Friday, September 3, 2021

Potatoes to plastic: Cross curricular opportunities

In the third and final post in this series linked to CIEC's latest free resource Potatoes to plastic, Jane Winter explains how it can be used to make meaningful cross curricular links.

The OFSTED report, Maintaining Curiosity, confirmed what experienced teachers already knew, it can be beneficial to both subjects when meaningful cross curricular links are made. However, it is important to do this in a way that values both subjects rather than using one as little more than a vehicle for the other.  In English lessons the teacher should be concentrating on English learning objectives and in science upon science learning objectives. One of my pet hates is when schools, with the very best of intentions, insist that writing has to be as good in other subjects as it is in English. We don't need Vygotsky's zone of proximal development theory to tell us that children are able to do more with support than they are able to do independently. The level of writing in an English lesson is achieved because of skilled teacher support which is not available in a lesson where the teacher's energy is focused on other skills.  Having said that, I have seen great writing about science which has been done in a subsequent English lesson, the children's writing benefiting from an inspirational science experience.
It is important to give children the support that they might need with English during science lessons, but this should not be at the expense of good quality science teaching.

With the value of cross curricular approaches in mind Potatoes to plastic has suggestions for a series of lessons which can be used for English teaching.  They are designed so that the teacher concentrates upon the English learning objectives, and is not trying to juggle too many plates at once.  However, the content is likely to raise children's science capital as it is based upon the biographies of six of the scientists currently working in the award winning Green Chemistry department at the University of York.  Although the focus of the lesson is on reading and writing children learn about the range of exciting jobs that the scientists do, and also find out that scientists are 'normal' people, just like you or I with families and hobbies beyond science.

When reading about real scientists in an English lesson children learn that scientists are normal people with a range of activities and hobbies, from making lego models with their children to enjoying skiing.

The final section of this free publication concentrates upon the range of other solutions to the problem of waste that scientists have developed, from extracting citronella from orange peel to turning cocoa husks into paper bags.  There are a set of downloadable playing cards which can be used for a range of games including 'Memory pairs', 'Old Fossil' and 'Go Recycle' which highlight science solutions to environmental problems.  These could be used as an activity during a science or environmental day.  Alternatively, the link and game instructions could be shared with families so that the cards could be used at home.

The previous two blog posts in this series are still available.  You can find the one about extracting starch from potato peel here, and the one about making bio-plastic from potato peel here.  If you use any of the activities we would love to hear how you get on.  It is feedback from teachers like you that helps us to know what we are doing right and how we can get even better in the future!  
Full instructions for the English activities and the card games as well as how to turn potato peel into bio-plastic are included in this free to download publication

This is what one teacher had to say after using this resource with their class.

Our current topic is all about Endangered Species and a large part of this has been around the dangers of plastics in the oceans and different habitats; so this lesson in particular was a great experience for cross-curricular discussions, the content of which were deep and enriched. In addition to this, the vocabulary resources that accompanied the investigation were a fantastic tool to help deepen the children's understanding and allowed them to speak freely, scientifically and accurately about the processes they were undertaking. Both pupil and teacher thoroughly enjoyed the lesson.


Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Potatoes to plastic: turning potato starch into plastic

The image shows the page from the CIEC website where the resource, Potatoes to plastic, can be downloaded.
This is the second in a series of three posts about CIEC's latest free resource: Potatoes to plastic.

In the previous post I described how potato starch could be easily extracted from potato peel using simple equipment that is readily available in the primary classroom.  Here I will explain how the extracted starch can be used to make bio plastic in a few straightforward steps.  As this quote from a year 5 teacher shows, this activity is not only very engaging, but makes relevant links to the topic of Materials in the English and Northern Irish primary curricula, Earth's Materials in the Scottish curriculum and Myself and non-living things in the Welsh curriculum.

"They have absolutely loved this learning. Thank you for the opportunity to engage Year 5 in such an exciting and relevant project, which has reinforced their previous scientific learning of properties of materials (and has done so in a real-life context they will not forget!) as well as their scientific thinking. This project has led to many wonderful opportunities for cross-curricular links to reading, writing and maths too".

The procedure is even better if you are able to borrow a magnetic hotplate from a local secondary school or University, as can be seen in this demonstration.  However, even without access to this piece of scientific equipment the activity can still be carried out in a saucepan on a cooker hob.

To turn it into plastic, the potato starch need to be mixed with a small quantity of water, glycerin and white vinegar before it is heated.   The mixture is then spread out on a petri dish or saucer and left to harden.  After two or three days these simple ingredients will have set into bio-plastic.  The properties will vary depending upon the exact ratio of the ingredients and how thickly it was spread while drying.  The resource gives guidance as to how children could then investigate the properties of the finished plastic as they explore how it could be used in place of plastics derived from petrochemicals.
Children are invariably delighted with the finished bio-plastic
Experienced teachers will know that even the most engaging activity needs to be planned carefully if the potential learning is to take place. Consequently, the resource gives additional  guidance  including vocabulary prompt cards which support children to use the correct terminology as they describe what has happened.  This also supports them to link the experience to past science learning.

Children using the list of vocabulary to support them to talk about the activity in a more scientific way.

In the final post in this series I will explain how this resource can be used in English lessons and to develop children's understanding of how science is working to find solutions to other environmental problems.  
Full instructions including health and safety advice can be found in the free resource available from our website.

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Potatoes to plastic: Extracting starch from potato peel

This is the first in a series of three posts which have been written by one of our advisory teachers, Jane Winter.  They are based upon our latest free resource: Potatoes to Plastic

Frequently, scientists are the bearer of bad news.  Every day we read about mounting evidence of climate change, loss of bio-diversity and the prevalence of micro-plastics in the ocean. However, did you know that as well as identifying environmental problems scientists are able to develop solutions to some of them?  The world leading Centre of Excellence in Green Chemistry where scientists work on finding new ways to overcome ecological issues is based at the University of York.

CIEC has been working with some of the scientists from Green Chemistry to develop our latest resource, Potatoes to Plastic which looks at how scientists have been able to develop useful products from a range of waste materials which might otherwise go to landfill.  As well as looking at several examples of this scientific approach to environmental problems, this free publication looks at one example, making bio-plastic from potato peel, in more depth.  Teachers are supported to carry out some straight forward activities with their class which link closely to the materials strand of the KS2 science program of study.  They extract starch from a waste product, potato peel, and then turn that starch into plastic.

Extracting starch from potato peel does not require a lot of expensive equipment. 

I have found the raw material for this activity easy to source.  Although not all chip shops peel their own potatoes, once you find one that does they will almost certainly be prepared to let you have the peel for free. Alternatively, you may find that your school dinner provider is able to give you some.  Another possibility is to use wrinkly old potatoes that have started to sprout and which might otherwise have been thrown away.

Blending the potato peel with water

First of all you will need to blend the peel and a generous quantity of water in a food processor or blender. Give each pair of children a small jug full of the mixture each.  They will need to filter the peel and water mixture by squeezing it through the foot of an old pair of tights or pop socks.  This will produce a white liquid which is a mixture of potato starch and water.  The rest of the solids are left behind and can be disposed of on a compost heap.

Pouring the blended potato peel and water into a pop sock.

After a few minutes the potato starch will start to settle at the bottom of the container.  Once this has happened the water can be poured carefully off to leave behind the wet starch.  At this point children will be amazed to find that they are left with 'oobleck' which is usually made by mixing cornstarch and water.  That is because the starch found in potatoes is exactly the same as starch found in corn.  Once children have finished playing with the oobleck it will need to be left in a shallow container such as a saucer or petri dish to dry.  After a few days all of the water will have evaporated and you will be left with dried potato starch.  

In the next post I will explain how you can turn the potato starch into plastic.  However, if you cannot wait why not check out the full instructions for both activities on the website.  This includes teachers' notes, children's activity sheets and health and safety advice.  This is what one teacher who recently carried out the activity with their class had to say about it.

'Absolutely fantastic! The children have never felt so alive, enthused and engaged in a science lesson that I have taught. They absolutely loved the practical element of blending the potatoes, filtering the starch and using interesting 'ingredients' to create the plastic. Their scientific skills were so clear and they were all extremely careful in measuring their resources and ensuring the investigation plan was carefully followed. The time taken for the excess water to evaporate and leave the powdered starch behind kept them even more engaged as they spoke about nothing for days until it was ready to use'.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Out of this world science: linking your teaching to space exploration


This post is brought to you by Jane Winter who is one of our advisory teachers based in York and Lincolnshire

This week sees the launch of CIEC's latest IndusTRY AT HOME activity.  As teachers who have worked with us before will know, InusTRY AT HOME is a suite of activities that we have adapted to make user friendly for families.  Each one is based on one of our existing tried and tested science lessons.  They require minimal equipment that can be readily found around the home.  The instructions are written specifically with families, rather than trained teachers in mind.  

The whole set of activities has been very well received by teachers, families and children alike and we are told that they are used in a number of ways.  For example, individual activities being set as homework or the link to the whole page of activities being added to the school website.  Families have also stumbled across IndusTRY AT HOME on the internet and have accessed them independently of school.

Teachers have also told us that they use the activities in their day to day teaching, often sending the activity home after they have used it in the classroom.  Another way that these can be used in school is to do a related, but completely different, practical lesson.  Since all of the IndusTRY AT HOME activities are taken from one of our resources this is easy to do.  This latest activity, for example, is from our free to download publication Is Anyone Out There? which contains eight other activities as well as this one about investigating craters.

All of our free to download resources, including this one, can be found on our Primary Website

One of the activities from this publication that I have enjoyed doing with children is to give them different soil samples to test in the same way that scientists will test any samples that are brought back from Mars (recipes are provided in the resource for the preparation of the different samples).  This is an unusual and exciting way to approach the study of rocks and soils.  As well as investigating the properties of the different soil samples children test them for signs of life.  As you can imagine, there is great excitement when signs of life ARE found in one of the samples. If you would like to find out how to do this you will need to download the resource.

Another great activity from this publication is one which explores volcanos (while helping children to consolidate their understanding about changing materials).  I must tell you now that there is no truth to the rumour that the involvement of chocolate has any bearing on my enjoyment of this particular activity!

A teacher exploring volcanos at one of our CPD sessions.

I hope that I have tempted you to check out this lovely publications.  As ever, if you use it with your class we would LOVE to hear how you get on.  Don't forget, if you would like to be kept up to date with what is happening at CIEC you can sign up for our newsletter by emailing  We will never send more than one email a month and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Pipeline shapes: Which shape is best?

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.

Most, children are very observant and will have noticed pipes in their everyday environment. They will be able to tell you that some pipes carry water or sewage. They may have noticed drainage pipes by roads or pipes leading to gutters. This activity prompts them to consider a substance that is often piped to our houses - natural gas.

Children enjoy practical challenges and this one asks them to construct and test paper pipes to investigate which shape (cylinder, cuboid, and triangular prism) is best for a pipe. In doing this, they are also led to think about the properties of gas. Gas is all around us, but children may not fully understand its properties as it is not tangible like liquids and solids. By blowing up a long balloon inside a paper pipe the children can observe what happens. They see the air inflating the balloon and changing the shape of the paper pipe. This provides an ideal opportunity to explore the properties of gas further and explain that gas under pressure is naturally trying to expand and push out in all directions .Cylindrical pipes are best as the pressure pushing outwards is evenly distributed around a cylinder and does not distort the shape. This investigation is easy to set up as it involves using easy to obtain resources.

Three, two, one – investigate!
  • Children love a challenge.  Tell them that they are engineers for this investigation and an important part of an engineer’s job is finding answers to problems by carrying out practical investigations and tests.
  • Start the fair test investigation by telling the children that scientists at Seabed Engineering would like their help. The company lays pipelines on the seabed for other companies to collect natural gas from under the sea and send it back to shore inside the pipes. The long pipes which they lay along the seabed are cylindrical in shape, but they would like to know if there are any other shapes of pipes which might be better than cylinders. 
  • First, explore the idea of ‘pipes’ with the children. Where have they seen pipes before? Discuss examples in their immediate environment and the pipes they can see in the world around them.  What substances do pipes carry? Tell them about the pipes carrying natural gas from the seabed.
  • Have all the resources to hand and talk through their challenge with them, showing them how to cut out the paper pipes using the templates and then how to inflate the balloon inside the pipe.
  • Once the children have decided on what they need to keep the same for a fair test, they need to consider how they can measure results. How will they measure the success of the differently shaped pipes? The activity lends itself to a variety of measuring and recording methods, so it is ideal if you are working with different age groups.  They could draw, photograph, or describe what they see happening or use post-its to jot down ideas and conclusions.
  • The children will love to report back findings to the class and ultimately to Seabed Engineering in a variety of ways e.g. videos, reports, letters, or photos with captions

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

Top Tips

Here are some tips to make your investigation a success:

  • This activity is perfectly suited for COVID secure working as it can easily be carried out individually, in pairs or small bubbles.
  • Make sure the joins in the pipes are securely fastened with Sellotape.
  • Put the balloon inside the pipe and then gently inflate the balloon with the balloon pump.
  • Tell the children not to over-inflate or burst the balloons.
We have produced a linked IndusTRY at home activity for children to share with their families.  Why don't you put a link on your school website

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Fun with Foam: What Makes Good Foam?

 Children love to play with foam, whether when mixing bubble bath and water in the bath to create the biggest foam possible or using shaving foam for sensory play when younger, as in this picture.

In this fun investigation the children make foam and then devise a way of measuring it. It is easy to set up as it involves using everyday household materials for the foam production - a simple mixture of soap, oil and water for the test ‘sample’ and commercially produced bubble bath for comparison.  Children enjoy predicting which product they think will create the biggest and longest lasting foam and then testing to see if they are right. This activity will prompt them to consider the importance of carrying out a fair test.

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

Three, two, one – investigate!

  • Children love a challenge, so start the fair test investigation by telling them that scientists at Sumptuous Skincare Ltd have sent a sample of their new bubble bath. They would like the children to use a method of foam production to test how the sample they have produced compares with one or more known brands of creamy bath foam.
  • First, explore the idea of ‘foam’ with the children. Where have they seen foam before? Give them some examples, such as shaving foam, bath foam, foam on top of milky coffee or foam on the sea on a windy day.  What qualities does foam have and how is it different from lather or bubbles? How do the children think that foam is produced?
  • Have a selection of baths foams to hand, including the pre-made ‘test sample.’ Ask them how they are going to ensure that they test all the different foams so that all conditions are kept the same. How will they make the foam? (Ways to produce foam include blowing through a straw, stirring, whisking, beating or shaking).
  • Once the children have decided on what they need to keep the same for a fair test, they need to consider how they might measure results. How will they measure the success of the foam created? The activity lends itself to a variety of measuring and recording methods, so it is ideal if you are working with different age groups. 
  • The children will love to report back findings to the class and ultimately to Sumptuous Skincare in a variety of ways such as videos, reports, letters or photos with captions.

 Top Tips

Here are some tips to make your investigation a success:

  • This activity is perfectly suited for COVID secure working as it can easily be carried out individually, in pairs or small bubbles as equipment is inexpensive and easily available.
  • Encourage the children to spot mistakes in their own processes and hold mini plenaries to discuss these e.g. did they use the same number of whisks to create the foam?
  • One easy way to conduct this investigation is to mark graduations of 100 ml up the side of a two-litre pop bottle. The bath foam and 300 ml of water are added, the lid tightened, and the bottle shaken vigorously. Ten shakes later, how much foam is produced?
  • For accurate measurement, use a pipette or syringe to add the soap to water.

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.