Science Gnus Almanac
from The Gnus In General

Inquiry Schminquery 

Activities for the Classroom and Professional Development.....and home too

*All these activites have been borrowed/stolen and occasionally adapted from creative and sharing teachers over the last 35 years 

A Twinkie and Spam Sandwich -  See Twinkosuction and Spamatazoa

Also  birthdays, weddings, bar mitvahs, christenings, parties, rainy days……………..

Some are written out, some are pdf. Links

Popcorn at the Movies – Math and Literacy and Cholesterol

Using Your Noodle - the Pasta Paradigm

Pasta Paradigm Chart

Balloonacy - A professional Development activity 

Which One Does Not Belong

The Blossoming Flower Capillary Action


Skyscrapers - a "building a tower" with index cards activity -originally seen at STANYS quite a few years ago.

Cousin's Animal - Saving the "Tinct" so it doesn't become an "ex" "tinct"

Cousin's Animal Answers - write to  Professor syyentz

Science Stars - very adaptable for any use.  Score points win fabulous prizes as names are filled in to match categories.

Draw a Penny (no peeking)

Flip Flops

Space Survival Task - the good old NASA, "what would you do if stranded on the Moon" activity.

Space Survival Answers Survival Answers.pdf

The 12 Days of Christmas - actually it's a Math activity. Thanks to Ellen Lott of the New York City Math Project.

Three Versions of Can You Find Someone Who 

"Can You Find Someone Who" - 

Can You Find Someone Who - Generic

Can You Find Someone Who- Math, Science, Technology


Just A Bit of A Book

Brain Starters

Brainstarters are "Do Nows", "Sponge Activities", lots of different names.......

Also good for parties, barbecues. weddings, presidential debates, waiting in a waiting room, keeping you occupied while undergoing surgery, wine tastings, poetry readings, and foreign trade negotiations. 

wkward social occaasions, pres

.Nursery Rhymes in Disguise

Word Equations 1

Word Equations 2

Word Equations 3

Vocal Puzzles

Brain Starter Quiz

Brain Starter Quiz Redux

Colorful Wuzzles 

(adapted from the Wacky Wordies Site)

From  the book, Wuzzles for Presenters:



Christmas Carols in Disguise

World's Easiest Quiz




Long Hand Activities

That's The Way the Cookie Crumbles


The Cartesian Diver

Herding Water + Water Drop Races

Properties of Snickers and 3 Musketeers Floating and Sinking

Ducks and Cows

Balloon Rockets

Putty In Your Hands


Bonus Gnus Activity for March






Starkle Starkle Little Twink or.......Twinkie Twinkie Little Star meets Spam.pdf


How to Perform a Twinkectomy with Devil Dogs on the side.

Inspired by the Twinkie Site on the internet, Professor Sy Yentz has been developing this Twinkie Experience.

Test Subject: Standard Twinkie, Generic Devil Dog

Control Subject: Standard Twinkie, Generic Devil Dog

Skills: Observation, measurement, forming a hypothesis, recording data, identifying variables

Teacher Background:  While many people love, admire and respect twinkies and devil dogs, they would rather not think about what they are made of.  They should.  Someday twinkies may take over the Earth.  Twinkies and devil dogs are great inquiry experience.  All they do is inspire questions (and occasionally indigestion)

Materials:  Twinkies, Devil Dogs, water, clear soda, coffee maker (or heat source, baking soda, ruler pan balance, clear plastic cups (Twinkie Friendly Size), pennies or gram weights.   
Guided Inquiry - Using the ruler, string, pan balance and non- standard measuring tools,

Measure the length, width, diameter, circumference, and mass of the twinkie.  Do the same with a devil dog.  Which will absorb more water? Observe and list changes. Cut the twinkie in half…..this is called a Twinkectomy- perform the same tests.  Leave the twinkie in a liquid (water, soda, juice, soap) overnight.  What will it look like after 24 hours?  How much liquid did it absorb?

 Challenge Activity - How do they get the cream into a twinkie?  Is it baked, fried, fricaseed or what?

 Exploration - You may perform a twinkectomy, cutting the twinkie or devil dog in half, experimenting with one half and using the other as a control (a perennial twinkie).

What are some investigable twinkie questions that you have?

 How can you measure it?  Is it different when they are placed in soda?  Can you heat up the water?   Does temperature affect them?

  How much cream-like substance  is in a twinkie? (more twinkectomy).

  How would you measure the amount of cream in a twinkie? 

  Is the cream a solid or a liquid?


Bonus Gnus Activity for March

 - "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb"  When March begins, keep an experience chart or running list of March Days.       

Are they "lions or lambs"?

Through group discussions decide what kind of a day would be a "lion" and what kind of day would be a "lamb"-temperature? Cloudy?, sunny? Windy?

That's The Way the Cookie Crumbles

PROBLEM: Extracting natural resources from the earth without destroying the land.


PROCEDURE:  Distribute chocolate chip cookies (Chewy Chips Ahoy work best at first).  Note: Remind the participants not to eat the activity.  Distribute a digging tool (toothpick)

The cookie is a land area, the chips are the natural resources needed ( coal, oil, gas, minerals, ore, etc.

Using the digging tool they must remove as many natural resources (chips) as needed during a given time period.
Here is the catch - when time ( 5 min., 10 min. ) is up,they count the number of chips removed.  Then, the teacheror a designated “land inspector” will look at the cookie.

 The miners must pay for the damage done to the environment.

If the cookie is destroyed  - only crumbs left – they must pay 15 chips.

3/4 destroyed = 10 chips

broken in 1/2         5 chips

Intact with just holes - 2 chips

Anything in between destroyed and holes can be “negotiated”.

The payment is for damage to the environment….unless you are a mining company who hires expensive lawyers and lobbyists to get government subsidies

What lessons are learned?  -
 Try it with regular chocolate chip cookies.  Does the kind of landon/in which you obtain resources make a difference?

What are some questions that you have about maintaining or enhancing the environment?


The Cartesian Diver -- You'll need an empty two liter bottle with cap, 1 medicine dropper, and water.

Fill the bottle with water.

Fill the dropper two thirds full of water, put it in the bottle, and screw the cap on the top.

Squeeze the sides of the bottle and observe what happens to the dropper.  Release the sidesof the bottle and see what happens to the dropper. 

  • What happened?  Look very carefully at the dropper when you squeeze the sides of the bottle.  You will notice that the air inside the dropper gets squashed.  When this happens the dropper gets less buoyant, or more dense.  When the density increases, the dropper sinks to the bottom of the bottle.  When you release the sides of the bottle, the air expands out to the place where it is most comfortable and the dropper once again becomes more buoyant, or lighter, and rises to the top again.

 Try these:

1.  The Exploratorium in California tells us that we don't even need a dropper.  Try ketchup or mustard or mayonnaise packages you get at a fast food restaurant.  Even some of the jelly or marmalade packages served at breakfast will float.  Of course many will not float at all.  You have to try a few.  Why do some float and others don't?

          2.  Figure out a way to get the dropper to stay right in the middle of the bottle.

3.  Identify variables - what happens with different amounts of water in the dropper?
Will it work with different liquids?
Put food coloring in the water in the dropper.  What happens?  

4.      Develop your own questions, write a plan of how to answer them, carry out the plan.

And remember - "Never put Descartes before De Horse.


You can also use the water in this activity to cool off in hot weather:

Herding Water + Water Drop Races

You will need:

wax paper

a toothpick

a straw


water soluble magic marker

a flat surface

Lay a sheet of wax paper on a flat surface.  The size of the sheet is not critical, but about a foot square should be plenty.  Dip your finger into some water and shake it at the paper to get one or more drops of water to fall.  Do this several times, until you have at least 10 or 12 drops on the paper.  Dip your toothpick into the water to get it wet and you are ready to begin.

 The idea is to get all of the small drops joined together into one large drop, but you are not allowed to move the wax paper.  AND NO, you cannot pick up the edges of the paper and letting gravity to the work.  Instead, you will use the toothpick to lead the drops. 

 How can you lead a drop of water?

  Be sure your toothpick is wet.  Bring the tip of the toothpick to just touch the side of one of the drops of water.  Notice how the water flows toward it.  Now slowly and gently move the toothpick

towards one of the other water drops.  The drop you touched will follow along with the toothpick.  When it touches the new drop, they will flow together into one.  Then you can lead this drop to the next one.  As the drop gets bigger, you will have to be more careful to keep it from breaking into two pieces.

You might want to see who can join the most drops into one.

Why does this happen?  Well, water is very sticky stuff.  Dip your fingerinto the water and you will see that some of it sticks to your skin, making your finger wet.  Dip a piece of paper into the water and some will stick to the paper, making the paper wet.  Water will even stick to itself.  That is what causes surface tension on water. 

With all of the water molecules pulling on each other, they pull the water into rounded drops.  When you touch the water drop with the toothpick, the water sticks to the toothpick and to the water that is already sticking to the toothpick.  When you pull the toothpick, the water slides across the wax paper as it is pulled along.

 Why doesn't the water stick to the wax paper?  Wax, like oil and grease, is a substance that the water does not stick to.  If you tried this trick on a sheet of notebook paper, it would not work very well.  Instead, the water would stick to the paper too, leaving a wet trail behind the drop as you move the toothpick.

Now  the Water Drop Race:

On another sheet of  wax paper draw  s shaped parallel lines with the magic marker.  They should be about 1" apart.  At the bottom write START at the top write FINISH.

Put a drop on the Start.  With your straw, blow the drop to the finish.  If you touch the sides, you are OUT.

 Now try this at a fancy restaurant.



Materials:  Large container of water, 3 Musketeers, Snickers, Milky Way any chocolate candy bar is OK, as long as you use 3 Musketeers.

Halloween is the best time to do this as “fun size” bars are readily (and cheaply)   available.  However, you can do this any time.  Just cut up the bars as needed.

                   Hand lens


                   Pan Balance or scale



        Divide into cooperative groups of 3- Assign roles: Principal Investigator, Recorder, Materials Manager

        Each group gets a sample of each kind of candy bar, a hand lens, and a toothpick.

        They should list 5 observations about each.  Go around the room and

          ask each group  for an observation.  They cannot use one that someone else has already used.

        Then discuss properties.  Each group should list at least two properties.  They may use the toothpicks  when looking for properties. Based on observations and listing of properties, predict which one will float. Try it.  Note: if you leave Snickers in the water a looooong time (like 12 hours), it  breaks up and the peanuts float to the top. If you wish, you may eat these now.  Or, leave them in the water and record observations of changes (possibly even in state of matter).

        If you have pan balances, scales or triple beam balances – weigh the candy bars before making the predictions.  You can weigh them afterwards to for absorption

Inquiry Question - Why do some float?

You can do this with cans of diet soda and regular soda ( diet floats) – Why?

You can do this with fruits too. 

* Based on what students have learned and done,  each group should develop its own inquiry question.

Ducks and Cows
Or…. Quacking Up Is Udderly Fascinating

In the interest of FAIR PLAY we will use a favorite math activity:

 Farmer Ben has only ducks and cows.  He can’t remember how many of each he has, but he doesn’t need to remember because he knows he has 22 animals and that 22 is also his age. 

He also knows that the animals have a total of 56 legs because 56 is also his father’s age. 

Assuming that each animal has all legs intact and no more, how many of each animal does farmer Ben have?

A.  Solve this problem

B.  Explain your answer

Note:  This is also a favorite Professional Development activity used by the New York City Mathematics Project to demonstrate multiple solutions to solving a problem.



An Old Standard but you’ll find it in the FOSS Models and Designs Module

Balloon Rockets:

          Materials - 1 balloon, 1 very long piece of string (4-5 ft.), 1 straw, scotch tape, your own hot air.

          Set Up -

1.  Attach a string from the back of a chair to the wall or from the floor to the wall.

   Use the tape.  Make sure the string is taut.  Since this is a school, it should be taut.  Anchor it so it stretches as far as possible.

 2.  Feed the string through the straw.  Attach 3 pieces of tape to the straw.

3.  Blow up the balloon but don't tie it off, and attach it to the straw using the tape.

 Remember to hold the end of the balloon so the air doesn't escape.

4.  Do a countdown, 10,9,8,7,6,5..................and release the balloon.  It will race up the string.

 Inquiry - Why? It's Isaac Newton's 3rd law of motion for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  The gases escaping from the back of the balloon rocket thrust the rocket forward.  The action of the air pushing on the balloon is that the balloon accelerates.  (This is actually Newton's second law but.............)

 Inquiry - Design an experiment that tests the increased thrust (extra balloons) and increased load (extra weight) on the performance of the balloon rocket.  List the materials you will need and the procedure you will follow.

More Inquiry - How far will balloons of different sizes go on strings of different sizes?  Try it in the gym or the auditorium

Develop your own inquiry questions.    Find the answers!


Putty In Your Hands

Problem  - Polymer Want a Cracker?

Inquiry Skills: creating models, following directions, identifying variables, manipulating materials, measuring, observing. 
Teacher Background:  Polymers are large molecules built by connecting many smaller molecules. Some polymers are natural and others are synthetic. Both kinds are a big part of our lives - here are just a few examples: milk jugs, oil containers, toys, squeeze bottles, plastic bags, shrink wrap, Styrofoam cups, certain packaging, food wrap, vegetable oil bottles, pipes, plant starch, cellulose and proteins. Try this experiment and make your own polymer. 

Materials: paper cups (3 oz.), plastic spoons, paper towels, Elmer’s glue (4 oz.), borax, teaspoons, newspaper, measuring cups, water.


In one cup, mix 1 tablespoon of glue with 2 teaspoons of water.

In another cup, mix 2 teaspoons of water with 1/2 teaspoon of borax. (Solution will not dissolve completely; continue to mix.)

Stir the glue mixture while adding the borax-water solution; mix until the substance gels.

Smush it - it’s putty in your hands!



                   Record your observation.

                    What is the texture and shape?

                   Is it a solid or a liquid?

                   Is it flexible?

                   Can it be used for anything? What?

                   Does water temperature matter? Will it freeze?

                   Can it change colors by adding food coloring?

What are YOUR  questions?  How can you find the answers?

Write to us at

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Common  Misconceptions About Inquiry

Courtesy -  Lynn Rankin, Exploratorium Institute for Inquiry

        1.     Inquiry is the sole approach for teaching science.

        2.     Inquiry = Hands-on

        3.     Inquiry teaches science process, not content

        4.     Inquiry is unstructured (i.e. chaotic)
                                                The Truth about Inquiry

1.     Inquiry is not an either/or proposition
       Match teaching approach to learning objectives

2.     Not all hands-on is inquiry; not all inquiry is hands-on
        Inquiry involves students:
         Raising their own questions
        Planning, designing, and conducting their own investigations

       3.     No dichotomy between process and content
        Inquiry processes and the development of concepts work in concert

            4.     Inquiry teaching is not chaotic – it is carefully choreographed
 Inquiry teaching requires a high level of organization, planning, and structure both by teacher and student.


Repeat after me, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home....." for the  

Science Gnus Almanac