Saturday, September 25, 2010

Science of Color

Every week, Madison (my 10-year old daughter) and I teach an afterschool science club for K-2nd graders.  We learned the experiments and activities from Steve Spangler (awesome speaker and science guy extraordinaire).  The links to the complete descriptions of the experiments and the products we used connect you to his website – .

Lesson 1

Science of Color, Polymers, and “Sol”
Science Standards Addressed:
  • ·      Use observation and questioning skills,
  • ·      Describe the relative size of objects,
  • ·      Know that matter is made of things to small to be seen with the naked eye (atoms and molecules),
  • ·      Conduct simple experiments.

Plus we snuck in some speaking and listening standards like asking questions, expressing ideas, following multi-step directions, and participating in discussions.

See a similar afterschool science lesson that we did in 2009 at

As the children arrived we played the song True Colors, by Cindy Lauper

10 minutes
When the children arrived we played Color Name Game to get to know each other’s names and build a sense of community. Each person in the team thinks of a color that begins with the same letter as their first name (with younger children, a favorite color or ANY color will do).  Then they go around the circle clockwise, introducing themselves by their color name and first name.  Blue Billy, Red Rebecca, Chartreuse Charlie, Violet Vanessa, etc.  Repeat, but this time the first person says their own name, the second person says the first person’s and their own name, the third person says the first two people’s name and their own name, and so on…until the last person attempts to say everyone’s name in order ending with their own name.  Repeat this time going counter clockwise. 

10 minutes
Next we had a colorful afterschool snack of blueberries, red cherry tomatoes, and green grapes.  We told them the game we played and something observable about the traits of the snack were clues about the science topic of the day.  We asked them to predict what the topic might be.

While the kids ate, we snuck in some literacy. Madison read White Rabbit’s Color Book by Alan Baker – a book about a white rabbit who dips himself into different colored paints and learns about color mixing by dipping himself into different cups of paint.  After a shower he dips himself into all the colors and learns that all the colors together make brown.

15 minutes
Then we began the first step of making “Test Tube Rainbows.”
Directions: We filled small plastic cups ¾ full with water and placed 1 tablet of “True Colors! Fizzing Color Tablets” into each cup. We discussed what the kids were observing, made lots of guesses, and asked lots of questions as the fizzing tablets dissolved and the water became red yellow, and blue.  We talked about the 3 states of matter and observed that we added a solid to a liquid and created a gas!   Then we added about a teaspoon of “Jelly Crystals” - super absorbent polymer crystals. 

We discussed how all matter is made up of things that are too small to see with our eyes (atoms and molecules) and that polymers are long chains of molecules.

Then we set the cups aside for an hour to let the crystals fully absorb the water. (Kids could also experiment with how different types of liquid are absorbed).

15 minutes
Then we began the “Is black really black?” experiment. 
We filled small plastic cups halfway with water.  Near the center of a round piece of filter paper, the kids made small dots of black using black Vis-à-vis (water soluble) markers.   They cut green pipe cleaners in half and dipped each piece in water and shook off the excess.  This helps jump-start the wicking action.  Then we stuck each pipe cleaner through the center of each piece of round filter paper and placed the filter paper over the rim of the cup so that one end of the pipe cleaner was touching the water. 

Then we put this experiment aside and worked on the next experiment. Eventually the water was sucked up the wick and drawn into the filter paper.  As the water crossed over the black ink it dissolved the ink, and carried it from the center toward the edge of the filter paper. The bursts of colors we observed on the filter paper proved that black is really a combination of colors. The science of chromatography!

20 minutes
While waiting for the crystals to absorb the water and the black to be separated, we worked on our Sharpie Science T-Shirts - an activity similar to the previous chromatography experiment.  We made small designs about the size of a quarter on white t-shirts.  Then we dropped rubbing alcohol on the designs very slowly.  The alcohol spreads across the fibers of the t-shirt and acts as a SOLVENT on the Sharpie ink – producing nice bursts of color.  We talked about the meaning of words like disSOLve, and SOLution, SOLid, SOLubility, and SOLvent. It is a science of SOL – tie dyed t-shirt. 

To sneak in a little more literacy, while working on our shirts, my Madison read A Rainbow of my Own by Don Freeman, a book about a boy who day dreams about what would happen if a rainbow could stay and play instead of fading away.

10 minutes
Then we continued our Test Tube Rainbow experiment.  We observed and described what happened to the super-absorbent polymer crystals – now fully hydrated.  We measured and described the relative size of both a dehydrated crystal and an expanded and hydrated globs and compared the two.  Then the kids put a layer of red crystals in the bottom of a Baby Soda Bottle, followed by a layer of yellow, then blue and finally a red layer. 

At first there are only red-yellow-blue-red layers, but as the colors mix (overnight) the area where the red touches the yellow becomes orange, the area where yellow touches blue becomes green, and the area where blue touches red becomes purple.  The next morning the kids can observe their rainbow tubes that now have distinct red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple layers.  Sorry indigo and violet!

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