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Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science

What Is Matter?: Properties and Classification of Matter Interactive Activity: 4-Question Survey

4-Question Survey: Matter

The series of questions presented in this activity will help you find out your ideas or your students’ ideas about matter. As highlighted in this video series, when we articulate our misconceptions, we are taking the first step to rectifying them.

Surveying is one of many educational strategies that teachers can use to elicit ideas. Even a brief survey, such as the one presented next, can provide a learning opportunity for students and teachers alike. Students can reveal their misconceptions for the first time as well as open their minds to accepting scientific points of view. Teachers can form a basis for making instructional decisions, whether to validate students’ correct yet unsure ideas, confront student misconceptions, reinforce ideas that are forming, or complement ideas that are accurate but only partial explanations.

Before you complete the survey, please identify who you are (pick just one):

I am a teacher. I instruct:
 Grades K-2
 Grades 3-6
 Grades 7-12
 College studentsI am a student. I attend:
 Grades K-2
 Grades 3-6
 Grades 7-12

 I am a member of the general public


Survey Question 1

An empty aluminum scuba tank weighs 30 pounds. Under everyday conditions, when the tank is filled with compressed air, its weight:

 A. is the same as the empty tank.
 B. is more than the empty tank.
 C. depends on the outside air pressure.
D. is less than the empty tank.

Survey Question 2

Which of the following would be considered “matter”?

 A. helium
 B. gravity
 C. a light wave
D. heat

Survey Question 3

3. Aristotle divided properties of matter into two categories, “accidental” and “essential,” and defined essential properties as ones that wouldn’t change when the matter was subdivided. Which of the following do you think Aristotle would consider an “essential property” of matter?

 A. its length
 B. its shape
 C. its density
D. its weight

Survey Question 4

Which of the following is a false statement about plasmas?

 A. They make up a small percentage of the visible universe.
 B. They are used in fluorescent lights and neon signs.
 C. They are created when a gas is heated to very high temperatures or subjected to an electric current.
D. They are the so-called “fourth state of matter.

Now that you’ve completed the survey, make sure to read the closer looks, if you haven’t already, to learn more about these topics.

Survey Question 1: Answer

The correct answer is B: a tank filled with compressed air weighs more than an empty tank. Air is matter, and so by definition has weight and takes up space. Many people have the misconception that air is either weightless or will subtract weight from something that it fills. Others may be thrown off by answer c, believing that the outside air pressure might be great enough to “buoy” up the filled tank. Under everyday conditions, however, the effect of the outside air pressure on the weight of the tank is so small as to be negligible.

Survey Question 2: Answer

The correct answer is A: helium. Though it is a gas that is lighter than air, helium does take up space and have weight. Gravity is the name of the force that attracts bodies of matter towards each other. Light and heat are forms of energy and, like gravity, do not have weight and do not take up space.

Survey Question 3: Answer

The correct answer is C: its density. Density is a property associated with the “material kind” of matter referred to in the video, and is a measure of the number of particles of matter per area. The density of matter does not change, regardless of how it is divided. Length, shape, and weight are all properties that have no effect on the density of matter.

Survey Question 4: Answer

The correct answer is A: the false statement is that plasmas make up a small percentage of the visible universe. Ninety-nine percent of what we observe when we look to the skies with a telescope or our naked eye is plasma. The credit for discovering the “fourth state of matter” is given to the English scientist William Crookes, who, in the late nineteenth century, was studying the effect and behavior of gases at low densities inside a tube, when an electric discharge was introduced. He realized that a new state of matter appeared and that an electric current could pass through it. This new state was eventually named plasma in the 1920s by the American physicist Irving Langmuir.

Series Directory

Essential Science for Teachers: Physical Science


Produced by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 2004.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-749-5