Science lesson by Max Millard
Written for New College of California, fall 2006

Ia. Learning objectives and outcomes

- Students will learn to follow a chemical formula.

- Students will investigate a new substance to discover its properties.

- Students will ask scientific questions about the substance.

Ib. Language objectives

- Students will acquire science vocabulary about the substance, including formula, white glue, borax, mixture, properties, behavior.

II. Standards addressed (kindergarten)

Science Standard 1. Properties of materials can be observed, measured and predicted.

Reading Standard 1.18. Describe common objects and events in both general and specific language.

Listening and Speaking Standard 1.1. Understand and follow one- and two-step oral directions.

III. Background/rationale

This is one of the messiest of experiments, which is one reason the kids love it. Without proper supervision, they get it on their clothes, in their hair, on the desks and on the rug. It's very sticky and hard to clean up. But in the course of playing, the kids put the flubber through a series of tests, and sometimes discover new properties that even the teacher isn't aware of. It stimulates their imagination, and demonstrates that science can be fun.

IV. Process

A. Into

One of the most popular Disney films when I was growing up was The Absent Minded Professor (1961), about a scientist (played by Fred MacMurray) who invents flying rubber, which he calls flubber. The movie was remade in 1997 (not very successfully) as Flubber starring Robin Williams. The highlight of both films is a springy basketball game. The story is also told in an illustrated children's book showing the professor flying around in his car with flubber tires. This is how the gummy, rubbery substance in this lesson got its name.

We did flubber three times during the year. To introduce it, I showed excerpts from each film (on different occasions), and later shared the book with the class. I talked about whether it was really possible to create something new by mixing two or more things together. This gave me a good opportunity to introduce some of the vocabulary: substance, formula, white glue, borax, mixture, properties, behavior.

I asked the class about the word "sticky" and what words it brought to mind. I wrote the kids' words on the board and read them to them each time we did the experiment, sometimes adding new words. I added the word "glue" to the list and started a discussion about it. What do we use glue for? Where does it come from? I talked about the old method of making glue from horses' hooves, and the new way by using chemicals. I mentioned classroom paste, super glue, model airplane glue, gorilla glue, glue guns, and glue on postage stamps and envelopes. I brought in some of these items to show. Then I told them that today we would use glue to make a new substance called flubber.

B. Through

For the lesson, the kids were required to wear plastic aprons or smocks so they wouldn't ruin their clothes. The tables and the surrounding floor space were covered with butcher paper, and there were plenty of rags on hand to mop up spills before the flubber could set in.

On a big, illustrated poster for everyone to see I wrote the formula to make flubber. Most of them couldn't yet read, but they were able to do the mixing by following the pictures.

In a large bowl, the kids measured:

2 cups of Elmer's white glue 1.5 cups of water

In a smaller bowl they put:

1/3 cup water 1 teaspoon borax (sodium borate, available in supermarkets)

The kids then added the contents of the smaller bowl to the larger one. They used their fingers to blend and manipulate it, then added some liquid watercolor paint and squished it all together before putting it on large plastic trays for them to play with. This lesson required a lot of supervision, so I did it only when there were extra adults to help out.

Flubber is like a very slow-moving semi-liquid, similar to Silly Putty. If you pull it apart slowly, it will stretch out forever, but if you pull it sharply, it will break off with a snap. The kids loved to carve it with plastic knives, stuff it into plastic molds, and poke it with craft sticks. Among other things, flubber has the ability to lift a picture from the comic section of a newspaper and display it as a mirror image. This activity was really popular.

While the kids were playing with their flubber, I reviewed the vocabulary words for the lesson. This was especially helpful for the LEP students. I asked them if the flubber they had just made was similar to the flubber in the book, and what were the differences.

In the course of playing with the flubber, Stanley made a remarkable discovery: If you put it in a narrow, heavy plastic cup, then push it deep inside, it will make a loud farting sound. Once the kids discovered this, they didn't want to do anything else with it.

I showed them how to pack it into plastic baggies and store it in the classroom's small refrigerator. They were fascinated when I got it out later and they saw that it was hard and stiff. It took a long time to soften into something like a thick syrup. We experimented with ways to make it soften more quickly, and found the best method was by running it under hot water.

C. Beyond

I saved some of the flubber in the refrigerator, and in the days and weeks that followed, I brought it out again to ask questions about it. I didn't let the children handle it every time, but I used it as a reminder about flubber's properties. They were always curious about it because of its entertaining quality, its strange behavior and its forbidden element. I also used it as the basis for other science lessons that involved mixing substances together, stirring, experimenting, and studying physical properties.

V. Assessment and Teacher Reflection

I asked the class what they learned from the flubber. What did it remind them of? Was it more like Play-Dough or maple syrup? Was it more of a solid or a liquid? I made a list of the students' comments and wrote them on butcher paper, to be shared again the next time we did the lesson. I asked them to review flubber's properties and the vocabulary (formula, white glue, borax, mixture, properties, behavior). I went around the room to include every child in the discussion. Most of them had trouble remembering the vocabulary, but they at least got a general idea. And in later lessons, they got better at it. Unlike Oobleck, the kids were not allowed to take their flubber home. I wrote down their ideas for testing flubber next time, and we did some of those experiments later.

VI. Materials (for every 10 students)

1 large bowl
1 small bowl
2 cups Elmer's white glue
1 teaspoon borax
several Tablespoons liquid
watercolor paint
butcher paper
big writing pad on easel
poster of flubber formula
plastic trays
plastic molds
plastic knives
craft sticks
cleaning rags