Play with a purpose – oobleck

I like to do a pretty light hands-on activity for the first day of school.  Many of you are probably familiar with oobleck (cornstarch and water).  This is a very fun and safe system for students to play with.

This is how I do it:

The hook

Show this video and ask students to think of questions that come to mind:

Freeze the video at the appropriate point to generate discussion (I like to do this before the guy in the lab coat lets himself sink into the oobleck pool).  Ask students to write down as many questions as they can in 2 minutes and tell them not to share their questions with each other yet.  After the 2 minutesis up, give them another 2 minutes to share with a neighbor.

Now, you need to call on a few students to gather a list of questions.  Do not evaluate the questions (I always get quite a few about the program being in Spanish, or things like “why are we watching this”).  Once you have a decent list (say, 5-10), ask the students which one they want to answer.  I usually try to make sure that “is is real?” is somewhere on the list and that we are trying to answer that question (maybe along with one of their choice).  This is a good point to talk about skepticism.

Play with a purpose

Next, tell the students to grab a cup, a popsicle stick and some cornstarch.  Ask them to play with it by adding water and trying to find an interesting consistency.  Tell them to be observant and to get their hands dirty.  It’s time to “play with a purpose.”  Remind them that their purpose is to use their observations to decide if the video is real or not!

Once most of the students have a good mixture, I like to take them outside and let them really play with it.  I tell them to pour it, try to form it into a ball, throw it on the ground and see what happens, etc.

Argument based on evidence

Back inside the classroom now, I ask what the answers to our questions were.  I ask, “was the video real?” and get a resounding “YES!”  I ask the students how they know and they tell me that they just DID it – and some of them will describe how the oobleck behaved.

Now I tell the students that they just did science.  They played with materials but did so with a purpose – to answer a question with evidence.

Then we watch the rest of the video and enjoy the goofiness of it togther.  Invariably some kid asks, “can we do that?”

I wish kid, I wish…

8 thoughts on “Play with a purpose – oobleck

  1. Went well. Some kids had seen the Mythbusters episode (very small container that still took 1000 lbs of cornstarch!) so we watched that at the end. They loved that I did not hand out books or go over what everyone else goes over on the first day. It was messy, but that was part of the fun. Lots of aha moments. Made a point to mention that science is messy and often done without instructions (they liked not having step by step instructions). Could also make the point that there was no right way to do it. Some added too much water and then needed to add more cornstarch, some did it the other way around.

  2. Awesome!

    I love that you put your own spin on it. Perfect!

    I’ve found the exact same thing. The kids REALLY appreciate that you aren’t boring them with book check outs, syllabus, rules, etc. on the first day. The first day is long enough for them as it is! It sets a really good tone for the year.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. It was awesome! I had all five of my Science classes do it on our first day and they loved it. I found that about 28 to 32oz of cornstarch is just right for ten groups. (I bought a lot of cornstarch, lol.).

    Thanks a lot for the ideas. I love your play with a purpose activity ideas. This is definitely how I’m starting all my new school years!

  4. Al –

    Very cool. I just think it’s a really great way to start out the school year. The kids love it, I have fun, and there’s none of the stress brought about by boredom!

  5. Pingback: Beginning of Year | Mr. Gonzalez's Classroom

  6. I tried this expiriment and the kids were jumping around playinf with and such and they all said they will go home and make more thanks a lot

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