NGSS Structure & Properties of Matter Vacuum in a Can Lab Modeling & Warm Up


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This lab will “WOW” kids, they scream when the can unexpectedly and violently crushes! It’s one of those activities that astonishes the students and really helps them understand the movement of molecules due to thermal energy, how matter changes phase, behavior of gasses, pressure, open systems and closed systems. You could easily relate this lab to weather as well. Approximately 1:45 minutes total for this activity and I suggest you do the Bell Ringer I include before the video for scaffolding.

In order to do this lab, you will need a heat source like an alcohol burner or an electric hot plate, a stand for the can to sit on if you don’t have a hot plate, tongs to pick up the hot can, an empty soda can (I have the students bring that in), a small bucket to place the can in after it’s heated and water.

I first start with the phenomena “What Would Space Do To The Human Body?”

Students ask me every year what would happen to us if we were in space without a space suit, so this 3.5-minute video clip really engages them! I talk about when someone catches a fish and its eyes are popping out because of differences in pressure or when a bag of chips expands on an airplane. Then I ask the question, “What would happen if we created a vacuum inside of an empty can?” (Don’t tell them what happens!)

I explain to them the procedure and talk about the diagram I have up on my whiteboard. I then tell them to draw three models as a prediction for the lab. I tell the students to think about what the particles are doing and write those thoughts down in the form of a model. In NGSS, a model is a simplified representation of a system that can explain and help make predictions regarding a phenomena. I encourage the students to make models that are mental representations of what the particles are doing and how the energy moves them. As it heats up, I ask, “How are the particles moving?” and “What do you think is causing them to move. Take a look at the product preview for some examples of student models.

I give them at least 15 minutes to create their models before I model how to do the lab. Modeling how to do the lab is about 10 minutes and the students conducting the lab is about 20 minutes depending on how many people brought in a can. The students then answer the questions and revise their models. This is approximately 30-40 minutes.

This product includes the following:

-Editable Bell Ringer/Warm up that scaffolds the concepts in the lab

-Student Copy of the Lab

-Answer Key

-Detailed teacher notes

The following concepts are included:

-Kinetic Energy

-Thermal Energy

-Energy Transfer




-Phase Changes/Changes of State

-Behavior of liquids and gasses

-Expanding and condensing of particles

NGSS Standards:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter

Substances are made from different types of atoms, which combine with one another in various ways. Atoms form molecules that range in size from two to thousands of atoms. (MS-PS1-1)

Solids may be formed from molecules, or they may be extended structures with repeating subunits (e.g., crystals). (MS-PS1-1)

Gases and liquids are made of molecules or inert atoms that are moving about relative to each other. (MS-PS1-4)

In a liquid, the molecules are constantly in contact with others; in a gas, they are widely spaced except when they happen to collide. In a solid, atoms are closely spaced and may vibrate in position but do not change relative locations. (MS-PS1-4)

The changes of state that occur with variations in temperature or pressure can be described and predicted using these models of matter. (MS-PS1-4)

Science and Engineering Practices

Modeling in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to developing, using, and revising models to describe, test, and predict more abstract phenomena and design systems.

Cross Cutting Concepts

Students can understand that systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems. They can use models to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems. They can also learn that models are limited in that they only represent certain aspects of the system under study.

Students learn matter is conserved because atoms are conserved in physical and chemical processes. They also learn within a natural or designed system, the transfer of energy drives the motion and/or cycling of matter. Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion). The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system.

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