Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science
What Is Matter?: Properties and Classification of Matter Children’s Ideas About Matter
Below are common ideas children in grades K-6 have about this topic, compiled from research on children’s ideas about science. Consider what evidence might refute this idea, and why a child would be likely to believe this? Once you’ve entered all your answers you can click “printable page” at the bottom of this form to print your answers. You can also click “see possible response” for any question to see one possible response from the series content advisors.
1. “Matter” is something that is important.
The word “matter” has several different meanings. Scientists use the term matter to describe a broad range of phenomena, which are distinct from the phenomena of energy. Its scientific meaning is probably closest in meaning to the familiar words “stuff” or “material.” Until they learn this meaning in school or elsewhere, younger children may have everyday connotations for the term matter. Some examples are synonyms such as “issue, ” as in “a matter of…” or the verb form “to matter,” meaning, “to be important.”
2. All properties used to classify matter are equal.
Aristotle distinguished between “accidental” properties like color or shape, and “essential” ones like density. Essential properties are those that remain when the matter is changed in some way. Until they have more experience with essential properties, children up to age 7 might classify all round things or red things together, for example, which may result in categories that contain objects with a range of densities. Scientists would say that these kinds of classification schemes don’t have much predictive power, because they don’t necessarily tell us how matter will behave under different conditions.
3. “Cork” and “a cork” are the same thing.
A variety of objects can be made of cork, which is a form of matter. A survey of research on children’s thinking shows that the ability to distinguish matter from objects made of matter is the most important stage in children’s development of a robust, dynamic concept of matter and its properties.
4. Solids are made of many different kinds of matter, but all liquids contain water.
Children up to age 8 often adopt a “prototype,” like water with which they have lots of experience, as a component of any liquid they encounter. This idea can be challenged with a solid like wax, for example, that, when melted, turns into liquid wax, not water. In fact, all solids have a “melting point,” that is, a temperature at which they change state into a liquid.
5. Air isn’t matter.
Because it is all around them and mostly invisible, children sometimes don’t think of air as having weight and taking up space. In fact, few children have direct experience weighing air, as Siddharth was able to do in the Science Studio in the video. It is also common for children not to think of air as a gas. This is often because they have everyday connotations for gas as having an odor and/or being toxic. Once they develop a more robust definition of matter, they begin to understand that air is made of several odorless gases.
Session 1 What Is Matter?: Properties and Classification of Matter
What is matter? This question at first seems deceptively simple — matter is all around us. Yet how do we define it? What does a block of cheese have in common with the Moon? What are the characteristics of matter that set it apart from something that is definitely not matter? Matter is one of the big ideas in science. Most areas in physical science can be discussed and explained in terms of matter or energy, and matter is a subject that naturally bridges to the other sciences (chemistry, life, earth science, etc.). In this session, we’ll build a working definition of matter, learn to distinguish between its “accidental” and “essential” properties, and explore it through classification, an activity with a rich history in science.
Session 2 The Particle Nature of Matter: Solids, Liquids, and Gases
What simple idea links together all of chemistry and physics? How can a close study of the macroscopic differences among solids, liquids, and gases support a microscopic model of tiny, discrete, and constantly moving particles? In this session, participants learn how the "particle model" can be turned into a powerful tool for generating predictions about the behavior of matter under a wide range of conditions.
Session 3 Physical Changes and Conservation of Matter
What happens when sugar is dissolved in a glass of water or when a pot of water on the stove boils away? Do things ever really "disappear?" In everyday life, observations that things "disappear" or "appear" seem to contradict one of the fundamental laws of nature: matter can be neither created nor destroyed. In this session, participants learn how the principles of the particle model are consistent with conservation of matter.
Session 4 Chemical Changes and Conservation of Matter
How can the particle model account for what happens when two clear liquids are mixed together and they produce a milky-white solid? What happens when iron rusts? Where do the elements come from? In this session, participants extend the particle model by looking inside the particles, learn about some early chemical pioneers, and in the process discover how the law of conservation of matter applies even at the scale of atoms and molecules.
Session 5 Density and Pressure
What makes a block of wood rise to the surface of a bucket of water? Why do your ears pop when you swim deep underwater? In this session, participants examine density, an essential property of matter. They also look at how particles of matter are in constant motion, which leads to a deeper understanding of fluid pressure. Lastly, the concepts of pressure and density are investigated to explain the macroscopic phenomenon of rising and sinking.
Session 6 Rising and Sinking
Why does a hot air balloon rise into the sky? Why does ice rise in water, when a lump of solid wax will sink in a jar full of molten wax? In this session, participants generalize the model that has been developed about what rises and what sinks, using the idea of balance of forces.
Session 7 Heat and Temperature
What makes the liquid in a thermometer rise or fall in response to temperature? Which contains more heat — a boiling teakettle on the stove or a swimming pool of lukewarm water? In this session, participants focus on the difference between heat and temperature, and examine how both are defined in terms of particles. The particle model is then used to explain a number of everyday phenomena, from why things expand when they are heated to the role that temperature plays in changes of state.
Sessions 8 Extending the Particle Model of Matter
In this session, participants extend their understanding of the particle model to explain additional macroscopic phenomena, including the electrical properties of matter. Participants review the progression of ideas covered in the course and anticipate future developments in the understanding of matter.