Exciting Examples of Everyday Phenomena

What is an EEEP?

An EEEP is an exciting example of an everyday phenomenon. It is a science demonstration. It is an active learning tool designed to gain the attention and pique the curiosity of our students. I coined the term several years ago after reading an article about the importance of linking science concepts to our student’s everyday experiences. Since then I have used the concept of an EEEP as teaching tool in my classes and seminars.

I have included many examples of EEEPs at this site and hope that you will find them useful in your science program. But before jumping ahead, you should read the next section, because that’s where I explain how to use EEEPs in science teaching.

How are EEEPs used in science lessons?

I think most of us would agree that science inquiry is an important goal of science teaching. Put another way, helping students inquire into questions, phenomena and ideas is a fundamental purpose of the science curriculum. EEEPs are designed as a tool to help us do that. So, how are EEEPs to be used in the classroom?

First and foremost, a good EEEP creates looks of surprise, and fosters an environment in which students say things like, "How did that happen?" "What caused that?" "My prediction wasn’t even close to what happened?"

Here is an example of how to use an EEEP. Its one of my favorite EEEPs, and if you have been to one of my seminars, then you will recognize it. This EEEP is called, "Where did the water go?"

An Example: Where did the water go?

For this EEEP, you will need a white powder (sodium polyacrylate) which is also called waterlock. It is a substance that absorbs a lot of water. You will also need three large Styrofoam cups (large coffee cups are good to use). Also, get a large box that you place on a desk on which you will perform the EEEP. Finally you will need some bottled water. You should also have your students arranged in groups of three or four.

1. Prior to the arrival of the students into your classroom, pour about a teaspoon of the water lock into one of the large cups. Put the cups on the box and when you are ready tell the students you are going to conduct an EEEP.

2. Open the bottled water, and tell the students you are going to pour some water into one of the cups. Take the cup with waterlock, and pour a small amount of water into the cup. Immediately put the cup back on the box from the location you removed it.

3. Now, start moving the cups around on the top of the box and as you do tell the students to keep their eyes on the cup with water in it. Move the cups so that you exchange their places one or two times.

4. Now ask the students where is the cup with the water? As students point to a cup, take it and turn it over in front of them (put do not let them look up into the cup). Because the waterlock absorbs water quickly, even the cup with the water will appear to be empty when you turn it over. Continue turning the cups over until all three are shown be empty.

5. Without any class discussion <------this is important), tell the students that they have a problem, and that the problem is "Where did the water go?" Tell the students that they have three minutes to write down as a group as many different answers as there are people in their group that answers the question, "Where did the water go?" (I like to provide small white boards, one for each group, and a dry erase marker for this activity). Let the students work within their groups for about three minutes. When the three minutes are up, tell the students to take another 30 seconds to review and make sure that everyone in their group knows all of the ideas their team generated.

6. Now you are ready to call on students. However, use this technique. Have the students number off within each group from 1 to as many people in their group. Then have one student in the class draw a card from a set that you hold (the set should contain four cards containing the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4). Tell the students that if their number is drawn then they should stand to represent their group and be ready to provide one explanation to the question, "where did the water go?"

7. Move around the room quickly, asking one student at a time to give one answer. When all the students have provided answers, recall their replies by writing them on chart paper for all to see. You might ask for further opinions at this time.

8. Finally, ask one of the students to come to the box holding the large cups. Let the student turn over each cup one at a time, noting the contents. A look of surprise and delight will emerge when they inspect the cup with the mush in it (the water has turned the powder to a gel).

When should EEEPs be used?

There are number of situations in science teaching that you might consider using EEEPs. Here are some for you to think about:

EEEPs can be used as performance assessments.

Using the EEEP Sheet

I have designed a generic EEEP sheet. Typically I give each group in the class one EEEP sheet. All the ideas that the team generates must be written on the EEEP Sheet. Students can made predictions, write their observations, think visually by drawing pictures of their explanations, and write a summary of their explanations. EEEP sheets can be collected and then assessed using the rubric that I have provided here. It then becomes a powerful learning tool linking instruction and assessment.

Earth Science EEEPs

1. A Cool Experiment. Put a piece of wet cotton around the bulb of one thermometer. Hold another thermometer (nothing on the bulb) next to the wet bulb thermometer. Fan both thermometers with a piece of cardboard until there is no further change in their readings. Invite students to explain why the thermometer with the cotton has a lower reading. Concepts: evaporation, heat, relative humidity.

2. Water Evaporation. Pour equal amounts of water into a dish and a test tube. Set both the dish and the test tube next to one another and observe over a period of several days. Invite students to explain why the water in the shallow dish evaporated faster than the water in the test tube. Concepts: surface area, evaporation, heat.

3. Hot Water Freeze. Put equal amounts of water (about 500 mL) in two metal canisters (label them 1 & 2). Heat the water in canister 1 to a temperature of about 70oC. Put both canisters in a refrigerator, and have the students monitor them for the next several hours. Invite the students to explain why the water in canister 1 froze before the water in canister 2. Concepts: molecular motion, heat energy, freezing point.

4. The Punctured Can. Puncture three holes at different heights in a large juice can, or a 2 Liter plastic bottle. Set the container in a large pan to catch the water when it pours out. Cover each hole with a piece of plastic tape. Now fill the container with water. Ask the students to predict what will happen if the plastic tape is removed from each hole. Students should be encouraged to draw a diagram illustrating their prediction. Now remove the pieces of tape (very quickly), and have the students observe. Invite the students to explain their observations by comparing their prediction to what they observed. Concepts: pressure, water pressure.

5. The Foggy Cloud. Fill a flask with hot water. Pour out most of the water, leaving about an inch of it. Sit the bottle in bright light. Hold an ice cube over the opening. Ask the students to predict what they think will happen. After water vapor becomes visible, invite the students to explain what happened. Some questions: Where did the water vapor come from? What cooled the water vapor? What is water vapor?

6. Breaking Rocks. Show students several pieces of sandstone that you have soaked overnight. Tell the students you are going to do something to the rocks before their next class with you. That night put the rocks in plastic zip-loc bags and place them in the freezer. Show the bags to the students the next day. Invite them to explain what you might have done to cause the change in the rocks. Have them make diagrams showing how they think the change may have occurred.

7. The Mini-Telescope. Show the students two lenses. (Hand lenses will work just fine.) Invite the students to use the lenses in combination to enable them to see distance objects (a picture or chart on a wall of the classroom). The first challenge is for the students to figure out how to hold the lenses in relationship to each other. (Hint for the teacher: hold one lens up to one of your eyes; hold the other at arms length in front of the lens to your eye. Move the lens at arms length toward and away from the eyepiece until objects are focused.) Students will also notice that the images they see is up-side-down. Invite them to illustrate their explanation of this phenomena.

Life Science EEEPs

1. Earthworm Investigation. Show students a few earthworms. Invite students to speculate on the interaction of earthworms and changing environmental conditions (e.g. light, temperature, smell, gravity, sound, etc.). Have them formulate questions in the form of "if..., then....." Students can then design simple investigations to answer their questions.

2. Gravity and Plant Growth. Show students various plants that you have had growing in your classroom (e.g. in advance, have plants growing in various situations---a pot on its side, a pot hanging upside-down, etc. Invite students to speculate on the relationship between plant growth and the force of gravity. Does gravity affect plant growth? Have students talk about designing an experiment that could find an answer to this question.

3. The Case of the Mealworms. Show the diagram of the mealworms to the students, and while doing that, read this scenario to them: "An experimenter wanted to test the response of mealworms to light and moisture. To do this, she set up four boxes as shown here. She used lamps for light sources and constantly watered pieces of paper in the boxes for moisture. In the center of each box she placed 20 mealworms. One day she returned to count the number of wealworms that had crawled to the different ends of the boxes. Invite the students to consider this proposal:


The diagrams show that mealworms respond to (respond means move away or toward): A). Light but not moisture; B). Moisture but not light; C). Both light and moisture; D). Neither light nor moisture. Please explain your choice. Note: have students work in groups of two, and have them write their response in their own science log. Here is one student's response: "Boxes I and II show they prefer dry and light to wet and dark. Box IV eliminates dryness as a factor, so they do respond to light only. Box III shows that wetness cancels the effect of the light, so it seem they prefer dry. It would be clearer is one of the boxes was wet-dry with no light."

Physical Science EEEP

1. The Penny and a Glass of Water. Present a full glass of water to the students. Ask them to predict how many pennies can be carefully dropped into the full glass of water. Note the students' predictions. If you want to take some extra time, have teams of students work together to talk through their predictions. In front of the entire class, drop one penny at a time into the glass of water. (Note: If you hold the penny so it slides into the water vertically, as opposed to on one of its sides, then you ought to be able to drop between 20 - 50 pennies in a full glass of water.) Invite the students to work in small teams to illustrate and describe in words their explanation of this EEEP.

2. Electric Balloons. You'll need a few balloons and string for this EEEP. Inflate two balloons and tie about 50 cm of string to each. Rub the balloon briskly against a piece of wool fabric. Bring the balloon up to a wall in the room and let go. The balloon should stick to the wall. Take the second balloon and rub it briskly with the piece of wool. Hold both balloons close together. This time the balloons will move apart from each other. In teams, invite students to explain each demonstration. They should draw diagrams and use words to help explain their ideas---use an EEEP sheet for each team. Concepts: static electricity, charged particles.

3. Why Does the Water Rise. Stand a candle a candle (use clay for support) in a pan of water. Light the candle, and then place a small glass jar over the candle. The flame will go out very soon after this event, and water rises into the glass cylinder. Invite the students to develop explanations that will answer two questions: 1). Why did the flame go out?; and 2). Why did the water rise? Concepts: heat, air pressure, molecular model of matter.

4. The Egg and the Bottle. Present the students with a problem. Place a peeled hard-boiled egg in the mouth of bottle. The problem: How can you get the peeled hard-boiled egg in the bottle without touching the egg? Have students work in teams and propose a methodology. In order to test their method, they must present to you a written details of the procedure. (Note: you should have plenty of hard-boiled eggs available---students can peel them, glass jars, matches, etc.). Concepts: air pressure, molecular model of matter.

5. Fill the Beaker! Show students rubber tubing, a syringe, a beaker, and a pan of water. Tell them to invert the beaker of water in the pan of water. Challenge them to find a way to fill the beaker with water in that position. Have students talk through possible methods. When they have an idea constructed, tell them they can obtain the materials to test their method. (Note: students will discover that removing air will help, not trying to force water in!). Concepts: air pressure, molecular model of matter.

6. The Coin Drop and Throw. Place one coin (a quarter) on the edge of a table, and another quarter in your hand at the edge of the table. Tell the students that At the same instance, you will flick the coin on the table outward horizontally with your finger while at the same time dropping the other coin straight down. Ask them to speculate which coin will hit the floor first. After groups come up with their own ideas, provide the coins for them to test out their ideas. (Note: in most cases, both coins will hit the floor at the same time.) Invite students to explain the result. Concepts: gravity, Newton's laws of motion