Teaching about matter in fifth grade? Try these hands-on activities! First, kids learn that particles are too small to be seen. Second, they explore states of matter. Third, they conduct a mystery powders lab. Finally, students explore conservation of mass.
Mr. Grow Plans His Matter Unit
For the past few weeks, our favorite fifth grade teacher has worked on plans for teaching about matter. Now he sits with his teaching partner to review their lessons.
Teaching About Matter – An Introduction
A Summary of Activities
“This set of activities will take two weeks. On the first day, kids will collaborate to define matter. That will give us a starting point. Then, on Day #2, they learn about volume. They measure sugar and water. Next, they stir them together.”
“Right,” Mr. Grow said. “Sugar water sets the stage for learning that matter’s particles are too small to be seen. On the third day, they fiddle around with play dough and water to expand that concept.
“Then on the fourth day, kids explore mass. They compare deflated and inflated balloons.”
“Next, they spend time on states of matter. On Day 5, kids place drops of food coloring in hot, warm, and cold water. On the following day, they consider an ice cube. Initially, it melted. Then it evaporated. This provides a springboard for changes: melting, evaporating, condensing, and freezing. Additionally, students define each state. For example, solids have specific volume and shape,” Mrs. Washington inserted.
“Then, on the seventh day, the teacher warms a bottle with a balloon over its opening. Quickly, the balloon inflates. This illustrates how heat excites particles. Of course, that causes them to move farther apart. At that time, kids complete their states of matter worksheet with models of each.”
“Sounds good,” said Mr. Grow. “Finally, the students are ready for review and an assessment. For the introduction, we’re thorough in teaching about matter.”
Physical and Chemical Changes
“If you remember,” said Mrs. Washington, “we had trouble with the sequence of these activities. What’s next in teaching about matter?”
“Okay.” Mr. Washington found the physical and chemical changes resource and began discussing the activities. “Initially, kids explore physical changes. First, they change a paper clip and a piece of paper. Easy enough. Second, they dissolve sugar in water. And third, they melt an ice cube. From these activities, students deduce that no new matter has been created. Therefore, they’re all physical changes.”
“Then the fun starts,” said Mr. Grow, smiling.
Mrs. Washington nodded. “Five activities illustrate evidence of chemical change. First, kids observe bubbles as they pour hydrogen peroxide onto baking soda. Second, they see that adding bleach to colored water causes a change of color. Third, they use a thermometer to measure the heat from a reaction between hydrogen peroxide and yeast. Fourth, adding hydrogen peroxide to iron filings causes a nasty odor. Finally, each child gets a glow stick, breaks it, and observes light that is emitted. Whew!”
Properties of Matter
“Kids fiddle around with four powders. At the beginning, they observe physical properties like color, texture, and solubility. Then they explore chemical properties. As you can see, one of these powders reacts to vinegar. Another reacts to iodine.
“At the end, they’re presented with a mystery powder. Using its properties, kids match it to one of theirs.”
Mrs. Washington sighed happily. “Using science practices is so much better than teaching about matter from a book.”
Conservation of Mass
“The final set of hands-on science activities,” Mrs. Washington continued, “address conservation of mass – and NGSS 5-PS1-2. For this set of conservation of mass resources, kids use a scale to measure.
“On Day 1 , fifth grade students explore physical changes. First, they mass five crackers in a baggie. After crushing them, they find that the mass is the same. Second, they measure sugar and water. Then they stir them together and mass the sugar water. Again, the mass is identical. Finally, kids mass water in a graduated cylinder. They cover it with plastic wrap. Then the teacher puts it in the freezer overnight. Again —“
“I know!” Mr. Grow laughed. “The mass is the same.”
Mrs. Washington smirked. “Ha!”
“We’re almost done. Next, they prove that the law of conservation of mass also works for chemical changes. However, for this part, kids do a fair test. Once again, they use baking soda and vinegar. However, they try it two times. First, they add the vinegar to the baking soda in an open baggie. Second, they use a sealed baggie.
“After massing both, they graph the results. This part is especially compelling, Through the fair test, students find that the law of conservation of mass only works for closed systems.”
Mr. Grow nodded. “I like that. Furthermore, it meets the intent of the standard, which asks kids to graph.”
“Two extensions are also provided. In the first, kids add more yeast to hydrogen peroxide. As a result, bubbles flow all over the place. This illustrates that volume in not conserved in a chemical reaction.
“The second extension involves popped and unpopped microwave popcorn. Surprisingly, the popped bag – which has much greater volume – has less mass. At first, kids may be stymied. But eventually someone will figure out that the bag is not a closed system. As a matter of fact, small holes near the opening allow quite a bit of steam to escape.”
Enjoy Teaching About Matter
“And that’s it!” said Mr. Grow.
“Not so fast,” Mrs. Washington replied. “Later, kids will connect what they’ve learned about matter to life science. In one unit, they’ll explore how matter flows through an ecosystem.”
“Cool,” said the new teacher, “learning about matter in fifth grade will be so much fun.” Then, as usual, a satisfied smile spread across his face.