K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Learn more

Related pages

  • Exploring properties of matter with submersibles: This inquiry-based learning activity allows students to explore the relationships between mass, volume, density, and buoyancy as they manipulate various materials to construct a submersible “vehicle” for deep-sea research.
  • Submarines: Using mass, volume and density to create a working submarine: The students will design a submarine that will float, subsurface, sink, and return once again to the water's surface by external manipulation of the submarine outside of an aquarium. In order to accomplish this, the students will use not only the concepts of mass, volume, and density but will also integrate buoyancy and ballast in their submarine design.
  • Density of common liquids: Each lab team will determine the density of water and one of the sample liquids. The class will then compile their information.

Related topics


Please read our disclaimer for lesson plans.


The text of this page is copyright ©2008. See terms of use. Images and other media may be licensed separately; see captions for more information and read the fine print.

Learning outcomes

I use this lesson to set the stage for lab procedures, scientific process, and group cooperation. It incorporates many basic tools of science equipment and is easy to walk the whole class through together. The lab can serve as the model for future work.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

1.5 hours


Materials listed in 1–5 should be supplied one per group of students.

  1. Classroom balance and metric weights.
  2. Graduated cylinders (fifty milliliter minimum)
  3. An assortment of small objects that will fit in the graduated cylinder. These can be bought commercially from scientific supply catalogs or you can make your own collection. Suggested items might include marbles, small plastic balls, coins, corks, clothes pins.
  4. Calculators
  5. Water and extra container to pour excess water.
  6. Lab Sheet xls | txt—one per student.


  1. Discuss vocabulary associated with lab and identify all the terms below as properties of matter.
    1. Density: mass per unit of volume (mass divided by volume; mass/volume), allows you to compare things of unequal sizes; units are g/ml or g/cm3.
    2. Volume: amount of space something takes up.
    3. Weight: determined by gravity (force of attraction between objects).
    4. Mass: a measure of inertia (resistance of an object to change in its motion).
  2. Review Scientific Process:
    1. Hypotheses (making educated predictions).
    2. Experimenting (controlling variables such as water level in this lab).
    3. Observations.
    4. Comparisons and results.
  3. Review lab equipment and safety:
    1. Identify equipment.
    2. Demonstrate use of equipment.
    3. Discuss lab safety.
  4. Grouping:
    1. Assign groups (3–4 students to a group) and jobs within groups.
    2. Discuss rules of group cooperation.


  1. Have each group collect equipment for lab and setup work area.
  2. Students should individually complete Part I: Hypotheses of the lab sheet in ink through direct observation of each object. Encourage them to use appropriate measurement units with each number written (units are listed on the lab sheet).
  3. Once you have determined that Part I is complete, instruct students to begin Actual Measurements (Part II of lab sheet). Each student should have the opportunity to do at least one of the 4–5 objects given to measure and calculate.
    1. Mass: use classroom balance to get a mass in grams of each of the small objects. Record your answers.
    2. Volume: use 25–50 milliliters of water in graduated cylinder (depending on size of cylinder). Carefully lower small object into the water. Observe the change in the water level. Calculate the difference between the beginning water level and the ending level. Record your answer in milliliters. Pour water and object out into extra container. Remeasure the water into the cylinder and repeat for next object.
    3. Density: calculate the approximate density of each of the items using the calculator and the measurements collected for mass and volume. The formula for calculating density is mass divided by volume. Record answer using units g/ml or g/cm3.
    4. Answer the question, “Does it float?” using yes or no.
  4. When all objects have been measured and calculations for density are complete, students can compare the actual results to their Part I hypotheses and discuss their findings within the group. Suggest they ask themselves:
    1. Do our findings seem reasonable?
    2. Is this what we expected to find (why or why not)?
  5. Instruct students to clean up their work areas and return materials to their proper locations.
  6. Have students return to their seats with their lab sheets. Complete the activity by having each group communicate orally their predictions and results. Finally, assign a 2–3 paragraph summary of the activity for students to do individually on the back of their lab sheets. Emphasize proper writing style techniques to reinforce communication objectives. Consult with the Language Arts teacher on your team for more information.


  1. Lab sheet.
  2. Written summary of activity.
  3. Observation of lab participation and group cooperation.

Supplemental information

The science textbook your system has adopted should provide you and the students with additional background information on matter.


Science labs can be fun for both teacher and students, but many teachers tend to shy away from them because they can also be chaotic when we don’t pre-plan. Organization and advanced setups are the key to successful lab experiences. Yes, they do get noisy, but that can be ok if it’s “learning noise.”

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Science & Technical Subjects

        • Grades 11-12
          • 11-12.LS.3 Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks; analyze the specific results based on explanations in the text.
        • Grades 6-8
          • 6-8.LS.3 Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.
        • Grades 9-10
          • 9-10.LS.3 Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Physical Science

        • PSc.1.1 Understand motion in terms of speed, velocity, acceleration and momentum. PSc.1.1.1 Explain motion in terms of frame of reference, distance, and displacement. PSc.1.1.2 Compare speed, velocity, acceleration and momentum using investigations, graphing,...
      • Physics

        • Phy.1.1 Analyze the motion of objects. Phy.1.1.1 Analyze motion graphically and numerically using vectors, graphs and calculations. Phy.1.1.2 Analyze motion in one dimension using time, distance, displacement, velocity, and acceleration. Phy.1.1.3 Analyze...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Science (2005)

Grade 8

  • Goal 1: The learner will design and conduct investigations to demonstrate an understanding of scientific inquiry.
    • Objective 1.01: Identify and create questions and hypotheses that can be answered through scientific investigations.
    • Objective 1.02: Develop appropriate experimental procedures for:
      • Given questions.
      • Student generated questions.
    • Objective 1.04: Analyze variables in scientific investigations:
      • Identify dependent and independent.
      • Use of a control.
      • Manipulate.
      • Describe relationships between.
      • Define operationally.
    • Objective 1.05: Analyze evidence to:
      • explain observations.
      • make inferences and predictions.
      • develop the relationship between evidence and explanation.
    • Objective 1.06: Use mathematics to gather, organize, and present quantitative data resulting from scientific investigations:
      • Measurement.
      • Analysis of data.
      • Graphing.
      • Prediction models.
  • Goal 4: The learner will conduct investigations and utilize technology and information systems to build an understanding of chemistry.
    • Objective 4.04: Describe the suitability of materials for use in technological design:
      • Electrical Conductivity.
      • Density.
      • Magnetism.
      • Solubility.
      • Malleability.
    • Objective 4.06: Describe and measure quantities related to chemical/physical changes within a system:
      • Temperature.
      • Volume.
      • Mass.
      • Precipitate.
      • Gas production.