can become crazy quickly! But this is our life, and so we do the crazy together.

Recently, the ladies of our group plus several others from other groups, got together to celebrate the coming birth of the “one on the way” in our group. It has become somewhat of a tradition in our group to have a sort of ladies night whenever someone is due. We especially like to do this when it isn’t their first baby and a big themed baby shower isn’t necessary. It is awesome to have some time with other women to laugh, share and just get away for a couple hours.

I love to help put together these types of get togethers! Rather than playing traditional baby shower games, I decided it would be fun to do a DIY project. When I saw a picture of a simple arrow nail art, I thought it would be a great project for the girls!

Setting up:

It was easy to assembly the materials. All you needed were boards, hammers, nails, and string. I included paint and brushes as well. My husband helped with the boards. He bought two different sized long boards from the hardware store, then cut them into the sizes I requested. We left some boards plain and used a few types of stains on the others. I printed a few ideas for templates that the girls could use if they wanted.

Note: I did a trial run before the party, and this is what happens when you do not use a ruler and your 2 year old is trying to “help” give you nails. The term “straight as an arrow” does not apply here!

Instructions

  1. Use the template or ruler to lightly draw your design on the wood. It worked well to put the template (if using one) over your board, then take one nail and make all the holes right through the paper. Once the holes were there, you can take the paper off and see exactly where all the nails need to go!
  2. Next, hammer away! Put the nails in where the holes were marked (or where you had drawn). Make sure the nails are in far enough that they won’t be pulled out easily.
  3. Use the string (bright colors make it fun!) and start with tying a knot around one of the nails. Wrap the string around in any type of pattern you choose! I found it is best to “fill in” with the string first, then at the end, go around to make an outline and define your shape more.
  4. Use paint to decorate more if desired!

 

We had a blast chatting, eating, and hammering! It was a little bit of a unique way to celebrate a baby, but we all enjoyed getting the week’s frustrations out with some good hard swings!

All different designs, but they all turned out great!

And the best part of all: the newest baby girl of our life group was born a week later! She was happy and healthy, and mom did great!

Crazy Catapults – STEM Project with simple machines.

I love introducing STEM projects (like these catapults) to my 8th grade students. Because this is the third year I have taught most of the students, they know my rules, and I know their tendencies. By this time, I can foresee some problems that the students could run into and avoid them. I can also try new things with these students. They won’t have melt-downs if something doesn’t go as planned! I’m also continually impressed with how many cool ideas and designs they come up with… they are very creative!

These eighth graders recently wrapped up a unit on forces and simple machines. Last year, I saw a few lesson plans that involved building catapults and thought that would be a perfect way to tie everything together. The project went fine, but students didn’t quite use the simple machine concepts like I had hoped they would. So this year, I decided to amp up the catapult plan and make better! These eighth graders love a challenge and could roll with any minor surprises!

Lesson Overview

First, we discussed a little bit of catapults history. Together, we talked about the different types that were used for various reasons. Accuracy, power and distance are all important features of a quality catapult. Knowing this information, students received the challenge to design and build a catapult that would meet the three main criteria. Launching mini marshmallows as far as possible, trying to accurately shoot the marshmallows into a bucket, and using a sugar cube to knock down stacked cups were their tasks.

The catapults were a huge hit! The kids wanted to bring in materials from home to work on them (which I didn’t allow), and had unique ideas of how they wanted their catapults to work. I will say that next year, I will have to give a few more design restrictions. Some of the created designs had difficulty with one or two stations. Trebuchet type catapults seemed to work the best for the stations I choose.

Overall, I would say this year’s catapult project went much better than last year’s. I made sure students had to identify the simple machines in their design, and even calculate the mechanical advantage. Next year, I will adjust it more (aren’t we as teachers always tweaking our lessons–even the successful ones??) but I would say this project is a keeper!

Materials to use:

Popsicle sticks, spoons, rubber bands, various sizes of cups, tin cans, toothpicks, duct tape –really anything you can find that you think will work!

Other things you may need:

Cups to stack for the power station, sugar cubes (can be used for harder projectiles), meter sticks, a container for the accuracy station, and tape for starting lines. Use this worksheet packet as well – CrazyCatapults.docx. I adapted this from TryEngineering.org and from Vivify’s site. Both these sites contain great ideas for STEM challenges and activities and you should check them out!

Mystery Powder Investigation

Mystery time! Can you figure out what the four white substances are? This lesson can be used to show properties of difference substances or demonstrate differences between chemical and physical changes. Or it can just be for fun!

 

Lesson introduction:

I introduced this investigation to students after discussing chemical and physical properties of substances. For a “warm-up” I asked the students if they would ever accidentally mistake glue for milk. “Gross!” seemed to be the normal response. However, they easily listed several reasons – color, viscosity, density – it was clear which liquid students could drink. I even showed students what happens when you mix vinegar with both. Again, they were grossed out by the curdling milk.

Powder Investigation Set Up

Before class, I prepared the lab for the students. Containers A, B, C, D were filled with a different white powder. I also included a magnifying glass, beakers of water and vinegar and an eye dropper in their lab baskets. Sheets of foil were ready for them to use as “plates” or testing stations for their powders as well. I do use iodine, because this makes a chemical reaction with one of the powders, but I don’t let any of the students handle it. and we put any iodine mixture in separate spaces.

Materials used

I placed cornstarch in container A, salt in container B, baking soda in container C and sugar in container D. Feel free to use other white substances (safe ones please!), but I chose these four because I had them available in my classroom, and they are “safe” to use. Remember… middle schoolers want to eat everything. I’m not going to use things that might put them in danger! Each substance also has a unique reaction to at least one of the tests that students can choose from. Cornstarch changes the color of iodine, salt has crystal-like particles, baking soda fizzes with vinegar, and sugar tastes sweet!

Time to test!

Students test a powder by mixing vinegar and watching for changes that occur!

I let students choose which tests they would like to do with the substances. This includes mixing the substances with water, vinegar, or iodine, feeling the textures of each, using the magnifying glasses to observe the particles, and of course, the taste test (but I make them wait to do this last so it is not a giveaway!)

It is important to emphasize where students may see chemical changes happening. I ask the students these questions:

Are there bubbles?

Was there a color change?

Did something new form?

Can you get the substances back?

While testing, students fill out a chart like this: MysteryPowders. A “P” is placed in the blank if a physical change occurs and a “C” for any chemical changes.

Mystery Solved!

At the end of the time, I do tell the students what each of the substances were and they are excited whenever they guessed correctly!

Have fun investigating!

 

Density Rainbow – Using Colored Liquids to Explore Density

 

Density can be a tricky topic to teach. Students usually understand the concept of mass. They can feel the difference in something that is more massive (or heavy) than something else. Volume can be shown easily — which one is bigger? What takes up more space? When you put mass and volume together, sometimes students get mixed up. Does heavy always mean dense? Does little mean it will be less dense?

I have a fun activity that addresses some of these possible misconceptions. It uses simple materials and the results turn out beautifully (if students do the lab correctly!).

The set up:

This activity can be used before introducing density as an inquiry activity, or it can be used as a culminating activity. Since my sixth grade students have worked with density here and there, I incorporate the lab after our official density lesson. In the days before, we work on understanding what makes something dense, students practice calculating density and we may even play a few rounds of “Sink or Float.” (This is SO easy for any grade level and students love it! You can either do it as a demonstration, or have small groups do it. Just get a beaker filled with water and random items from the classroom and students must predict whether it will sink or float when dropped in the water!)

Density Rainbow

In the Density Rainbow activity, students find the density of five different liquids and pour them one at a time into a 100mL graduated cylinder. If the students are careful with their pouring, the result is a beautifully layered, colorful cylinder!

Before measuring a liquid, students predict where in the layer it will go. On the top? Bottom? Somewhere in the middle? Because I want to include the math, I make students find the mass and volume (about 15mL) of each liquid, and then calculate the density. Most students see the connection between the numbers they are getting and where the liquid will end up. The higher the density, the lower it will go in the cylinder.

Make sure you tell the students to pour each new liquid carefully! Tilt each cylinder and pour the liquid down the side of the 100mL cylinder SLOWLY! This is especially important with the rubbing alcohol. If students splash, the colors will get mixed and the final result won’t be as pretty.

Here are the liquids I use:

The liquids ready to go!
  • A) Water with green food coloring
  • B) Vegetable oil (no food coloring necessary – it won’t mix well anyway!)
  • C) Blue dish soap (you can use any color of dish soap you would like, but I like the blue best!
  • D) Corn syrup with purple food coloring (this gets very thick and sticky!
  • E) Rubbing alcohol with red food coloring.
I label all the cups so students know what liquid to use when.

Condiment cups are also extremely helpful in this activity. I can prep this lab the day before, pop the lids on all the liquids and not worry about spilling or evaporating. You can find the cups most grocery store in the paper goods aisle. If you have a Gordon Foods nearby, they have huge packs of them too!

The final product!

If you would like to use the handout that I do, here it is: Densityrainbow.doc

Notes and extensions:

Because I have students find the mass, they must first find the mass of the empty graduated cylinder they use to measure with. I am always double checking that they are subtracting the mass of the empty cylinder from the mass of the liquid plus the cylinder. If they don’t do this, their calculated density will be off!

Another extension I do is have the students change the volume and predict if the layers will still be the same. If we used 30 mL of vegetable oil and only 10 mL of water, what will happen? We do this as a group and it leads to the discussion of why adding MORE liquid does not change the density. A few of my quicker students pick up on the fact that when you increase volume, you are also increasing mass, so the density will be the same!

Have fun adding some color to your classroom! If you have any other ways you like to teach density, share them! I love introducing new activities to my classroom repertoire!