Grade: Elementary
Subject: Science

#505. Primary Science Centers

Science, level: Elementary
Posted Fri Jul 10 10:02:29 PDT 1998 by LuAnn Lawhon (
Most Pure Heart of Mary School, Topeka, KS

Primary Science Centers
July 1998

For first grade, I box my science centers in the Rubbermaid
plastic shoe boxes. They seem to be about the right size,and they're strong and washable.

1. Sink/Float: I put in a smaller container WITH A TIGHT LID and assorted tiny objects. Later in the year, students report their work by making their own chart titled "sink/float," complete with invented spellings and/or pictures. OR... Sometimes I duplicate a worksheet with pictures and the instruction (in words AND in a "picture") CIRCLE THE THINGS THAT SINK. (S sound in both words is a memory aid) Child can go to the water fountain and fill the container and put the lid on to carry it back to his/her desk.

2. Magnets: same general format as #1.

3. Ramps: wooden narrow board, blocks to put under it, measuring tape and small cars.

4. Light: flashlight plus 10-20 items. Students report by writing yes or no beside numbers to answer the question, "Does light shine through?"

5. Building: I have a lovely set of miniature arch blocks (Bought when we visited St. Louis years ago.) This makes a wonderful center. Kids are so proud to "build the arch."

6. Measuring: popcorn, beans, or lentils PLUS tablespoon, a 2-tablespoon ladle with a curved handle, a 1/4 c measuring cup, and a drinking glass (Tupperware) that measures exactly a cup. (I mention these items in particular because they will give "unit" measurements, but each has a distinctive shape, so that I can draw a worksheet to show ____(ladle picture) are in ____ (cup picture)
____(tablespoon picture) are in ____(ladle picture) etc.

7. Screwdriver & screws: (Takes some preparing, but the kids really like this one) Use a small bit and an electric drill to drill holes into sections of 2x4's. (You can usually get these donated by someone who's building) Put in the box: wood, an assortment of different sizes of screws, different size screwdrivers,child-sized safety goggles. (Learn good habits NOW)

8. Feely sort: The simplest "feely boxes" are made with the plastic frosting cans simply slipped into a long tube sock. Put two feely boxes in the Rubbermaid box. Each contains an identical set of objects to match by touch.

9. Magnifying glass plus interesting items from nature.

10. Mixing: We did this later in the year, when the students can read simple instructions. Needs a little monitoring, but such fun.

Put one Rubbermaid box nested inside of the "main" (labeled) box. Use only one lid. Inside, place: directions, small disposable cups. (like the 2 oz. condiment cups you can buy at Sam's ) tablespoon, 1/4 teaspoon, popsicle sticks, lidded container for carrying water from the water fountain, presweetened drink mix, a mixture of one-half baking powder, one-half sugar (kept in the 1/4 cup Rubbermaid container. And no, I don't own stock in Rubbermaid!).

DIRECTIONS: 1. Take the inside box out! 2. Put the cup into the outside, empty box. 3. Put one tablespoon of drink mix in the cup.
4. Get some water in the lidded container. Use it to fill the cup ALMOST to the top with water. 5. Stir with stick. 6. Add 1/4 teaspoon of the white mixture. 7. Stir with stick. LISTEN! 8. Taste if you want!

teacher note: this "fizzing" action can be caused whenever sodium bicarbonate (contained in baking soda and baking powder) is added to a liquid that contains an acid. It's the same principle as the vinegar+baking powder "volcanoes" and other classic science "tricks." LOTS of room for class experimentation here. We do mixtures as a class demo-- with kids taking turns adding things. It goes great with the concepts of solid, liquid, gas. (When baking soda combines with an acid, a gas is formed, which quickly escapes into the air in the form of bubbles or fizz.)

ACTIVITIES 1-10 were done as individual centers that could be carried to desks and worked on independently. They usually have a specific "task" or "goal." I also set up items on a science table. These vary, but are usually more "free exploration." They also include the messier stuff, the stuff that won't fit into Rubbermaid boxes, or the stuff that's more fun to do with a group of friends! Here are a few:

11. Five senses items: Set out a box for each sense. All year long, I keep on the lookout for unusual items. For touch, the tiny scrub brushes that are used in hospital are wonderfully tactile. For listening the bubble plastic is great to pop. For tasting I found an unusual trail mix that contains things the kids haven't tried. Etc. Etc.
(This one can be a whole lesson for the TeachersNet data base!. Maybe later.)
12. Tools: I can't emphasize enough how much kids LOVE these. They DO take some monitoring, but I've used them in PreK, K, and first grade successfully. Have serious rules about safety. Goggles are a must.. We have a definitive NO CLOSER THAN YOUR ARMS CAN REACH rule for getting near a tool-person. Loss of a turn for not following safety rules usually assures that kids don't get close to others using tools!
I use an OLD, garage-sale desk and attach a good vice and show the kids how to use it. For saws I use hacksaws (fine teeth, less chance of a dangerous cut, but will cut through anything) and some miniature coping-saw type saws that I bought at the Dollar store. Have lots of scraps of wood, including some balsa scraps (cheap bought in bulk scrap bags.) Fiskars makes a WONDERFUL little hand drill that works like the old-style "egg-beaters." (I think it's called a Yankee drill but I'm not SURE) Hammering is reserved for special times when we know that we won't disturb others. Kids plan out projects and have a great time.
13. Levers: free exploration with unit blocks, a long strong board, and a movable triangle for a fulcrum. Be sure to draw some of the findings!
14. Music-makers: talk about vibrations, then set up a nice table full of different-sized containers , cellophane, foil, rubber bands, beans, or popcorn. Drums, shakers or "guitars" are the basic three rhythm-makers-- but sometimes a child will come up with creative instruments better than ANY the teacher would think of!
15. Light, lenses, and mirrors are another great free exploration combination.
16. Goop: this mixture has been called MANY names, but it's basically white glue plus the liquid blue "StaFlo" starch. It is inconsistent. Maybe humidity,maybe the brand of white glue will affect the proportions, but kneading helps. Even if the goop doesn't make a perfect silly putty, the mixing alone is worth doing. Kids love it! Easiest way to mix is to pour liquid starch to about half-fill a margarine container. Then just squeeze in a few tablespoons of glue. The glue will absorb as much starch as it needs, and you'll have a little blob floating in the starch. FUN!

As you can see, I LOVE teaching science! Moving up to second grade this year, so look for another edition of Science Centers in the future!