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About Air

Author(s): Nancy Moreno, PhD, Barbara Tharp, MS, and Judith Dresden, MS.

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In this activity, students will use different colors of popcorn to model the composition of air. They will make predictions, measure, record observations, and draw conclusions based on their investigations. Students will learn that air is a mixture of different gases – mainly nitrogen, oxygen, argon, and carbon dioxide. They also will discover that nitrogen is the most abundant gas found in air.    

Divide students into six small groups. (If your students are very young, you may prefer to conduct the activity as a discovery lesson with the entire class.)  Ask the Materials Manager from each group to collect the required materials. Give three groups each a bag containing 7 cups of white popcorn. Give 1 bag of colored popcorn to each of the remaining 3 groups (a different color for each group). Students with white popcorn should measure out 5 cups of popcorn into their group’s bag. Students with yellow popcorn should measure 4 cups into their bag. Students with red popcorn should measure ¼ cup into their bag; and students with green popcorn should place 1 popcorn kernel into their bag. 

Project a transparency of the student sheet. After students have finished measuring, have them study their sheets. Explain that each group will mix its popcorn into a single large bag, and that students will use their worksheets to calculate how many cups of popcorn are mixed together. 

Hold a large plastic bag (15-gal size) in a central location. Before students empty the popcorn from their group bags into the large plastic bag, ask them to tell the class the amount and color of popcorn they are adding. As each group pours its popcorn into the large bag, have students complete the appropriate sections of their worksheets. After all the popcorn has been added, shake the large bag. Ask students, What do you think I’m doing? Lead them to understand that the popcorn is being mixed together. 

Funded by the following grant(s)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Numbers: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932

Houston Endowment Inc.

Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education