Monday, December 10, 2018

Cough Syrup: Investigating viscosity

Full details of the activity can be found in the free CIEC resource Cough Syrup which can be down loaded from

he activities in this resource look at the way a new cough syrup can be developed. Children work to identify the best conditions for growing micro-organisms to produce the active ingredient in the medicine, the best way to collect it, and the ideal consistency for the syrup. Economic and commercial factors are also considered. The activity described here invites children to investigate the effect of altering the ratios of specific ingredients on the viscosity of the resulting syrups. The aim is to find the best consistency for a cough medicine.

The Activity: Viscosity Testing

  • Activity sheet 5 (1 per child, optional)
  • 50 ml liquid glucose (available from most supermarkets or pharmacists)
  • 50 ml glycerine
  • 50 ml water
  • 20 ml measuring cylinder                                                                  
  • Small containers                                                                                           
  • Plastic spoons or stirrers
  • Measuring spoons
  • Pipettes
  • Blank sticky labels

  For the viscosity testing (depending on the test chosen)
  • 3-4 marbles
  • 1 plastic funnel
  • 1 stop clock
  • 1 30 cm length of dowel marked in centimetres
  • 1 30 x 20 cm board (or other smooth surface)

  • Begin the lesson by discussing the meaning of ‘viscosity’ with the children and explain that it is the scientific term used to describe the ‘runniness’ of a liquid. Encourage discussion about how runny a medicine would need to be, based on the children’s own experience. 
  • Show children the three ingredients that could be used to produce a syrup to carry the active ingredient in the medicine they are producing: liquid glucose, glycerine and water.
  • Next, ask the children to explain why, in a commercial environment, it is vital that a recipe is systematically recorded and reproduced so that it is identical each time? Is it important to accurately measure and record the amounts of the liquids used?  How can we ensure that the runniness is the same.
  • Ask the children how they are going to measure the viscosity of the cough syrup samples they make. Show the children the equipment listed above and get them to work in groups to think which items could be used to test viscosity (e.g. timing a marble sinking through liquid).
  • Once they have decided on a way to test viscosity the children can now begin their investigation. Encourage them to use different proportions, combinations and ratios of liquids (a total of 50 ml of any of the liquids combined is enough to obtain results).  Once a sample has been tested and recorded it can be changed to dilute or thicken and then retested provided the changes are recorded.
  • Ask the children to explain results, which combination do you think would make the best cough mixture?   Explain your conclusion. 
  • Ask the children to think about whether their tests were fair, their results reliable and whether there are any improvements that they could make to their tests.

  • Link this activity to the subject of ratio in maths.
  • Discuss the use of glucose in the recipe and the fact that sugar in medicines and food stuffs is bad for our health.

Health and Safety
  • Remind the children not to drink their samples.

  • planning different types of scientific enquiries to answer questions, including recognising and controlling variables where necessary
  • Making measurements, using a range of scientific equipment, with increasing accuracy and precision, taking repeat readings when appropriate
  • Use observations, measurements or other data to draw conclusions

Subject Knowledge

Learning Objectives
  • Know that changes occur when materials are mixed

Monday, November 26, 2018

Is Anyone Out There: Investigating craters

Full details of the activities can be found in the CIEC resource 'Is There Anyone Out There?' which can be downloaded from
The activities in this free resource, written in conjunction with the UK Space Education Agency and ESERO UK, look at the ways that scientists carry out investigations, using data such as photographs and other images, to find out about Mars and other places that are too far away for humans to visit.  Activities include looking for signs of life, comparing samples of Martian soil with soil from earth and finding out about volcanos and lava.  The activity described here invites children to investigate the effect of meteor size, mass and the height from which the meteors have fallen on the resulting craters.

The Activity: Investigating Craters

  • Challenge cards from activity sheet 8 (see image below)
  • Tray half filled with sand
  •  A variety of ‘meteorites’ (eg. marbles, rubber balls, stones)
  • Tube for safely directing/dropping/rolling ‘meteorites’
  •  Measuring device (see online resource for instructions to make one of these)
  •  Ruler·        
  • Meter stick

  • Children start by investigating the effect of dropping various masses into a tray of sand.  They then discuss which variables effect the size, shape and depth of the resulting craters.
Different groups of children are given one of the challenge cards and invited to design a fair test in response to the challenge posed.

  • Groups of children then plan and carry out different investigations depending upon the challenge card that they have been given.·         
  • After they have completed the investigation and collated their results children are invited to compare the craters that they have made with photographs of craters on Mars, to comment upon whether or not they are similar in appearance and to discuss how useful they are as a model to find out more about real craters
This table shows the depth of crater produced when dropping meteorites of identical volume but increasing mass.

  • They are also asked to think about whether their tests were fair, their results reliable and whether there are any improvements that they could make to their investigations.
  • Because this activity provides lots of scope for taking measurements and making tables it could usefully take place in a relevant maths lesson. The ensuing discussion could then take place in a subsequent science lesson.

  • To make meteorites which are the same size but different masses try wrapping objects of different mass in plasticine    

Health and Safety
  • To increase the height dropped put the tray on the floor rather than standing on a raised surface.
  • Dropping the meteorite through a tube can help to ensure that it lands safely in the tray.

Working Scientifically:
  • Take measurements, using a range of scientific equipment with increasing accuracy and precision, taking repeat readings when appropriate.
  • Report and present findings from enquiries, including conclusions, causal relationships and explanations of and degree of trust in results.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Oil for Beginners

Full details of the activities can be found in the CIEC resource 'Oil for Beginners' which can be downloaded from

The activities in this resource tell a simple story of oil, beginning with its recovery from beneath the sea bed, to its uses. The activities ‘Hard or soft?’ and ‘Making Holes’ would provide a real-life context to teach the materials strand of the science curriculum for Year 1 and Year 2, with excellent links to design and technology.      

The Activity: Hard or soft?
  • Children are asked to discuss the meanings of the words 'soft' and 'hard' and are then provided with a range of common materials, such as sponge, rubber, clay, soil, sand, cardboard, stone, cardboard etc to help extend their discussion further.
  • Children are challenged to sort the objects into ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ categories and encouraged to suggest ‘tests’ that might help them with their classification, such as scratching each object with a finger nail.
  • Confusion of categories will be addressed through further discussion and clarification. Young children often confuse properties such as ‘softness’ with ‘flexibility’ or ‘smoothness’.
  • During the activity, there are plenty of opportunities to think and talk about things, such as: How will you sort things which are soft or hard? • Why are some things soft? • Why are some things hard? • What do we use soft things for? • What do we use hard things for?
  • Children will consolidate their learning by exploring hard and soft materials in the classroom. They could sort items into P.E. hoops and learn to place items with both properties in the intersection of hoops.

The Activity: Making holes
  • Children learn that underneath the soft sand of the sea bed there is hard rock. This hard rock must be drilled through in order to reach the oil.

This image shows a 'Derrickhand' handling the upper end of a series of connected pipes as it is hoisted out or lowered into the hole.
  • Children will then use their knowledge about ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ properties to explore the effectiveness of a variety of tools (nail and hammer, scissors, junior drill, pencil, hole punch etc) to make holes in different materials.
  • Children investigate making holes in each material provided, using their suggested methods. They should decide which methods children can be attempted safely, and which methods need adult supervision.
  • Children can further their understanding of classification of objects and materials according to their properties by suggesting which tool is the 'best' for making holes in each material and why.
  • During the activity, there are plenty of opportunities to talk and think about things, such as: Which tool could make holes in the most materials? Why? • Which tool could make the least holes? Why? • Which tools were made from hard materials? • What do you think you would need to make holes in bricks or rocks?
Activity sheet 7 can be used as both prediction and recording sheet.
     Links to the National Curriculum for Science:
Y1: Everyday materials
  • distinguish between an object and the material from which it is made
  • describe the simple physical properties of a variety of everyday materials
Y2: Uses of everyday materials:
  • identify and compare the suitability of a variety of everyday materials, including wood, metal, plastic, glass, brick, rock, paper and cardboard for particular uses
  • find out how the shapes of solid objects made from some materials can be changed by squashing, bending, twisting and stretching

Working scientifically:
  • ask simple questions
  • observe closely, using simple equipment
  • perform simple tests
  • using their observations and ideas to suggest answers to questions


Key Stage 1

  • select from and use a range of tools and equipment to perform practical tasks [for example, cutting, shaping, joining and finishing]
  • select from and use a wide range of materials and components, including construction materials, textiles and ingredients, according to their characteristics

Monday, September 24, 2018

Tidy and Sort: Investigating the properties of materials

Full details of the activity can be found in the CIEC resource 'Tidy and Sort' which can be downloaded from
This resource contains lots of ideas for separating different mixtures of materials from each other.  It would be a wonderful way to teach the materials strand of the science curriculum for Y1 or to introduce and then extend the topic with Y2s.

The Activity: Sorting Materials
  • Children are given a series of problems to solve including separating paper clips from stamps, Lego from marbles and rice from sand.
  • They are supported to consider how the different properties of the materials including their size, shape and whether they are magnetic, can all be used to make the job of separating materials much easier than laboriously separating them out by hand.
The resource has some lovely illustrations, in the form of a story book, which can be used as a starting point for children's explorations.
  • The activities also give children the opportunity to select and use a variety of scientific equipment.

  • There are a series of challenges of increasing complexity so that by the end children are invited to consider how they could separate the impurities from muddy water.

Cards to support children's thinking and planning
  • Although ideas are given for ways to separate the different mixtures we would encourage teachers to give children enough time to find their own solutions.  This may include introducing a problem one day and going back to it later once children have had a chance to think about it.  
  • A nice way to do this is to set up a hands on display in the classroom that children can return to as they have fresh ideas.  Don't make the mistake of providing too much equipment straight away; it 'kinda' gives the game away if you leave a magnet next to the box of stamps and paper clips!
  • Having given the children plenty of time to consider the problems you are more likely to see a wider range of creative solutions than if they are expected to solve the problem on the day that they first encounter it.
Y1 Everyday materials:
  • distinguish between an object and the material from which it is made
  • describe the simple physical properties of a variety of everyday materials
Working scientifically:
  • ask simple questions
  • observe closely, using simple equipment
  • perform simple tests
  • using their observations and ideas to suggest answers to questions

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Pencils, Poems and Princesses; Exploring the properties of sand

This week's activity can be found in the CIEC resource 'Pencils, Poems and Princesses' which can be downloaded from

The activity can be found on page 45 and is linked to the Shirley Hughes book 'Out and About'.  This is a poetry book which celebrates the seasons, the weather and the joy of exploring a variety of materials including mud, sand and water. There are opportunities to make links with EYFS Understanding the world, Mathematics and Characteristics of effective learning and Y1 Mathematics and working scientifically.  More details can be found at the bottom of this post.

The Activity: Making Sandcastles

  • Children are given some dry sand and water and encouraged to experiment to find the consistency which makes the best sandcastles.  This gives lots of opportunities to use language such as more, less, too much and not enough as well as to describe the different mixtures. 
  • Children can also be encouraged to notice how the properties of sand alters; when it is dry it flows like water, but once wet it begins to behave more like a solid.  They could also be shown how to use a hand lens to look carefully at the sand and to notice that it is made up of tiny particles. 

All of the poems in this beautifully illustrated book could be used to teach Early Years and KS1 science as they follow two small children through the changing seasons.

  • The activity could link well with Y1 maths if children are encouraged to count how many cups of water and sand are needed to make the perfect sandcastle.  However, I would urge teachers not to rush to start measuring and recording the quantities needed too soon.  Instead, allow a period of extended exploration and play.   
  • Interestingly this is an activity that I have done with a wide range of ages from nursery children to PhD students and the only people who made any attempt to begin the activity by accurately measuring the ingredients were primary school teachers!
  • The activity can easily be sized up or down.  Children might enjoy making enough sandcastle mixture to make 'giant castles' with a builders' bucket in the outside sandpit.  Alternatively, they could make 'fairy castles' with shot glasses, teaspoons and pipettes in trays indoors.  

Suggested equipment:
Dry sand, water, buckets in various shapes and sizes, smaller containers such as shot glasses and plastic beakers, spoons, spades, pipettes

   Links to the Statutory framework for EYFS:

Areas of learning and development
  • Understanding the World
  • Mathematics

Characteristics of Effective Learning

  • Playing and Exploring
  • Active Learning
  • Creating and Thinking Critically

   Links to the National Curriculum:

Y1 Everyday materials:
  • distinguish between an object and the material from which it is made
  • describe the simple physical properties of a variety of everyday materials
Working scientifically:
  • ask simple questions
  • observe closely, using simple equipment
  • perform simple tests
  • using their observations and ideas to suggest answers to questions

Monday, September 10, 2018

Making Toothpaste

This week's activity can be found in the CIEC resource 'Healthy drinks and tasty toothpaste' which can be downloaded from

This is a series of two lessons taken from ‘Healthy Drinks and Tasty Toothpaste’.  In the first children are supported to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of some commercial toothpastes.  In the second, children use a recipe to make their own toothpaste.  
The activities primarily link to content knowledge in the Y4 curriculum for Animal including humans, but can also be linked to Y2 Animals including humans.  There are also plenty of opportunities for working scientifically (more details of curriculum links at the bottom of this post).

The Activity: 'Making toothpaste': 
  •  Children evaluate some commercial toothpastes, for example by comparing how well they stick to a toothbrush in a 'shake test', how long they take to clean some permanent marker from a tile and also taking into account aesthetic considerations such as smell, taste and appearance.

Testing homemade toothpaste to see how effective it is at cleaning permanent marker from a tile (photograph courtesy of Julie Wiskow )

  • Next, children are given a recipe so that they can make their own toothpaste which they then evaluate in exactly the same way.

Recipes for making toothpaste (the full instructions can be found in the resource).

This activity has lots of opportunities for cross-curricular links.  Julie’s class designed toothpaste cartons and advertising slogans for the toothpaste that they made. (photograph courtesy of Julie Wiskow )

Suggested equipment:
As well as the equipment and ingredients listed in the illustration above you will need the instructions for making toothpaste from pages 35 and 37 of the resource, at least one plain white tile per group, a permanent marker pen,  three different types/brands of commercial toothpaste (try and find ones that are distinctive from each other such as paste or gel, different colours and different functions such as whitening, for sensitive teeth etc.), and two toothbrushes per group of children.
Health and Safety
  • Children should wear goggles during some of these activities to prevent toothpaste getting in the eyes.
  • Be aware that recipe B, which includes gelatine, would not be suitable for vegetarian children.  You will also need to be aware of the source of the gelatine as, depending upon the religious beliefs of families in your class, you may need to avoid any that has been produced from pigs or cows.

Links to the National Curriculum:
   Y4 and Y2: Animals including humans

  • (Y4) identify the different types of teeth in humans and their simple functions 
  • (Y4) find out what damages teeth and how to look after them
  • (Y2) describe the importance for humans of .... hygiene
  • (Y2) ask questions about what humans need to stay healthy

Working Scientifically 
  • use results to draw simple conclusions
  • use scientific evidence to answer questions
  • report on findings from enquiries, including oral and written explanations, displays or presentations

Friday, August 17, 2018

Runny Liquids: testing viscosity

This week's activity can be found in the CIEC resource 'Runny Liquids' which can be downloaded from

In this activity children think about how the viscosity of a liquid affects its properties, and how this can be important for scientists in industry when they are creating different products.  The activities link strongly with the content knowledge for Year 5 'Materials' and there are also ample opportunities for working scientifically.  There are more details of curriculum links at the bottom of this post.

The Activity 'Runny Measuring': 
  • Children are given a selection of liquids to explore.  They are encouraged to predict which is the thickest and which is the thinnest.
Sheet for children to record their predictions of the comparative viscosity of various liquids
  • After talking about how scientists need to collect data children are invited to devise a way to test their predictions and to measure the relative viscosity of the liquids that they have been given. There are several suggestions for possible tests in the resource.
Children from Greengates School Stockton on Tees measuring the viscosity of a liquid.

  • Children are then supported to evaluate their own test, to consider how effective it was, whether it was fair, and whether it was accurate enough.  They are given time to refine their test and then to present their findings as clearly as possible.
Table for children to record their results

Suggested equipment:

 A range of liquids of varying viscosities (e.g. washing up liquid, mouthwash, conditioner), measuring cylinders, funnels, marbles, small beakers or yoghurt pots, paint trays, pipettes, syringes or spoons, lolly sticks, timers

Further Explorations:
  • What would happen if we poured the different liquids on top of each other? Would they mix up? Which liquid would sink to the bottom? 
  • Children could use their understanding of viscosity to explore if runniness is related to density by making their own density columns.

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

  • compare and group together everyday materials on the basis of their properties
  • give reasons for the particular use of everyday materials
  • find out how chemists create new materials
Working scientifically
  • Design a fair test 
  • Make systematic observations
  • Take accurate measurements
  • Recording data
  • Look for patterns