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Affordable Science Experiments for the Elementary Classroom

If you’re lucky, the average elementary student exudes a sense of wonder and imagination about their education. When you conduct science experiments, especially demonstrations that create gaseous substances or end with the construction of a marshmallow catapult, you cultivate a little of that magic in your classroom.

That’s why we’ve curated these fun and affordable science experiments that aim to establish an ongoing passion for the subject.

How Affordable Science Experiments Help Your Elementary Students

First, we need to be candid about a stark, unblinking truth. As humans, we have a duty to care for each other, our planet, and all of its inhabitants. Understanding how our world works is the first step to ensuring we leave it better than how we found it. That’s why science instruction remains paramount for even the youngest students.

Topics such as climate change and the evolution of infectious diseases might seem heavy at times for elementary students, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make instruction on foundational topics related to these issues fun and compelling. As most every pedagogical expert repeats over and over, involving students in their own learning leads to kids retaining and applying the knowledge they’ve gained. Luckily, science experiments make it easy to create such hands-on learning experiences.

Creating a Gas

Water, ice, and steam. One substance can become all three, and all it takes is an adjustment in temperature. Once humans realized the capacity for material to change, we discovered that matter itself could exist in three different states. Liquids, solids, and gasses, to be exact. Sometimes these changes occur due to a variation in temperature. And sometimes the state of matter evolves due to chemical reactions. This experiment shows the latter.

Materials: You’ll need a bottle, vinegar, baking soda, a balloon, and a funnel.

Instructions: Place a small amount (roughly two tablespoons) of baking soda inside the balloon. Fill the bottle halfway with vinegar, and then gently stretch the balloon over the top. Hold the top of the balloon up and allow the baking soda to fall inside the bottle.

In the end, a gas will form, inflating the balloon. The result is so much fun, but it also shows how matter can change under different circumstances.

Newton’s First Law

Issac Newton (poor guy) was just trying to relax in the shade of an apple tree. According to the legend, one of the fruits fell and beamed him on the head. It was that boo-boo that led to Newton’s First Law, which famously states that an object in motion stays in motion until the moment something stops it. If it weren’t for Newton’s noggin stopping that apple, and if there were no ground underneath, the fruit would have fallen forever. But what applies to movement also applies to rest.

Materials: You’ll need five or six wooden blocks and a ruler, meter stick, or PVC pipe.

Instructions: Stack the blocks in a tower formation, and using your ruler, knock off each piece individually. Show how the object falls and only stops when it hits the floor. This will demonstrate how the existence of gravity means an object’s motion is perpetual without something to ground it.

As a second part of the experiment, you can explain what happens when a foundation gets removed. Restack the tower, and knock the bottom block out. Ask your students what they think will happen. When the upper parts of the tower topple, they’ll gain a deeper understanding of inertia.

Friction

At first glance, friction might not be the most captivating topic. The core definition doesn’t say much. After all, it’s all about one object brushing up against another. But what sounds simple at first becomes vastly more fascinating when you factor in how friction changes physical properties. That’s exactly what this science experiment entails.

Materials: You’ll need rice, a medium-size plastic bottle and bowl, and a pencil or chopstick. You might also need a funnel or scoop to transport the rice from one container to another.

Instructions: Fill the bottle with rice, and jam the chopstick or pencil to the bottom. Make sure you’ve gone deep enough for the grains to wrap around the instrument. Once the pencil or chopstick is firmly in place, you can use it to lift the bottle up.

For the next part of the experiment, fill a bowl with rice, and work the chopstick or pencil to the bottom. In this case, you won’t be able to lift the bowl the way you did the bottle. This explains how friction (the act of one object coming into contact with another) creates different degrees of resistance within varying spaces or confinements.

Making Play-Doh

Making Play-Doh means teaching chemistry. Molding Play-Doh means teaching art. So, really, this stuff is pretty much a cross-curricular miracle. Plus, when you teach kids how to make it, you present them with a fun science experiment that will ensure learning and create a wonderful memory of the time they spent with their teacher.

Materials: You’ll need flour, water, salt, food coloring, a bowl, a pot, a hotplate or stove, and cream of tartar, which will create a softer and more long-lasting dough. Of course, the food coloring serves only aesthetic purposes, but hey, who wants to mold dinosaurs and robots out of plain white putty?

Instructions: Combine all dry ingredients in the bowl. This includes one cup of flour, two teaspoons of cream of tartar, and half a cup of salt. Mix vigorously. In the pot, mix food coloring with one cup of water and stir them together. Once they’re blended, add your dry ingredients to the pot and bring the stove up to a medium heat. The dough will start to form after about five minutes, at which point remove it from the heat and let it cool.

Marshmallow Catapult

Materials: You’ll need tape, five marshmallows, seven wooden skewers, a plastic spoon, and a rubber band.

Instructions: As the video below illustrates, make a triangle-shaped base with three marshmallows and three skewers. Then create a pyramid structure with three more skewers and one marshmallow. Using the tape, fasten the spoon to the final skewer, which will make the launchpad. Place the rubber band over the apex of the pyramid and place the launchpad through the rubber band, securing it with one of the marshmallows at the base of the pyramid.

Make a Splash with Your Science Instruction

For more strategies on engaging your elementary students in science class, check out these professional development courses from Advancement Courses:

  • Climate Change: Engaging Students in a Global Conversation: Help students become positive change makers in the face of climate change challenges. Learn how to teach the facts of climate change in a hopeful, empowering way that inspires students to be personally accountable and look for possible solutions.
  • Teaching Science to Elementary Students: Develop new resources and techniques for teaching science to elementary students based on Next Generation Science Standards. Create hands-on in-class activities, rigorous research assignments, and interdisciplinary learning opportunities to facilitate excellent science instruction.
  • Next Generation Science Standards: A New Framework for Authentic Science Instruction: Learn all about the Next Generation Science Standards and how to develop them into practical and engaging classroom activities. Create a plan to effectively prepare your students to meet NGSS requirements.
  • Fostering Active Learning in Chemistry: Make chemistry fun and interesting again! This course shows you how to use the 5E model of science instruction to teach hard topics in chemistry in a hands-on, engaging, and inquiry-based way.

Advancement Courses offers more than 280 online, self-paced PD courses covering both foundational topics and emerging trends in K–12 education. Courses are available for both graduate and continuing education credit for your salary advancement or recertification needs.

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