Water Science Experiments and Activities for Upper Elementary

Water science experiments engage students in hydrology. For some fun, educational activities, let kids explore the hydrosphere, properties of water, the water cycle, waves, currents, and nutrient pollution.

Ms. Sneed Plans Water Science Experiments

Our favorite fourth grade teacher sat at the side table with her student teacher. “This year,” Ms. Sneed said, “we’ll dedicate a full month to water science, or hydrology. I want the kids to do lots of hands-on experimentation.”

Mr. Grow pulled out his plan book. “Okay, let’s get started.”

Learning About the Hydrosphere

Ms. Sneed opened her laptop. “We’ll start with some general concepts about the hydrosphere.”

She clicked a file in her Google Drive. “Try this,” she said, as she pushed the computer over to Mr. Grow.

“Wow! Kids can manipulate these shapes to create pie graphs.”

“Yep. They can record the percentage of land covered by water, as well as ratios of fresh to salt water.”

Ms. Sneed moved the laptop so they could both look at it. With a few clicks, she pulled up a hydrosphere resource.

“I love this,” Mr. Grow said. “Differentiated passages, questions, graphing – and even practice with informational text structure!”

He picked up his pencil and began planning a few days of activities.

To address the fifth grade NGSS standard, kids create pie graphs on the percentage of land covered by water, as well as the ratio of fresh to salt water. In the image, the Google Slides version is featured.

Are you feeling “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

Properties of Water Science Experiments

“Next,” Ms. Sneed said, “The kids will work in their science lab groups to experiment with properties of water.”

She pulled her phone out of her pocket and began scrolling. “Here. Take a look at these activities.”

“Cool! Can you give me a little background information?”

“Sure.” Once again, she clicked away on the laptop. “I use this properties of water resource.”

Four science experiments are shown. In the top left, kids use toothpicks and water to demonstrate adhesion. The top right shows water as a solvent for colored candies. In the bottom left, kids place drops of water on a penny to demonstrate cohesion. And at the bottom right, they experiment with colored water and paper towels to show capillary action.

Evaporation

“First, kids use a fair test to explore evaporation. Simple experiments. Profound concepts. They learn about comparing, controlling variables, measuring, and replicating.”

Cohesion

“Second, they play with drops of water on a piece of waxed paper. It’s a great way to explore cohesion. Then they see how many drops of water fit on a penny.”

Mr. Grow laughed. “I remember doing that as a kid. Such fun!”

Adhesion

Ms. Sneed smiled and continued. “Third, students take five toothpicks, bend them in half, and push them together. I don’t have a picture, but it looks sort of like an asterisk. Next, they drop water into the center. The drops stick to one another – and to the toothpicks. Adhesion! A star is born.”

Water as a Solvent

“Fourth, kids explore water as a solvent. It’s something they all know about, but this gives it a name. We dropped four colored candies in a glass container filled with water. More quickly than I anticipated, they began to dissolve. One misconception we need to discuss is water as the universal solvent. It’s just not true. For example, if I dropped this pencil into a cup of water, it would not dissolve.”

Capillary Action

“What about these three cups of water?” asked Mr. Grow.

“Ah yes, very cool,” said Ms. Sneed. “In this science experiment, you pour water into three cups. Then you add food coloring to the two on the outside. Here we used yellow and blue. Then you roll two paper towels and drape them from the first to middle and third to middle cups. The paper towels absorb the water, and the color mixes in the middle cup. This is due to capillary action.”

Ms. Sneed pulled up another photo on her phone. “As you can see, this concept is fun to experiment with. We also placed celery in colored water. That illustrated how this physics concept works in hydrology and biology.

“And look at this picture,” she said.

Mr. Grow studied the image. A strip of coffee filter hung from a pencil into a cup. Evidently water in the cup had absorbed. “What is that rainbow blob? he asked.

“Originally, it was a circle drawn with a washable black marker,” she explained.

“Chromatography!” Mr. Grow exclaimed.

“Exactly.”

Once again, Mr. Grow penciled science activities into his plan book.

The Water Cycle

“Next,” Ms. Sneed said, “we’ll study the hydrologic cycle.” She pulled up a water cycle resource.

“As you can see, kids learn vocabulary and study diagrams. But we’ll do one awesome science experiment. Well, maybe it’s more of a simulation. Kids draw flow charts with evaporation, condensation, and precipitation on Ziploc baggies. Then they pour a little water and blue food coloring into their baggies. Finally, we tape the baggies to our sunny classroom window. Voila! Mini water cycles! Last year we left them up for months.”

Before Ms. Sneed finished talking, Mr. Grow added more activities to his plan book.

Kids study the water cycle with a vocabulary list, diagrams, and by simulating it in a Ziploc baggie.

Water Science Experiments About Waves

“To study waves, kids use the engineering design process,” said Ms. Sneed. “After they learn about transverse waves, they try to figure out what best simulates them.”

Once again, she pulled out her phone. “In these pictures, you can see that they experimented with rope, water in a bottle, straws taped together in the middle, and also waves in a paint tray.”

Mr. Grow nodded. “I can see that your science activities do double duty,” he said. “This lesson incorporates a STEM challenge. Others include graphs and informational text structure.”

Ms. Sneed smiled. “Um-hm. I told you that I believe in making every minute count.”

Once more, she clicked around to locate a file. “We’ll use this ocean waves resource.”

Ms. Sneed stood up. “While you jot down some plans, I will refill my coffee,” she said.

Students learn about transverse waves. Then they experiment with rope, water in a plastic bottle, straws on tape, and a paint tray to discover which makes the best scientific model.

Water Science Experiments About Currents

When Ms. Sneed returned, she opened a resource on ocean currents. “Let’s look at more water science experiments,” she said.

“First, kids use colored water to see how warm water rises and cold water sinks. This helps them understand how deep ocean currents occur.

“Then they conduct one of my absolute favorite science activities. At the beginning of the lab, they learn about making organized lists. Yep. Once again, double duty with this math concept. Next, they experiment with colored water that have different levels of salinity. Using a clear plastic straw, they layer the liquids. At first they work with two colors at a time. But at the end of the lab, they’re challenged with layering all the colors.”

Mr. Grow’s eyes lit up. This would be the best science unit ever!

To learn about currents, kids experiment with water in cups: blue for cold and red for warm. They add different amounts of salt to different colors of water in cups. Then they try layering it in a straw.

Experimenting with Nutrient Water Pollution

“Finally,” said Ms. Sneed, “we’ll experiment with water pollution. Since we’ll need at least three weeks for this lab, we’ll set it up first. I hope that doesn’t mess up your lesson plans,” she said sheepishly.

Mr. Grow chuckled. “At least I have an eraser.”

“Again, kids will use the scientific method,” said Ms.Sneed. She located the nutrient pollution resource on her computer. “As you can see here, they’ll use microscopes to study phytoplankton in pond water. They love that!

“Before we begin, we’ll gather some pond water, and I’ll bring in some liquid plant fertilizer.

“On the first day of the experiment, kids use graduated cylinders to fill each of four jars with equal amounts of water. The first jar acts as the control. Therefore, no fertilizer is added to it. However, they add five drops to the second jar, ten to the third jar, and fifteen to the fourth.”

Ms. Sneed pulled out her phone again. After scrolling for a while, she found pictures from the previous year. “See how the jars were all clear in Week 1? Then in Week 2, the jars with fertilizer became cloudy. By the third week, you can see that the jars range from clear to a medium green.”

Extending the Experiment

“What happens if you observe it for a longer period of time?” Mr. Grow asked.

Ms. Sneed smiled. “I wondered too. One year we kept the experiment going for months,” she said. “The jars with fertilizer got greener and greener. The more fertilizer, the more green. Surprisingly, the population of only one type of phytoplankton seemed to explode. Then, at one point, the fourth jar became clear again. I don’t know what would happen with different pond water or different fertilizer, but we were astonished!”

In this science experiment, students add different amounts of liquid plant fertilizer to pond water. This picture shows three weeks. In Week 1, all four jars are clear. In Week 2, the jars with fertilizer are becoming cloudy. In Week 3, the jars range from clear to light green to darker green.

As Mr. Grow made notes, Ms. Sneed reflected on that water science experiment. That small teacher smile appeared on her face. Yes, hands-on experiments made her love teaching more than ever.

Enjoy Teaching

Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.

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