My family has a rich history of serving the in the armed forces, so around Memorial Day and Fourth of July I like to find ways to talk to my son about our country’s history. A lot of my Engineering classes in college involved analyzing water in some way, so I’ve also been trying to come up with an activity that would teach my son about different properties of water. Then I had an idea! If I could come up with an experiment that accomplished both (teaching him about history and properties of water), then I would create a lesson that would really stick! So I came up with two water science experiments to color the American Flag, and accomplished both of my goals!
Make an American Flag with Two Water Science Experiments!
-Red food coloring
-Blue food coloring
-Olive oil (shown in orange bowl)
-1 Paper Towel
-3 small bowls of about the same size
-Plain White Piece of paper
Red Stripes Water Science Experiment
Step 1: Using a pencil, draw seven lines on the paper towel, 1/2″ apart.
Step 2: Cut across the lines to make 7 strips of paper towel.
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Step 3: Pour water and this red food coloring into one of the small bowls. Set up the three same sized bowls as shown in the picture below, placing the bowl with the red water on top of the upside down bowl.
Step 4: Place one end of each 7 paper towel strips cut in Step 2 into the red colored water. Place the other end of each strip into the lower bowl.
Step 5: Watch as capillary action takes place!
What is Capillary Action?
Water is very sticky, but not in the way we usually thing of sticky (like gum or a wet lollipop). Water likes to stick to things and to itself! So when a paper towel is stuck into a bowl of water, the water wants to “stick” to the paper towel. But since water wants to stick to other water molecules, more water is “sucked” into the paper towel. The water continues to travel up the paper towel as it continues to stick to new parts of the paper towel, and more water is sucked into the paper towel as water molecules want to attached to each other. This movement of water is called Capillary Action. It is what brings water into plants, and what helps us clean up a mess with a paper towel.
In the first 5 steps above, I decided to use Capillary Action to color the paper towels, instead of just painting them so I could teach my son about this really cool characteristic of water. It took about 20 minutes for the strips to be completely red, but watching the progression was pretty fun!
Step 6: Once all 7 strips are completely red, set them aside to dry.
Stars Water Science Experiment
Step 1: Out of the left over paper towel, cut out a 3.5 inch by 4 inch rectangle.
Step 2: Dip the Q-tip into the olive oil, and then dot the piece of paper towel from Step 1 50 times. Set the paper towel with oil dots on a plate, and set it aside to dry.
I told my son that the dots of oil would end up being the stars on our American flag, so I told him to copy the star pattern from a picture. I asked him if he knew why we were making 50 stars. He wasn’t sure, so I told him each star represents a state in our country.
Step 3: Fill one of the empty small bowls with water, and add this blue food coloring to the water. Paint the paper towel from Step 2 with the blue water and a paint brush. When my son started painting the paper towel, he noticed the spots of oil do not color the same way as the rest of the paper towel. I told him that the oil was hydrophobic, which meant it did not allow the color water stick to the paper towel. Instead, the oil pushed (or repelled) the water away, and so the paper towel did not turn blue.
By the time the paper towel was dry, some of the blue water was able to seep into the oil spots, but there was discoloration to the oil spots.
Putting it All Together
Step 1: Take out a plain white piece of paper, and place it on the table in landscape. Next, use a glue stick to glue the blue paper towel to the upper right hand corner.
Step 2: Starting at the top edge of the paper, glue the red strips onto the white paper, leaving about a 1/2″ space between each strip.
Step 3: Trim the paper as shown below:
Step 4: Admire your finished flag!
Before I even had a chance to ask my son to clean up, he asked if he could also make the Texas flag. I said sure, and watched as he applied the principles of capillary action and hydrophobic materials to make our state’s flag! It always amazes me what concepts kids can understand when we present it to them in a fun way!
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