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Pop! Goes the Canister

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There's more to baking soda and vinegar than just volcanoes in the sand!

One day last summer I opened the gate that shields the preschool from the eyes of the surrounding neighborhood and caught sight of a film canister being launched into the air by an excited four-year-old. Under the supervision of a space-minded father, preschoolers that morning were being treated to launch after launch after launch of canister rockets, each accompanied by a resounding "pop" as the lid blew off and the empty canister was propelled high into the air.

As the kids clamored to be next or to "do it again," I heard the parent asking questions of them...

So do you think you need more vinegar? Or less.

Should you use more baking soda?

Which one should you have the most of?

Which combination made it fly higher?

What do you think will happen if we use less vinegar?

Watching the test-flights and listening to the discussion, I was excited to hear, basically, an informal science project in action with a group of four- and five-year-olds. An older sibling who happened to be on hand had different questions as he thought about the chemical reaction taking place and noted what he was observing with each different formula he tried for combining the two ingredients.

As the conversation continued, I heard hypotheses being made. "If I do this, then this will happen."

Taking it the the Next Level

For the younger crowd, this experiment has just enough bang and gee-whiz factor to get them excited. That they got a bit of science and scientific reasoning thrown into the mix shows how easy it can be for a parent to take a simple activity and give it the framework of a wonderful hands-on learning opportunity.

For older students, there are many ways to expand upon the project and the general concept to give context to the chemical reaction taking place and to further explore Newton's third law of motion.

The Rocketology: Baking Soda + Vinegar = Lift Off! project idea puts this experiment into the context of a rocket launch and explores concepts and relationships between fuels, combustion, oxidation, thrust, and pressure. (Difficulty: 6)

This is a fun (and noisy) project, but there's a lot to learn here as you put old film canisters to new and high-flying use.

Who needs paper airplanes when you've got propulsion?

(In truth, I love a paper airplane for talking about science with students! But for today, let the canisters fly!)

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