Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Kitchen Concoctions: The Best Bubbles

Children from Ysgol-y-Lys primary school in Wales gather to see which group of young scientists has developed the best bubble mixture

The first time I came across this activity I was still teaching full time and was attending a course run by my now colleague, Nicky Waller.  I am not going to lie to you, I had much more fun than a middle aged lady should be having with some washing up liquid and a bubble wand!  We had been challenged to investigate the proportions of three ingredients (washing up liquid, glycerine and water) to develop an economical bubble mixture that would make the ‘best’ bubbles, and I was determined that my team would ‘win’.

Top Tips: If you ask people to find a mixture that produces the ‘best’ bubbles without giving any more guidance, it is likely to lead to some interesting discussion.  After a while they will realise that they need to think about what is meant by best; it could be the size or the quantity of the bubbles or how long they last for example.

Deciding how they are going to measure bubble size is yet another challenge – my favourite that I have seen children chose over the years being … popping the bubbles on sugar paper, which leaves a lovely measurable ring!


I have delivered the session myself many times in the intervening years both as a primary teacher and in my current role.  I have run it with various groups including groups of teachers, parents and with children from nursery through to year 6, including in mixed age groups.It never fails; participants are always fully engaged and, if approached carefully, there is a high degree of relevant discussion and science learning.

Full details of the activity, including teacher notes, risk assessments and activity sheets can be found in our free resource Kitchen Concoctions


Because it can be done in mixed age groups, works well outside and is cheap enough to provide enough resources for each child to have their own equipment this activity could easily be adapted for socially distanced circumstances.  However, it does need to be approached thoughtfully if it is to move beyond being  more than ‘a fun thing to do’.  Having said that, it is also important not to move children too quickly to formally measuring and recording their recipes as they benefit from an initial period of play, exploration and discussion before formulating their method.


The challenge of devising an economic yet effective bubble mixture for a ‘toy manufacturer’ is an engaging start to this activity.  The poster is provided as part of the free online resource.
Top Tip: Do give children small containers to work with as this forces them to produce smaller quantities of bubble mixture.  I know from bitter experience that larger containers will lead to them using industrial quantities of washing up liquid!

After the initial exploratory phase, children work together to work out the ratio of ingredients that produces the ‘best’ bubbles, while keeping the costs of ingredients as low as possible (there are lots of opportunities for the application of maths at this point).  It can be tempting to organise children to work efficiently, and difficult to give children space to make their own mistakes and ‘muddle along’; for a conscientious teacher this can feel as if you are not doing your job properly.  I find that making a few explicit notes on my planning helps me to feel better about this ‘hands off’ approach.

For teachers brave enough to take this approach and then allow time afterwards for a discussion to evaluate how they worked the learning opportunities are immense, especially if there is time for children to repeat the activity.  At this stage I used to add an extra level of challenge by providing more than one brand of washing up liquid (preferably in different colours; not all washing up liquids are green).

Developing an effective product and reporting the results is engaging for participants of all ages, and helps them to understand the diversity of science related careers.  This helps to raise children's  science capital.

Children will need to find ways to present their findings to the toy manufacturer that set the challenge and this will inevitably lead to further discussion and the opportunity to use their literacy skills, and maths too if they decide to use a table and include costings.  I find that enthusiasm is maintained throughout in a way that doesn’t always happen with many other ways of recording science as children have a real reason to share their results.  If your children send their report to ciec@york.ac.uk they will be delighted to receive a reply from the ‘toy company’ that set the challenge.

This is a great activity to share with families so why not provide a link to our IndusTRY AT HOME page on your school website?


This post is by Jane Winter, one of our advisory teachers who works in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.



Monday, June 22, 2020

Sustainable Stories: Which Plastic?

This blog post is brought to you by Jane Winter, one of our advisory teachers who works in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.


Although the materials for this investigation are free and readily available, they can be a little tricky to source.  However, it is well worth taking the trouble to do this as, once you have, everything else is very straightforward.  When I have done this activity I have found that there is a real buzz in the classroom.  Moreover, you could easily provide enough equipment for a whole classroom full of socially distanced youngsters to do the activity at the same time.


The tricky bit

You will need samples of some different types of plastic. 
Sample 1: The thin clear plastic that often comes around packs of Christmas cards and in some other packaging
 Sample 2: Foam plastic (expanded polystyrene, PS) used as for takeway foods such as burgers and chips
Sample 3: Polystyrene, as used for the lids of takeaway coffee cups. The name of this plastic surprises the children, as ‘expanded’ polystyrene is commonly referred to as polystyrene, but for scientists, there are two types, and this one is un-expanded!
Sample 4: The plastic used for milk bottles (polythene, HDPE)

Each child will need a strip of each plastic cut to approximately 8 x 1 cm.  They will also need a bowl, jug or tub of water large enough to put their hand into and some table salt.

Top Tip 
This is one activity that you really must try out for yourself before letting your class lose with it.  Manufacturers sometimes change the formulation of their plastics and so they don’t always behave as you expect them to!

The fun bit
Children test each sample to see if it floats in water or in salt solution (brine) and how it reacts to being folded.  The results of their tests will let them identify what each sample of plastic is made of.  For example, PVC and polystyrene will both sink in plain water; but if salt is added the polystyrene will begin to float.
This is an important thing to be able to do as different plastics are recycled in different ways so we need to be able to identify them.  At this stage I have found that providing children with a simple table helps them to organise their data as they carry out the tests.  


Full instructions, including safety notes, for how to do the activity are provided in this free to download resource.


This activity builds on the work that children have done on materials in KS1. It helps them to develop their skills of working scientifically by sorting in a more sophisticated way.  There is a simple sorting key on activity sheet 5 of the resource which will support children develop their understanding of how keys work, as they use it to classify their plastic samples.

As children start to think about the reasons that we might need to be able to classify materials more precisely they can begin to consider why and how this science might be used in industry.  A class discussion will help them to understand that being able to use post-consumer waste makes processes more economically viable as well as more environmentally friendly.  These sorts of links help to raise children’s science capital as they see how the science that they do in school has real life applications and is relevant to their lives both now and in the future.

To coincide with InternationalWomen in Engineering day we have published a new IndusTRY AT HOME activity for you share with families.  Why don’t you put a link on your school website?

For a broader set of activities linked to this topic, please go to http://www.ciec.org.uk/resources/plastics-playtime.html which expands the topic to look at the heat insulation and shock absorption properties of plastics – and children design and test packaging to protect parcels of fragile crisps, which they post back to themselves in school – the ultimate test of their designs!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Sustainable Stories: Which washing powder?


This month’s blog is brought to you by Clare Docking, one of our advisory teachers who works with industry and schools in the East of England.

I love sharing this activity with our partner schools. children really enjoy getting stuck into cleaning the stains off fabrics using different washing products whilst at the same time improving their investigation skills.  The activity lends itself to being run with a small number of children in a mixed aged classroom – something that is a reality for many teachers at the moment.  Children can also work outdoors if the weather is fine.

Getting Ready

As the free resource explains, the only kit you will need is readily available household equipment.  Asking children to bring small samples of different washing powder, liquid or gels from home will give you a selection to compare without any unnecessary shopping trips.  You could also include the children in the preparation by working with them to produce the stained fabric ready to test.




Full details of the activity can be found in our free publication and incudes teachers’ notes, children’s activity sheets and national curriculum links.


Planning the investigation

I have found that the interactive planning tool  is a great way for children to organise their thoughts as they plan how they are going to carry out their investigation.  If children haven’t used one before, work with them to show them how they can use it to record all of the possible variables and to decide what they are going to measure and what they are going to keep the same.  They may find this easier to do if they have the opportunity to ‘have a play’ with the materials first and therefore begin to formulate their ideas about which product they think might be the most effective.  They can then decide how they can prove that their hypothesis is right!  With this in mind, make sure that you have plenty of spare stained cloths and washing product so that you still have enough left when you begin the main investigation.



Instead of using the interactive planning tool you may choose to use the post-it planning template which is provided with the resource.  This will be particularly useful if you are working outdoors.

Sharing results

In my experience children can be just as engaged when it comes to sharing their results as they are when carrying out the main activity.  Two approaches that I have seen used effectively are asking children to write to the manufacturer to advise them of their findings and writing an advertisement extolling the virtues of the most effective product.  I find that children love using phrases such as ‘Scientists found that XXX was more effective at xxx than the brand leader’ knowing that they are the scientists that carried out the test!




Perhaps children could shoot a TV commercial to explain to consumers why they think that they should buy a particular product?


I usually round off the session with our PowerPoint presentation showing the children how the scientists at one company have been able to produce a more environmentally friendly washing product. It protects fabrics from damage and prevents colours from fading during washing.  This will help children to understand that science can help us to tackle environmental problems and that science could be a worthwhile career choice for themselves in the future.


Visit  our IndusTRY AT HOME page to find a version of this activity that can be shared directly with families





Monday, March 30, 2020

Fantastic Fungi





Here, at CIEC we have decided to temporarily change the focus of our blog, from supporting teachers to teach the primary science curriculum, to supporting parents with some educational, and also enjoyable, activities to do with their children.  To kick off we are celebrating a new online publication that we launched in January.

You can also find this activity in this year’s British Science Week activity pack (Primary Activity Pack, p.23).  The activity encourages children to grow mushrooms as a sustainable source of protein.  With the correct kit, which is readily available online this is an easy activity to do at home (although, you need to remember, when accepting a delivery, that covid-19 microbes might be present on any outer packaging and remove this as soon as possible).  The activity was taken from our online resource Sustainable stories which is available to download from our website.

It was written in conjunction with a British food company, Quorn, who produce a high protein meat substitute, of the same name, from a type of fungus.   The activity aims to help children to understand that food can come from a variety of sources including animals, plants and fungi.  Also, to think about the impact that different food sources have upon the planet in terms of the resources (such as land and water) that they use.
The activity has lots of great learning opportunities. Don’t try to create a school learning environment at home as you and your child adjust to the ‘new normal’. Informal activities can lead to just as much learning in the long run.



Follow the instructions included in the kit. Mushrooms grow quickly, so this makes a great project for children to practise the skill of ‘observation over time’.  Talk with your child about the changes that they notice from day to day, perhaps including measurements as well as other aspects of the growing mushrooms’ appearance.    If children want to, this could be an opportunity to make a graph or to keep a diary (which could include drawings).  However, if you spend time encouraging children to talk about what they see, plenty of learning will take place even if nothing is recorded.  Children might also choose other ways to record what they see by taking photographs or by using an app such as PicCollage or maybe by making a time lapse or other video recording.
 An adult encourages a child to notice the changes in a growing plant

Another learning opportunity provided by growing mushrooms would be to think about the food that humans need to stay healthy.  Mushrooms are a great source of nutrients and can be cheaply and locally grown.  As long as you follow strict hygiene procedures these mushrooms will be suitable for cooking and eating which would be another worthwhile activity to share with your child.  However, do make sure that they understand that many fungi are extremely poisonous; not only would it be dangerous to eat them it is important to wash hands after handling them

Did you know…?
Fungus is not a plant or an animal but belongs to a completely different family of organisms. This family includes tiny fungi like yeast (which are used to make bread and beer), poisonous fungi (such as the red and white spotty fly agaric) and tasty treats such as oyster and chestnut mushrooms.  

Did you find this blog helpful?  Please leave a comment if you have any questions or if you have any suggestions for what you would like covered in future blog posts.


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Sustainable materials: which metal?

Full details of the activity can be found in the new CIEC publication 'Sustainable Stories and Solutions for our Planet' which can be downloaded from  http://www.ciec.org.uk/resources/sustainability.html

Sustainable materials – which metal?

In this activity you will investigate how some metals rust when exposed to oxygen in the air and water. You will learn about some metals that do not change, corrode or rust easily and so have special uses, particularly in reducing gas emissions on highly polluted roads.

It would be a wonderful way to teach the ‘Properties and changes of materials’ strand of the science curriculum for Year 5, with a particular focus on how some changes result in the formation of new materials that is not usually reversible.


The Activity: 
·         Carry out a ‘rust hunt’ to observe how some metals change colour and become weaker (corrode) when they react to substances in the environment.
 ·         Investigate which metals rust by placing everyday metal objects in saucers of shallow water. Over several days, observe which objects start to show signs of rust and which do not. Steel wool pads can be used to test for signs of rusting.
·         Begin to form conclusions about which metals rust and what causes this to happen. You could use a magnet to identify metal items that contain iron or steel.

·         Think of your own ‘rusting’ enquiry questions, such as: can iron or steel rust when there is no water? Does salt speed up rusting? Can I prevent rusting? Plan and carry out your investigation; you can ask for extra ‘kit’ if you need it.

Results from rusting activity using a steel wool pad left for two days in different liquids.


·         Research how some metals, such as gold, silver, platinum and palladium, are unique because they do not react easily, change or corrode. These ‘precious metals’ are often used to make jewellery as well as catalysts which are fitted to car exhaust systems to turn harmful gases produced in the engine into safe gases. 



Links to the National Curriculum
Y5 Properties and changes of materials:

  • explain that some changes result in the formation of new materials, and that this kind of change is not usually reversible, including changes associated with burning and the action of acid on bicarbonate of soda.



Working scientifically:
  • planning different types of scientific enquiries to answer questions, including recognising and controlling variables where necessary
  • recording data and results of increasing complexity using scientific diagrams and labels, classification keys, tables, scatter graphs, bar and line graphs 
  • reporting and presenting findings from enquiries, including conclusions, causal relationships and explanations of and degree of trust in results, in oral and written forms such as displays and other presentations