Science Theatre

What’s the Matter?

Grade level: Upper elementary

What’s the matter? Everything! Students learn that everything around them is made of atoms and that atoms combine to create molecules. Molecules are continually expanding and contracting, changing states of matter and reacting with other molecules to form new substances. The properties of solids, liquids, gases and plasma are compared and contrasted as students participate in experiments in which solids become liquids, liquids become gases, gases become solids and solids become gases. In addition, they learn to identify physical changes in the states of matter and chemical reactions between different substances. During the presentation, the following curriculum alignments are made:

1) identify parts of an atom
2) compare the properties of different states of matter
3) identify the changes in states of matter
4) understand the effect of temperature change on states of matter
5) explore the difference between physical and chemical changes
6) hypothesize the outcome of experiments.

Note: Curriculum alignments based on requirements for Hamilton County, Tennessee and include 1.2.2, 1.11.1, 1.12.1,
1.13.1, 2.12.1, 2.13.1, 3.12.1, 3.13.1, 4.12.spi.1, 4.12.spi.2, 4.12.spi.3, 4.13.spi.1, 4.13.spi.2, 5.12.spi.3, 5.12.spi.5, 5.13.spi.2,


Lego building blocks assorted sizes

1. Explain that atoms are very, very, very small things that make up all other things. Atoms are too
small to see with the eye or even under a microscope.

2. Take several of the smallest Legos (one bump) and explain that atoms are like these smallest Legos. Atoms can be all alone or can join with other atoms just like themselves.
3. Take several of the same size Legos and group them together. Explain that all the one bump Lego’s are the same and all the 4 bump Legos are the same. Elements are the same kind of atoms and can’t be split into other kinds of atoms. Examples of elements include hydrogen, oxygen and carbon.
4. Snap together several different sizes of Lego’s to create something recognizable: a boat, a person, a tower, etc. Explain that different kinds of atoms can join together to create bigger molecules which can
join together with other molecules to make matter. For example, water is made of 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom. Carbon dioxide is 1 carbon atom and 2 oxygen atoms.


Small, clean metal container with a resealable lid
Adhesive tape
Soda bottle top
3 wooden pencils

Do this:
1. Fill the metal container full of water. The water should almost touch the lid when it is on so that there is very little air space. Press the lid down on the can very tightly.
2. Put the bottle top on the lid. Put two pencils under the container. Put the remaining pencil on top of the bottle top. Wind the tape around each end of the pencil to secure the pencils to the can. Freeze overnight. What happened? Is this consistent with other types of liquids? What is the significance of this exception?

The Outcome: Water expands rather than contracts as it cools and turns into ice. As it expands it presses against the container. It pushes so hard that it forces the lid up and breaks the pencil. The expanding ice is so strong that the container’s sides may get pushed out as well. Most substances contract as the temperature falls. Water is different – it expands! This unique property enables ice to float.