Simple Back-to-School Science Experiments for 3rd, 4th, 5th Grade

Start your year right with four simple back-to-school science experiments. Designed especially for kids in 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade, these labs introduce methods used in investigations. Specifically, kids learn to ask a testable question, compare, manipulate only one variable, and measure. These labs pack a wallop! Try one this year.

Ms. Sneed Plans Simple Back-to-School Science Experiments

Our favorite fourth grade teacher sat at the side table with her student teacher. “Today,” she said, “I’ll show you four back-to-school science experiments.”

“Great,” said Mr. Grow. “I love science.”

Evaporation Labs Teach the Scientific Method

Ms. Sneed opened her laptop. Then she clicked around until she found a file.

“First,” she said, “I’d like to show you some super simple back-to-school science experiments.”

Mr. Grow looked on as she explained a set of evaporation labs.

Modeling

“As you already know, I’m a big believer in modeling. Therefore, the lesson opens with an example. The teacher goes over the components of the investigation:

  • Question: Which will evaporate more quickly, water in an open or closed cup?
  • Hypothesis: Water in an open cup will evaporate more than in a closed cup.
  • Procedure: (1) Measure 50 milliliters of water into two cups. (2) Cover one cup with plastic wrap; leave the other cup open to the air. (3) Wait two days. (4) Measure the amounts of water in both cups; record.
  • Independent variable: open or closed
  • Controlled variables: same temperature, humidity, and light; same cup; same amount and type of water
  • Measurement tool: graduated cylinder
  • Replication: same experiment conducted by another group

“Additionally, we present the results and conclusion. This sets the stage for parallel experiments they’ll conduct.”

Looking for super simple back-to-school science experiments? Try this evaporation lab. It starts with an example.
Feeling “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

Investigating

“As in the example,” Ms. Sneed continued, ” two groups will conduct each of the back-to-school science experiments.”

She pulled up four sets of lab sheets. “For example, two groups will investigate water in dark and sunny places, two will observe water in wide or narrow containers, two will experiment with windy and still conditions, and two will compare fresh and salty water.

“The questions are already on the lab sheets, but kids fill in all the other components themselves. Then they wait two days, record the results on similar tables, and draw conclusions. When they’re finished, the groups discuss and compare results.”

“You’re right,” said Mr. Grow. “These labs are simple. We’ll need only cups, water, salt, and graduated cylinder. But how will we get a windy environment?”

Ms. Sneed’s eyes twinkled. “Easy. We’ll just use a miniature fan.”

She sat back in her chair and looked at her student teacher. “I’ve used these labs for years. They’re simple but powerful.”

Four parallel lab sheets let kids work in groups and compare results for these simple back-to-school evaporation experiments.

Back-to-School Science Experiments with Gummy Bears Are a Hit!

Next, Ms. Sneed pulled up a gummy bear lab.

“Whoa!” Mr. Grow exclaimed. “This is sure to be a hit with the kids!”

“Yep. Anything with gummy bears instantly becomes more interesting. It expands on the evaporation lab. Kids learn about testable questions and use an additional measurement tool: rulers.”

Warm Up

“For this lab, kids first learn the difference between testable and non-testable questions. They analyze a set of questions to determine whether they’re testable. In other words, they figure out if the question changes only one variable to see what the effect is on the other.

This gummy bear lab teaches kids to discriminate between testable and non-testable questions.

Guided Lab

Ms. Sneed scrolled to the first gummy bear lab. “Next, kids participate in a guided lab. Like the evaporation experiments, we ease them in slowly, providing a lot of support.

“The steps are provided for this lab:

  • Measure each gummy bear and record beginning heights.
  • Measure 50 ml of water into one cup and 50 ml of vinegar into another.
  • Place one gummy bear in each cup. Do not disturb for at least three hours.

“Students must come up with a question and hypothesis for this procedure. They must also list the independent and controlled variables, measurement tools, and replication. However, we don’t ask kids to do this on their own. Instead, we do much of it together. This scaffolds their understanding – and makes them more successful.”

“As students conduct the investigation, they record quantitative evidence in tables and sketch to provide qualitative evidence. As a class, kids draw conclusions.”

These back-to-school science experiments, which feature gummy bears, start with a guided lab.

Independent Lab

On the next two pages, Ms. Sneed pointed to Gummy Bear Experiment 2. “In small groups, pairs, or even individually, students can now select a science-related question of their own. Although the teacher and/or parent may continue to provide support, kids get their first taste of conducting an experiment from beginning to end.”

“Wow,” said Mr. Grow, “I wish my fourth grade teacher had done this.”

After 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade students do a guided experiment, they're ready to ask a testable question and conduct a gummy bear lab of their own.

Use This Apple Lab for a Week of Back-to-School Science Experiment Fun

Once more, Ms. Sneed clicked to open an activity. “For this week-long apple lab, kids work in groups. They’ve already measured length and volume. Now they’ll use a balance scale to measure mass.”

Observing and Measuring Apples

“Each group receives three apples of similar size. The first remains whole, the second is cut in half, and the third is sliced. Each day for a week, they find the mass of each apple and record it on their lab sheet. In addition to the quantitative data, they make sensory observations – what they see, smell, or feel.

“On the first day, I like to show kids how to use a balance scale. Then I call the groups one at a time to work with them the first time they measure. After that, they can work independently.”

This back-to-school lab asks kids to measure the mass of whole, halved, and sliced apples each day for one week.

Organizing Data in Graphs

Ms. Sneed continued, “The format is similar to the other labs: question, hypothesis, experimental design, data collection, results, and conclusion. However, for this back-to-school science experiment, they also organize data in two graphs: bar and line. It’s the perfect time to explain that bar graphs compare while line graphs indicate change over time.”

“Another winner,” said Mr. Grow. “Will we use all three of these in the first month of school?”

Ms. Sneed nodded. “We can do the first two labs during the first week. Then, during the second week, this apple lab can be done as an overlay. Since it requires only a few minutes each day, we can just slide it in without interrupting our regularly scheduled blocks.”

Kids use graphs to analyze data from their apple lab.

Focus on Measurement with Pet Rocks

Ms. Sneed opened yet another file. “This lesson,” she said, “supports the back-to-school science experiments. However, it’s really just a short measurement activity. You can use it as an introduction – or anytime.”

She pointed to a lab sheet. “This table shows three common ways we measure in science: length, volume, and mass. It explains the tools used, as well as the units.

“For fun – and to reinforce measurement – I give each student a small rock. Then I set up six stations, two with rulers or measuring tape, two with graduated cylinders, and two with balance scales. The students are split into six groups, and each group rotates through three measurement stations with their rocks. The pet rock lab offers a quick, easy way to practice.”

“And fun,” said Mr. Grow. “I like the pet rock angle.”

“As you can see,” Ms. Sneed said, pointing to another page, “we also have a generic version. That way, we can use this activity again later in the year.”

Measurement is an integral part of back-to-school science. Ask kids to find the length, volume, and mass of a pet rock. It's a great introduction.

Ms. Sneed Explains Science Practices

“All of these back-to-school science experiments are great for teaching the scientific method,” Mr. Grow said.

“I agree,” his mentor said. Now, however, we don’t really use that term.”

Mr. Grow frowned. “Why not?”

Current Science Practices

“Today, we acknowledge a broad set of scientific methods. Not just one.” Ms. Sneed pulled out a list of science and engineering practices and briefly discussed them:

  • Asking testable questions – Kids learn that a question must compare only one variable. Additionally, they should be able to make predictions and observations. When the questions involve measurement or another way to quantify, they’re even stronger.
  • Developing and using models – Although models are integral to science, they were left out of the scientific method. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) added it back – even as a standalone application.
  • Analyzing and interpreting data – Of course, anytime measurement and data are used in back-to-school science experiments, they become stronger. Quantification is important.
  • Engaging in argument from evidence – When kids answer science questions, they need to convince others of their validity. This practice encourages us to use discussion and writing to achieve this.

Mr. Grow nodded his head. “I get it. We no longer say the scientific method. Instead, we refer to a group of science practices.”

“Right,” said Ms. Sneed, “and we need to teach kids how to use them flexibly to answer a variety of science questions.”

Enjoy Teaching with Seriously Fun Science

Mr. Grow sat back in his chair with a smile. “I’m glad I’m co-teaching with you this year. I can tell that it will be fun.”

His mentor blushed and smiled. “And when you get your own classroom, I hope you’ll continue using seriously fun science experiments – for back-to-school and all year long.

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