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DEnsity

HaleyJanssen&EleanorBrown
Abstract:Densityisanimportantconcepttoteachtostudents.Thisarticledescribeshowwe
goaboutteachingsuchanabstractconceptinthemostbasicandunderstandingform.Wewill
havestudentscreatetheirownexperimentaboutsinkingandfloatingandtheneventuallyhave
themconnecttheirexperimenttothereadingsassignedandteachittotheirfellowpeers.This
articlepromotesNationalGenerationScienceStandards,MSPS12andMSPS13.

ExploringDensity:Willmyobjectsinkorfloat?
Densitycanbeoneofthemostabstractideasforstudentsinscienceeducation.Itisnt
somethingthatcanbemeasuredwithasimplescale,butrathersomethingthatstudentshaveto
worktofigureout.Evenmoreso,sinkingandfloating,aconceptthatdirectlyresultsfrom
density,isanoverlookedidea.Kidsknowthingsthatsinkandfloat,fromendlessdaysatthe
pooltoplayinginthebathtub.However,aschildren,theydontpayattentiontow
hythese
objectsactthewaytheydo.Exploringthisconceptresultsdirectlyinexploringdensity,whether
kidsrealizeitornot.Throughoutthisarticleyouwillseethattheseactivitieswepresenttothe
studentsareclearlyalignedwithourobjective:
Studentswillbeabletounderstandthebasicideaofdensity.Theywillbeabletoexplain
thatdensityishowmanyatomsarecompactedintoanitem.

Gettingthemthinking
Firstandforemost,wehavetomotivatestudentstowanttolearnthisconcept.Getthem
curious,maketheminterestedinwhattheanswercouldbetowhytheirinnertubefloatsinthe
pool.First,wepresentthestudentswithatask:
Comeupwithtwolistsofeverythingyouknowthatsinks,andtheneverything you
canthinkofthatfloats.
Studentswillhavethebackgroundknowledgetocompileareasonablylargelistoftheseitems
basedontheirpreviousexperience.Itcanbequiteanengagingactivityforthemtotalkabout
theirpastexperiences,asmanykidsmentionedtheocean,pools,differentfoodstheyveeaten,

andmanyotherthingsrelatingtoobjectssinkingorfloating.Alistofpotentialthingstheywill
include:

Sinking:

Floating:

Metal

Floaties

Chair

LifeJacket

Table

Boats

Textbook

Food

Wood

Ice

Theitemsinbold,woodandice,weretwothingsthatmystudentsinaccuratelyagreeduponas
objectsthatsink.Iwasactuallyexcitedthattheyhadsomeofthesemisconceptions.Toaddress
themrightaway,Iaskedaboutthosetwoitemsinparticular.

Whatexampleshaveyouseenoftheseitemssinking?Iftheseobjectssink,what
makesthemdifferentfromtheobjectsthatfloat?Orsimilartotheobjectsthatsink?

Theinitialengagementstirredstudentsintoaction.ThequestionofWait,whydoIthinkthat?
Isonethatissopowerfulinscience.Pushingstudentstoreevaluatetheirideasandlookfurther
intotheirknowledgetomakethemdisagreewiththemselves,orbuilduponwhattheyagree
with.Weusedthesedeeperthinkingquestionstogetstudentstodiscussinstancestheyhave
seenwoodandicesink,ofwhichtheydidntcomeupwithmany.Thisgotthemtalkingandwhile
theydidntmovetheseitemsovertothefloatlist,theywereinspiredtoinvestigate.

HavingStudentsCreateTheirOwnExperiment
Comeupwithaquestion:Howdothingssinkandfloat?
Wedecidedtodoanexperimenttogivestudentssomefirsthandexperiencewithsinkingand
floating.Weknewthatmanystudentswouldhavethestrongmisconceptionthatweightisthe
factorthatdeterminessinkingandfloating,sowetriedtocomeupwithobjectstotestthatwere
verysimilarinshape/size.Weendedupchoosingtododifferentcandies,whichwasagreat
success.WeexplainedtothestudentsthattheywouldhavetheopportunitytotestoutKitKats,
HersheysKisses,MilkyWay,andThreeMusketeers.Theywouldplaceitinthewaterand
discussthedifferences,similarties,andreasonsitmightsinkorfloat.Topromptour
investigation,wehadstudentstakeituponthemselvestodecideonaquestionforour
experiment.Together,theydecidedonDoesdifferentcandysinkorfloat?Wethenasked
themtocomeupwithahypothesis.

Basedonyourpriorknowledge,whatdoyouthinkwillhappen?Thinkaboutthesecandiesand
thewaytheyaresimilar/different.Willtheyalldothesamething?Willoneofthemfloat?
Together,welistedthefewmaterialsandthenthestudentscameupwiththeprocedurein
partners.Theyhadmanydifferentideas.Shouldwetestitwiththewrapperson,orthe
wrappersoff?Wouldthatmakeadifference?Intheend,studentsdecidedtotestthecandies
withoutthewrappers.Theprocedurelookedsomethinglikethis:
1. Fillwatertothetop
2. Putapieceofcandy,unwrapped,intothewater.Observeforatleasttwentyseconds.
Recordwhathappens.
3. Repeatstep2forthe3othercandyoptions.

Inbetweenstepstwoandthree,westoppedthestudents.Stopping
theminthemiddleoftheexperimenttogivethemalittlemore
informationhelpedtoguidetheirthinkinginthedirectionwewanted
ittogo,ratherthenjustcomparingtheweightofthecandies.To
helpguidethem,wehadcuteachcandybarinhalf.Thestudents
tookalookattheinsideofthecandiescloselyandpickedapart
similaritiesanddifferences.Tofurtherthis,wesqueezedthe
candiesbetweenourtwofingers.Twoofthemeasilysquished
down,theothertwodidntchange,evenwhensqueezedhard.
Studentsthencontinuedwiththeexperiment.

BringingOurObservationsAllTogether
Aftercompletingallfourcandiesobservations,wefoundthattheThreeMusketeersandthe
KitKatfloat,whiletheHersheysKissandtheMilkyWaysink.Thestudentsmadethe
connectionthattheThreeMusketeersandKitKatwerealsothecandiesthatsquisheddown
easilybetweenourfingers.Thatcausedthemtothinkaboutthedifferencesontheinsidethat
couldbeaffectingthewaytheseitemssinkorfloat.Weaskedthefollowingquestionstoget
themthinkingmoreaboutthematerialsthecandiesweremadeofandwhatparticularlymakes
themsinkandfloat:
WhatsimilaritiescanyoufindbetweentheinsideoftheHersheysKissandtheMilky
Way?HowaboutbetweentheKitKatandtheThreeMusketeers?
Doestheweightaffectwhetheritsinksorfloats?
WhydidtheThreeMusketeersthatwasheavierfloatwhiletheMilkyWaythatwas
lightersink?
Whatwordsdoyouthinkwecanusetodescribethecompactnessofthecandies?
Afterdiscussingthecandysinsidesandthereasonswhythestudentsthinkitemssinkandfloat.
Weaskedthemwhatweshoulddonexttofurtherunderstandouranswertoourquestion,what

makesthingssinkvs.float.Theydecidedtocomeupwithalistofmoreitemsforustobring
nexttimetoseeiftheycaninvestigatemoreandfindareasononwhyitssinkingorfloating.

MakingConnectionsThroughTheReadings:(Elaborate)Addteacherquestionsintothe
article
Onourseconddayofthelesson,weopenedupbyaskingthemtotalkaboutwhatwedidlast
timewewereinclass.Thishelpedstudentsrememberwhatwetalkedaboutandbuiltsome
morebackgroundrelatingtowhatweweregoingtobedoingthatday.Afterashortrecap,we
passedoutashortreadingaboutdensity.Weaskedthemifanyonehasheardthattermbefore.
Acoupleofstudentssaidyes,buttheydidntknowwhatitmeantorhadamisunderstandingon
themeaning.Thisisexactlywhywedecidedatthebeginningofourplanningtoavoidbringing
inthetermdensityuntilthestudentscouldunderstandthecontentitself.

Oncetheyweredonereadingaboutthedensityarticle,whichexplainedtheconceptinabasic
explanation.Next,wesplitthemintotwogroupsandhadthemreadtwoseparatereadings.One
wasaboutdensityconnectedtosinkingandfloatingandanotheronewasabouthowthedensity
ofcopperisgreaterthanthedensityofplasticorwood.Botharticleswereverysimilarinsome
sensebutalsohaddifferentinformation.

Iaskedthestudentstoreaditindependentlyandhighlightitemsthattheythinkmightbe
importanttoknow.Aftertheyweredonereading,studentswereaskedtoworkintheirgroupsto
comeupwithawaytoteachtherestoftheclass.Wetoldthemtothinkoutoftheboxand
decidewhatisthemostimportantcontentinthereading,sothestudentsthatdidnthavethat
particularreadingcouldbeknowledgeableenoughtounderstandandexplainitthemselves.

Afterabout10minutesofgrouptime,wehadthemcomebacktogetherasaclass.Thefirst
grouppresentedaboutsinkingandfloating.Theyuseddifferentitemsintheclassroomto
explainwhythingsfloatorsink.Wethenaskedthestudentsaftertheypresentedtoasktheir
peersonequestionabouttheirpresentation.

Thenextgrouppresentedaboutwhycopperisdenserthanplasticorwood.Theydecidedto
sharetheirinformationbyshowingthingshowtheysinkorfloattoo,buttheyhadthestudents
talkaboutwhatsontheinsideoftheitemstheypresentedandshowedhowthingsaremore
compactedthanothers,givingaslightexplanationofdensity.

Afterhavingbothgroupsteacheachotheraboutthereadings,weaskedthemtotellushowit
relatesbacktoourexperimentfromlastweek.Theytalkedaboutwhenwecutthecandyinhalf,
whatitlookedlike.Theyconnectedthattohowdenseorcompactedsomethingiswilldetermine
iftheitemswillsinkorfloat.Ihadthemthenexplaintomewhateachcandyhadinsideusing
thetermstheyjustlearned.Theywereabletobuildtheirknowledgefromthepriorexperiment
theycreatedandcomeupwithnewtermstoexplaintheirevidencebasedonwhetheritsinksor
floats.

DoYouReallyUnderstandIt?
Inordertomakesurethestudentstrulyunderstoodtheconceptofdensity,wedecidedto
evaluatetheminformallywithadiscussionsincewehadbeentalkingalready.Westartedoffby
givingthemanitemandask,
Wouldthissinkorfloatbyusingwordswejustlearnedtodayandexplainyour
reasoning?
Studentswouldhaverespondbeforeourlessonsaying,itisheavier.Afterthelesson,they
responded
Itismorecompactedontheinsidewithatomsandtherefore,itwillsinkbecauseitis
moredense.
Thishelpedusseethattheywereabletotakethisnewinformationandconceptualizeit.We
keptaskingthemaboutdifferentitemssinkingorfloatingforthenextfewminutes.Wethen
endedthelessonwithanotherquickassessmentofwriting/drawingskills.Wetoldthem,
Bylookingatthepictureinthereadingabouthowtheatomsarecompactedmoreor
less.Pleasedrawmethedifferentcandiesweusedlastweekandtellmewhatyouthink
theinsideswouldlooklikeregardingtheatoms.

Thetwopicturestheyreferencedarebelow:

WecouldtelltheyhadagoodunderstandingofdensitybecausewhentheydrewtheHershey's
KissthepictureoftheatomslookedsimilartoaluminumandwhentheydrewtheThree
Musketeersitlookedsimilartotheinsideatomsofplastic.

Thestudentscouldmakeconnectionswithallofthedifferentactivitiesandreadingwedid
throughoutthecourseoftwodaysoflessonsandcometoconclusiononabasicknowledgeof
density.WhatIwoulddonextisintroducethemeaningofvolumeandmasssothestudents

haveanunderstandingofthatitiswhentheyeventuallyworkontheequationDensity=
Mass/Volume.