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Lesson Idea: A Box Full of Science

Lesson Idea: A Box Full of Science

By John Cowens, Teaching PreK-8

A few simple objects in a shoebox will be all you need to wow your students with science.

What elementary science teacher hasn’t pored over school supply catalogs and drooled over science kits that may enhance student learning? No doubt, commercial kits are very attractive and convenient. However, they are likely to be more expensive than separately purchased supplies. These kits also may not contain all materials that were expected and there may not be enough materials to encourage individual student inquiry.

The homemade alternative

Collect several shoeboxes or durable corrugated cardboard boxes of similar size and shape. Each box can supplement specific areas of your science curriculum throughout the year and can be adapted to the needs of different grades or ability levels. As a result, you’re able to control the timing of topic presentations as well as the level of sophistication. Even skills or processes are reinforced through individualized experiences with the aid of these well-developed boxes.

Try a sample

Each ready-to-use box kit is intended to be an individualized experience and should contain a set of materials and instructions for each activity. It’s also related to a current topic of study or reinforces a recent topic. Students can retrieve the boxes from a nearby shelf, return to their seats and complete the activity with very little assistance. A typical science box contains the following items:

1. Statement of the task objective

2. A list of materials in the box

3. A list of instructions to guide the student in completing the task

4. All materials and a worksheet (if needed) to follow instructions

5. Questions the student should answer upon completion of the activity

The following samples can be used in grades 1-5. You may want to adapt these materials and/or directions to suit your own classroom needs.

Blow the can down

Students will demonstrate how air works for us.


  • -Empty tin can (16 ounce)
  • -Balloon (large)
  • -Drinking straw
  • -Rubber band


1. Place the empty tin can on a table and try to blow it over.

2. Attach the balloon to the end of a straw and secure it with rubber band.

3. Set can on top of the deflated balloon.

4. Blow into the straw.

With which method was it easier to knock the can over? Ask your students to list other ways that air works for us.

Students will get a real rise out of this interesting science experiment with air.

Balloon in a bottle

Students will observe that air takes up space. They’ll learn that pressure from the air closed in a bottle prevents a balloon from being inflated until air is allowed to escape through a straw.


  • -Medium-sized balloons
  • -Drinking straws
  • -Ttwo-liter soda bottle with a small mouth


1. Place a balloon into the bottle, but stretch its nozzle onto the threading of the bottle’s opening.

2. Try to blow up the balloon.

3. Now place a straw between the balloon and the inside of the bottle.

4. Again, try to blow up the balloon.

Ask your students to describe what happened the first time they tried to inflate the balloon. What happened when they placed a straw inside the bottle and tried to inflate the balloon? What do they think happened to the air in the bottle when they placed a straw inside?

How fast does it fall?

Students will determine whether the weight of an object affects how fast it falls.


  • -Two pennies
  • -Two quarters
  • -Two sheets of notebook paper (one flat, one crushed into a ball)
  • -Other heavy and light objects in the classroom (a baseball and a softball, a small and a large marble, small and large erasers, a short and a long pencil, etc.)


1. Hold two coins, one in each hand, at the same height and simultaneously drop them. Do three trials. Did they reach the ground at the same time?

2. Simultaneously drop two coins of different sizes from the same height. Do three trials. Did they reach the ground at the same time?

3. Simultaneously drop the flat sheet of paper and a coin from the same height. Do three trials. Did they reach the ground at the same time?

4. Simultaneously drop the sheet of paper that was crushed into a ball and a coin from the same height. Do three trials. Did they reach the ground at the same time?

5. Do the same with the crushed sheet and the flat sheet of paper. Do three trials. Did they reach the ground at the same time?

6. Make a chart from your data-collecting record sheet and examine the results.

Courtesy of © 2007, YellowBrix, Inc.

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