How Can We Identify Materials Based On Their Properties?

How Can We Identify Materials Based On Their Properties?

How Can We Identify Materials Based on Their Properties? is part of Smithsonian Science for the Classroom, a curriculum series developed by the Smithsonian Science Education Center. It is designed to address a bundle of grade 5 physical science and engineering standards. In this module, students:

  • Design a tool that can be used to identifying unknown solids based on their physical properties.
  • Develop models showing particles of matter to describe sugar dissolving in water and a sugar solution evaporating.
  • Carry out investigations to determine what causes gas to be released when baking soda and vinegar are mixed.
  • Construct an explanation that the gas released from mixing baking soda and vinegar is a new substance that is the result of a chemical reaction.
  • Plan and carry out an investigation to determine the ingredients of a bath bomb and recreate one that can be tested in the classroom.


Below are digital resources that support teaching of this module.

Lesson 1: Kitchen Crisis

Family Letter
Before starting How Can We Identify Materials Based on Their Properties?, share the Family Letter with students’ caregivers. Indicate how they should submit responses to the letter.
Download the Family Letter PDF

Kitchen Crisis
This slide introduces students to the problem they will be working to solve in Lessons 1 through 7.
Download the Kitchen Crisis PDF

Six Solids
This file shows an image of six jars of unknown solids without labels that were found in Chef Ana’s kitchen.
Download the Six Solids PDF

Flow Chart
This image shows students an example of a flow chart that is used in biology.
Download the Flow Chart PDF

Lesson 2: Using Our Senses

Solids Table
This file has a table with the names of the six solids and their corresponding numbers to help students organize their test tray.
Download the Solids Table PDF

Lesson 6: Lesson Testing Our Solution

Kitchen Solid Identities
This file has a table with the identities of the six unknown solids labeled A through F.
Download the Kitchen Solid Identities PDF

Lesson 7: Evaluating Our Results

Engineers Present
This slide provides instructions for students’ presentations about their findings.
Download the Engineers Present PDF

Lesson 9: What We Can’t See

Particle Models
This slideshow provides supporting information and instructions for creating particle models of the sugar and water investigations.
Download the Particle Models PDF

Sugar Simulation
This simulation shows what happens to particles when sugar dissolves in water and when water evaporates. It works best in Firefox or Chrome. If your default browser is not one of these, copy the URL and paste it into either Firefox or Chrome. It is recommended that you use this simulation on a computer, as it may not work on all mobile devices. Start by adding water, and then add sugar. Evaporate to see the amount of water in the air change. Evaporate so there is no water left in the beaker to see the particles of solid sugar.
Play the Sugar Simulation

Lesson 10: Figuring Out the Bubbles

Balloon Inflating
This video shows a balloon being inflated with gas that is released when baking soda and vinegar are mixed. 
Download the Balloon Inflating Video

Lesson 12: Something New

Indicator Strips
This file shows an image of a scale that students should use to identify the acidity level of the substances they test with the indicator strips
Download the Indicator Strips PDF

Lesson 13: A Fizzy Phenomenon Part 1

Bath Bomb
This video introduces the phenomenon of a bath bomb fizzing when it’s dropped in water. Students work to explain this phenomenon throughout the Science Challenge.
Download the Bath Bomb Video

Lesson 15: A Fizzy Phenomenon Part 3

Bath Bomb Tips
This file provides troubleshooting tips and tricks you can use to help students create their bath bombs.
Download Bath Bomb Tips PDF

Kit Tips & Tricks