Teaching Properties of Matter: Solving A Science Puzzle

I may have been called the queen of stations at more than one point in my teaching career, and I will fully admit — I LOVE STATIONS! Stations are a great way to get students moving while efficiently and effectively introducing a number of examples at once.  Stations are perfect for Explore activities, but I often use them for the Elaborate/Extend phase of the 5E Model as well. The stations activity for my properties of matter unit is a perfect example of this!

Back in the day when I taught fifth grade, using stations to teach properties of matter was one of the most memorable experiences in my class.  I know it sounds silly and simple, but my students loved this activity… although that may have been because it was followed by a baking challenge and cupcakes.  And who doesn’t love cupcakes?

Basically, my unit on properties of matter focused around a science puzzle — a mystery.  We were going to bake a cake, but our ingredients got all mixed up. Now, I wasn’t sure which was the sugar, which was the salt, what was baking powder, iodine, baking soda, or flour! What a mess! And we all know, it’s dangerous to just taste mysterious ingredients.  We were going to need to solve this puzzle a different way.


We did a lot of exploration activities where students observed matter of all shapes, sizes, colors, densities, magnetisms, conductivities, and so on and so forth. (I realize I made up some words there).  Students kept logs in their science notebooks throughout these activities, knowing that their investigations would help them identify the mystery substances at the end of the unit. And make the very best cupcakes possible!



Elaborating On Properties of Matter

After moving through the Explore and Explain phases, I wanted to give my students another chance to practice identifying materials based on their properties in preparation for our final, three dimensional assessment.

properties of matter

I set up eight station activities with materials and cards that described some common properties of matter. At each station, students first had to decide which property would be most helpful in identifying the materials at the station.  Then, they used that property to determine what material they were working with. The stations also touched on physical and chemical changes.

By the time my students finished the unit, they were ready to identify their mystery substance.  I set up a lab station in the hall, and students exited class to complete their assessment. Using the resources I set up, they tested the substance, drew conclusions from prior experiences in our lab, and then constructed a C-E-R essay to answer the question, What is our mystery substance?

While I graded their essays a few classes later, my students celebrated the end of the unit by having a bake-off.  Groups of students applied what they had discovered in the mystery lab to their cupcake recipe. This activity engaged students in the Science and Engineering Practice of Constructing Arguments from Evidence, as students had to convince their group mates of their conclusions when disagreements arose.  

Overall, this was one of the most engaging units of the year.  Again, admittedly, probably because of the cupcakes. It’s good to know NGSS-aligned instruction is not only effective… it can sometimes be yummy, too.

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