MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Beginning Scientific Inquiry with Water Kits

Beginning Scientific Inquiry with Water Kits

Jaci Sullivan, Barton Open School, Minneapolis, Minnesota, based on the completion of the Foss Water kit
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Students will use their prior investigations with the Foss water kit to help create controlled scientific investigations. Groups will create a scientifically oriented question to further investigate water. They will create a posterboard to show the question, procedure, data, and conclusion of their inquiry. Students will present their inquiry investigations during a "poster walk."

Learning Goals

This activity promotes critical thinking, data analysis and synthesis of ideas. The skills of questioning, possibly equipment operations, observation, organization and presentation of data and cooperation with peers. The activity is designed for students to participate in a controlled scientific experiment.

They will collect, organize, analyze and present data from their investigation.

This requires students to ask questions that can be investigated; create a procedure or variation from an investigation they have tried in the Foss kit; organize data using graphs, pictures, tables etc; and come to a conclusion based on their data and evidence.

Concepts Concepts investigated may include one or more of following:

  • the liquid, solid, or gaseous states of water;
  • expansion and contraction of water as it warms and cools;
  • surface tension of water pulls it together into the smallest possible volume;
  • water beads or is absorbed by different surfaces;
  • and surface area of a liquid affects the rate of evaporation.

Key vocabulary words

  • beading,
  • absorbing,
  • evaporation,
  • condensation,
  • density,
  • surface tension,
  • expansion,
  • contraction,
  • procedure,
  • conclusion

Context for Use

This is an activity that can be done in an upper primary classroom-3/4, divided into smaller learning communities.

This activity would take about two weeks, one hour a day.

You will need-

  • containers, droppers, thermometers, tin foil, wax paper, and trays from FOSS kit
  • classroom supplies - poster board, markers, scissors
  • supplies asked for by students
  • *Students should have used the measurement tools and equipment during their Foss kit investigations

According to Benchmarks for Science Literacy, 1B, 2, 3, Project 2061, students should know that "People can often learn about things around them by just observing those things carefully, but sometimes they can learn more by doing something to the things and noting what happens."

Students will create their investigations after completing investigations from the Foss water kit. This activity is easily adaptable to smaller groups who have done investigations before.

Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Lab Activity

Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)

Subject: Chemistry:General Chemistry:Properties of Matter, Physics:Fluid Mechanics:Surface Tension,
Resource Type: ActivitiesClassroom Activity, Lab Activity
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity is used to introduce inquiry investigation to students with familiar materials. They will be creating testable questions using materials that they have had previous experiences with. I am focusing on this activity happening as a culminating activity for the Foss water kit.

Introduce this activity by brainstorming what students have previously investigated with their Foss kits. Make a list. Ask "what are some questions that you still have? What are some investigations that you could change to answer new questions?"

  • Students will be divided into small learning groups. Each group will be asked to come up with a question that they want to investigate. Teacher will conference with each group- What do you want to know? What are you changing? What is the procedure? What are you measuring? How does that show what you want to know? When they have had a conference with the teacher, then they can go on to step two. Teacher will review for what materials need to be acquired.
  • Each student in the group will have a job: recorder, timer, collector, measurer, etc.
  • Students can work with investigation procedures that they have already experienced or come up with their own procedure.
  • The procedure must be repeated several times.
  • Data for the investigation must be recordedin some way.
    Example: What happens to surface tension when the temperature of the liquid is raised? Then as a procedure- using a thermometer to repeat the penny dropper experiment from the Foss kit. Each time recording the water temperature and how many drops of water fit on the head of a penny. The question, jobs, materials needed and procedure steps will be recorded in their science journal.
  • Students will do procedure and record data.
  • Students will create a poster presenting their investigation results. Students will use a check off sheet to create their poster. It must include a title for the experiment; their question ; what they did (procedure); a graph, picture, or table of their data; what happened (conclusion);names of investigators and date.
  • When all posters are complete, students will do a poster walk to learn from other groups. They will have a discussion before hand addressing what their jobs are during a poster walk. Use chart paper to record. They will come up with a list of things to look for in an investigation.
  • They will have one presenter at their poster, changing when the timer goes off, three minutes. The presenter explains and answers questions.
  • The walkers will visit each poster looking for the attributes previously discussed.
  • At end of poster walk, students will have time to reflect on what they learned, what they might do differently, and new questions that they now have. They will recordthis in their science journal.

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • This activity should be done after classroom procedures, science journals and climate have been well established. It is important to know the strengths and weaknesses of your group to anticipate where you might have to step in with some guidance.

  • There are benchmarks that developmentally control the type and outcomes for student investigations.

    They maybe unable to create a procedure that goes with their question.

    According to Atlas of Science Literacy, science inquiry, Research in Benchmarks, "Fairness develops as an intuitive principle as early as 7 to 8 years of age and provides a sound basis for understanding experimental design. This intuition does not, however, develop spontaneously into a clear, generally applicable procedure for planning experiments (Wollman,1977a, 1977b).Although young children have a sense of what it means to run a fair test, they frequently cannot identify all of the important variables that they believe will affect the result. Accordingly, student familiarity with the topic of the given experiment influences the likelihood that they will control variables( Linn & Swiney, 1981; Linn et al.,1983)."

  • Having enough materials is another problem. Make sure that you know the quantity of materials you will need ahead of time.
  • This might be a great time to invite parent volunteers to work in your class. They can oversee material distribution and sit in with small groups.


Students' understanding will be assessed by the work shown on their poster and their journal entries on reflections.

If the investigations represented on the poster have all of the components on the check list- question, procedure, organized data, conclusion based on data and evidence, then they are representing the pieces that go into a scientific investigation.

This is an introduction to creating investigations.

The assessment is for the beginning understanding of scientific inquiry.


3.I.B.1, 2- scientific investigations
4.I.B.2- scientific investigations
4.I.B.3- evidence and logic
4.II.A.1- heating and cooling causes changes

References and Resources