The Chemist's Carnival: Exploring chemical and physical changes

We are wrapping up our study in physical science, and one of our final skills is observing and identifying physical and chemical changes. I knew I wanted to create a learning opportunity that would truly challenge my students in every aspect of their scientific knowledge to practice identifying these changes. So I present.....the Chemist's Carnival. I will be sure and link all of my resources for the carnival at the end of this post! 

Task One: The Operation Challenge 

As the students entered the carnival, the room was filled with excitement. I welcomed each student and had them sit directly in the front of the room. They were beyond excited at this point. I then said...."welcome to YOUR carnival. Students, today you will be in charge of the Chemist's Carnival."  Again, cheers of joy! I then went another step...."Unfortunately students, we have a big problem on our hands. The manuals for running each machine were "misplaced" during construction."  I went on to explain that they would have 20 minutes to figure out a way to get the carnival up and running. At this point, there would be no was up to them to make this happen. 

Note: I DID NOT allow them to touch or try any machine. They simply had to design a plan. They could make observations, but no trial and error. That could have been a disaster!

Within 15 minutes, my fifth graders had the entire class organized into stations. They quickly got their ipads up and running. Next up...they even identified the brand of each machine to quickly locate the operation manuals and YouTube videos. They also recognized the need for materials and measurements. They found the recipe to create each food along with the cooking times and baking temperatures. Research, analysis, and problem solving at its finest.

I was completely blown away to say the least. 

Task Two: The Creation Challenge

By this point, we had experts for each machine. When I tell you these kids knew exactly how they were going to operate each machine...they knew! 100% they knew. I then told them that their next task would be to go into operation. The class quickly realized (on their own) that they would need to regroup. They then divided up into expert teams. They placed one expert for each machine into a group. This was perfect. During this challenge, they had to use their knowledge to operate and cook each food. This included mixing any and all ingredients (measurement skills). 

They were also charged with one more mission: While the cooking process was in action, they would need to make strong scientific observations to identify changes occurring within the matter. At the end of the cooking process, they had to use their observations to make a scientific inference as to whether they thought the food had undergone a chemical or a physical change. 

Again, another time restraint. They had 20 minutes for each station. 

Task 3: Close reading for textual evidence

Finally, the students were given a reading passage. I found some information online about each food. They had to use their close reading skills that we've been working on to interpret each technical text. The texts did not explicitly state whether the food had undergone a chemical or a physical change. Rather it implied the change that occurred. After reading, they had to make a second inference using textual evidence. 

Finally, they used both their scientific observations and textual evidence to draw a conclusion about the change that each food represented. 

So what were our carnival stations? 

Station 1: Cotton candy
This was definitely a student favorite and was quite tricky. Cotton candy simply goes through physical changes as it goes from sugar (solid), to a liquid once heat is added, and then back into a solid as it "slingshots" back out of the spinning head. 

Station 2: Funnel cakes
Of course as with most baking, funnel cakes go through a chemical change. 

Station 3: Popcorn
Contrary to popular belief, popcorn is simply a physical change. Pressure is added (through steam) that allows the popcorn to pop. The corn kernel is simply inverted meaning what was on the inside is now on the outside. 

Station 4: Hot dogs 
Of course when heat is added to a meat and changes the composition of the protein, the meat has undergone a chemical change. 

Station 5: Sno cones 
Since the shape of the ice is the only thing that has changed, a sno cone is a physical change. The syrup can also be identified as a solution - another physical change. 

This carnival theme could easily be incorporated with any content: 

  • Menu creation - practice of counting money, making change, adding amounts, etc. 
  • Figurative language - describing the foods using vivid vocabulary 
  • Adjectives - using strong words to describe 
  • Research - identifying where these foods originated and how they came to be 
  • Descriptive paragraphs - turning research into an informational text 
  • PBL - designing and running a successful operation (carnival) 
  • STEM - You could easily create STEM challenges to match each station 

Truly, the sky is the limit. 

Where do I find my materials and how do I afford it? 

I will link some of the materials down below if you would like to purchase the machines. However, my philosophy is beg and borrow. It's all about planning ahead. Ask around. You will be surprised at how many people might actually have an air popper (which is common), a sno cone machine, hot dog maker, etc. Contact a local party company and see if they will donate a cotton candy machine to the cause for a few hours. Again, you will be surprised at how many people will actually say yes. Visit thrift stores...they have the best materials. I definitely do not purchase everything that is needed because who can afford that? I call this concept...making it happen. Find a way to make learning come to life. People often use money as a road block to not being able to do these types of lessons. Now call me crazy, but I refuse to let something like money determine how I am going to teach. I will ask around, find a way to raise the funds, borrow materials, etc. until I get the job done. I get this question often, and honestly this is the only way that I know to answer it! No, my school does not fund my materials for room transformations. Actually, I don't even ask them to do so. Don't limit yourself. Accept the challenge. Find a way to make the impossible...possible! I promise you will be so happy you did! 

Carnival Finds: 

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