Teaching Properties of Matter with Mystery Powders

Make teaching properties of matter fun with mystery powders! Try this hands-on activity. First, kids review physical and chemical properties. Second, they describe color and texture of four powders. Then they see how each reacts with water, vinegar, and iodine. For the grand finale, they compare their results with the mystery powder.

Teaching Properties of Matter with Mystery Powders

Our favorite fifth grade teacher, Mr. Grow, sat at the back table with his teaching partner.

“Let’s continue planning our matter activities,” said Mrs. Washington, “We’re done with our introduction to matter. Our kids understand the concept and have experimented with physical and chemical changes. What’s next?”

“Looks like it’s time for teaching properties of matter. You know, physical and chemical.”

Mrs. Washington’s eyes lit up. “Remember when we did that mystery powders activity?”

Mr. Grow tapped his pencil in thought. Then he nodded. “You’re right. It will be perfect.”

Physical and Chemical Properties

“First,” said Mrs. Washington, “our kids need to discriminate between physical and chemical properties of matter.”

“Maybe we can use steel wool as an example,” Mr. Grow said.

“Initially, kids can determine its physical properties. For example, it’s smooth and bends easily. But it also reflects light, conducts electricity, and is attracted by a magnet.

“Then we can show them a few chemical properties. For instance, it rusts and burns.”

Mrs. Washington nodded in agreement. “Yes, teaching properties of matter with steel wool is a good idea.”

Begin teaching properties of matter with an example like steel wool.
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Teaching Properties of Matter with a Science Lab

“Then,” she said, “we’ll dive into our mystery powders. Instead of teaching properties of matter, the kids will explore on their own. And – ahh – that’s a beautiful thing.” She leaned back and smiled.

Lab Set-Up

“Let’s make a list of the materials we’ll need,” said Mr. Grow. He began to jot them on a piece of paper:

  • paper plates
  • flour
  • baking soda
  • cornstarch
  • baking powder
  • water
  • vinegar
  • iodine
  • eyedropper

“Don’t forget the egg cartons,” Mrs. Washington added. “In my opinion, placing the powders in them ahead of time works well. As we did in the past, we can label them: A, B, C, and D.”

Enjoy teaching properties of matter with a mystery powders lab. Gather and store the materials ahead of time.

Observing Physical Properties

“Our kids will analyze three physical properties. First, they will record the color of each powder. All are white, so they’ll need to be specific. Second, the texture. Third, they will mix each with water. That way, they can observe whether or not the powder dissolves.”

To explore chemical properties of matter, add water to each powder.

Observing Chemical Properties

“In addition, they’ll check out two chemical properties of matter: reactions to vinegar and iodine. Some powders like baking soda will react with the vinegar, and bubbles will form.

Add vinegar to the powders to explore their chemical properties.

“Iodine will also react with certain powders. When coming in contact with some, it looks dark blue. With others, however, it’s a gold color.

To determine chemical properties of matter, add iodine to the powders.

Comparing with the Mystery Powder

“Finally,” Mrs. Washington said, “we’ll show them a picture of the mystery powder, as well as a list of the properties. Then they can compare it with their findings and decide what it is.”

As kids observe physical and chemical properties of the powders, they record them on a table. Then they compare their findings with a mystery powder to determine what it is.

Enjoy Teaching

“After this activity, kids conduct a bunch of experiments to discover the law of conservation of mass.”

Mr. Grow grinned. “Teaching properties of matter will be a lot of fun this year.”

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