Joints in a Cornstarch Analog
This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection
This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are
- Scientific Accuracy
- Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
- Pedagogic Effectiveness
- Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
- Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page
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This page first made public: Jun 18, 2004
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
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Content/concepts goals for this activity
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
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Description of the activity/assignment
For the exercise, I prepare a cornstarch-water mixture a few days in advance and pour it into plastic petri dishes. I add a "flaw" to each dish (typically a small pebble). As the cornstarch dries, vertical joints develop.
In class, each group of 3-4 students is provided a petri dish of desiccated cornstarch. Students are asked to draw a map of the joints, paying particular attention to intersection angles. (The joints curve to intersect at 90 degrees.) They determine relative ages of the joints using abutting relationships. (Typically 3-6 generations of joints.) Students next dissect the sample and describe the surface textures of the larger joints and the location of the flaw. The cornstarch produces beautiful plumose structure (hackles). Students then interpret the joint propagation direction from the surface textures, and note the origin of the joint. (Typically, a first- or second-generation joint initiates at the flaw.) Students discuss the role of flaws in the initiation of joints in their groups.
Determining whether students have met the goals
Download teaching materials and tips
- Activity Description/Assignment (Acrobat (PDF) 21kB Jun10 04)
- Instructors Notes (Acrobat (PDF) 7kB Jun10 04)