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.

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