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What's the Matter with Oobleck?

Unit Summary

Most materials are easy to categorize, but not Oobleck. This substance has unique properties that take on the characteristics of more than one type of matter. Students learn the three states of matter and study the properties of each. Through investigation and research, students make a claim about the type of matter Oobleck represents and then use the Showing Evidence Tool to come up with proof to support their claim.


Curriculum-Framing Questions

  • Essential Question
    Does everything have its place? 
  • Unit Questions
    Does all matter fit into only one category?
    What state(s) of matter is Oobleck?
  • Content Questions
    What are the different states of matter?
    Do all states of matter have the same physical properties?
    What are the properties of matter?



The teacher provides one example of each state of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. The students discuss the different characteristics of each. The teacher asks students to consider: Does all matter fit into only one category? Next, a fourth example of matter is introduced. Using their senses, students determine which category they think this fourth item would fit into, and why. They discuss as each category and label according to its state of matter. In their science journals, students record and categorize other examples of matter and share their examples with the class.

The teacher writes six physical properties of matter (shape, size, odor, color, taste, texture) on the board . Using an apple as an example, the class describes its physical properties. As a second example, the students discuss an ice cube’s state of matter and then describe its physical properties. The class discusses how the physical properties of the ice cube would change if it melted into water. Students consider the question: Do all states of matter have the same physical properties?

In preparation for the investigation, the teacher mixes a batch of Oobleck*, enough for each student to have a small cupful. The teacher then reads Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Suess. Periodically, the class discusses the physical properties of Oobleck described in the book. Students make a guess as Oobleck’s state of matter based on the book’s description. They record their initial predictions in their science journals. The teacher asks students to consider: What state(s) of matter is Oobleck?

Students observe and list the physical properties of Oobleck. They note any other observations about the mystery matter. The students then make a claim about what state(s) of matter they think Oobleck is. They collect evidence during their investigation to support their claim.

As a warm-up activity, students go to the computer lab to use the Showing Evidence Tool. The teacher groups students who have similar claims and adds three to four pieces of evidence to the tool for students to manipulate. Students move the evidence to show how it supports or weakens their claim. Students continue to add their own evidence from other available resources, including their investigation notes. Teams aim for at least five pieces of evidence to support their claim and three that could weaken the claim. As a follow-up activity, each student team reviews another team’s work. The class discusses different perspectives and counterarguments.

Finally, the groups present their claims in a slideshow presentation. The teacher asks the class to consider whether another group presented a claim with evidence that convinced them to change their original opinion. The teacher discusses the scientific state of Oobleck, and students reconsider the essential question: Does everything have its place?


Examine the Showing Evidence Activity

The Showing Evidence Tool space below represents one team's investigation in this project. You can double-click on the evidence to read the team's descriptions.

Project Name: What's the Matter with Oobleck? (Click here to set up this project in your workspace)

Prompt: What kind of matter is Oobleck?

Explore an interactive demo.

What's the Matter with Oobleck?
What's the Matter with Oobleck?

At a Glance

Grade Level: 3

Subject(s): Physical Science

Key Learnings: Matter, Investigation, Argumentation

Time Needed: Approximately 30 minutes a day for five days