Help me amaze first graders with a story & demo about states of matter!
February 16, 2014 8:04 AM   Subscribe

My daughter is in first grade, and her class is studying solids, liquids, and gases. I want to come in and do some related fun science demo to engage and amuse them. Bonus points if I can somehow tie it into a short children's book, so I can read the book first and then conduct a themed experiment based on the story. They have likely seen some of the basic common science demonstrations, but I am open to anything if it works with a story. It also needs to be educational, safe and relatively inexpensive (Under $50 or so, so dry ice is fine, gallium spoons not so much). I work at a research university, but on the social science side, but can probably hit up medical researchers for equipment, if it would help. Any ideas are appreciated, especially with suggestions for books as well!
posted by blahblahblah to Education (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Internal waves demo with food coloring and fresh/saline/half-saline water. If you have access to an acrylic tank, this would be engaging and cheap.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:19 AM on February 16, 2014

Corn starch and water to demonstrate non Newtonian liquids?
posted by ian1977 at 8:21 AM on February 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

What about liquid nitrogen ice cream? I have no idea of the cost though.
posted by Talia Devane at 8:29 AM on February 16, 2014

Crystallization before your eyes with one of those re-usable handwarmers
posted by Jakey at 9:03 AM on February 16, 2014

We have this book: What is the World Made Of, All About Solids, Liquids and Gases. It is perfect for that age group and entertaining as well. There are suggestions for experiments throughout the book - gas with balloons, perfume and water vapour, solid with ice and play dough, liquid with water, changing water vapour to liquid water with an icy glass of water. There are also suggestions for more experiments at the end of the book. Highly recommended.
posted by Cuke at 9:19 AM on February 16, 2014

Make Oobleck and read Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss. :) If you don't have the book but you have an iPad, I have a digital copy I can get to you.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:05 AM on February 16, 2014

The song Solid Liquid Gas by They Might Be Giants gives a pretty easy to understand description, and it's a lot of fun. For experiments, maybe it could start out by simply starting from an ice cube and ending with steam?
posted by Mchelly at 1:29 PM on February 16, 2014

Start with rocks, water, helium balloon(s), air balloon.

Move on to popsicles (one for everybody) (solid to liquid), dry ice (rare solid to gas, but at least you can see the gas), some kind of bad-smelling gas maybe, and jello. They will wonder what jello is; just leave it out for most of the talk and get to it at the end OR when someone asks about it.

This sounds really fun!
posted by amtho at 5:06 PM on February 16, 2014

Ooooh! And wax! You can melt wax to make it a liquid, then make solid wax shapes (probably not candles - not safe for little ones)!
posted by amtho at 5:07 PM on February 16, 2014

you can melt a bunch of crayons into one multicolored super-crayon though! Use silicone molds, like for candy making.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:45 PM on February 16, 2014

I don't know if it will be too complicated or unsuitable for first graders, but there are a lot of liquid nitrogen experiments you can do on this. Dipping balloons into a bucket of it to turn the air inside them liquid is a really nice way of showing phase transitions, you can freeze just about anything in there etc. Hopefully it won't be expensive either if you can persuade someone in a physical sciences department to give you a bit (the physics departments that I've been a part of have all done demonstrations with theirs, so with a bit of luck they'll be used to this kind of thing). Here's a resource with a bunch of information on demonstrations and obtaining/transporting/risk assessing liquid nitrogen if you want any more info.
posted by Ned G at 3:51 AM on February 17, 2014

I do a lot of science demos in schools, and corn starch goop is always a huge hit for kids that age because it's nice and messy.

If you're not familiar with it, you mix a very small amount of water into the corn starch (just barely enough to make it liquid) and grab a handful - when you squeeze, it's solid, but when you open your fingers and take the pressure off, it'll turn back into a liquid. (And if you have access to youtube in the class, you could show them a large-scale demo like this).

Another very popular one is making "slime" - mix white glue half and half with water, and then mix with a borax solution. The details are easily googled but I think it's 1 tsp borax per cup of hot water. Put some of each solution in a ziplock bag (maybe 5:1 glue:borax?) and add a few drops of food colouring, then have the kids knead/massage it for a few minutes until it starts to solidify. If you get the proportions right, it will be solid enough that you can take it out and play with it, bounce it, etc. (some teachers will want them to keep it in the bag, though).

It's a good idea to try these out beforehand just so you know you have the proportions right, but they're very straightforward once you know how it works.
posted by randomnity at 8:44 AM on February 17, 2014

(and slime can probably be tied in with a million children's books, although I can't think of any book in particular)
posted by randomnity at 8:46 AM on February 17, 2014

You guys are awesome! I am following many of these. (The slime was ruled out as too messy) Here is my current plan:

1) Turn a liquid into a solid. I got an ice cream ball - an inflatable ball which is filled with cream and ice, and, after it is rolled around for 20-30 minutes, it gets turned into ice cream. I thought the kids could play with/roll the ball around while I tell the story and do other things. Then we can eat the ice cream!

2) Turn a solid into a gas. I was planning on using some dry ice and warm water to make mist. Also, maybe some mist-filled soap bubbles!

I also thought it might be fun to play the song "Solid, Liquid, Gas" by They Might Be Giants from Here Comes Science when we first roll the ice cream ball.

I will also read one of the books.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:39 PM on February 17, 2014

It went great, thanks again!
posted by blahblahblah at 12:27 PM on February 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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