Mystery Powders (Part 1/2)

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SWBAT explore and identify unknown samples of matter by their physical and chemical properties.

Big Idea

What is an indicator? Drawing on their knowledge of physical and chemical properties, students investigate and use indicators to identify unknown mystery powders.


5 minutes


This multi-day lesson incorporates Science & Engineering Practices as well as Physical Science standards. As students progress through the inquiry, I encourage them to focus on the essential question "How does matter behave?"

To begin, I want to pique student interest and assess their background knowledge, so I ask the questions:

What is an indicator? Responses include: a trend or fact that indicates the state/level of something

What evidence might you observe that a chemical reaction may be occurring? Evidence that a chemical reaction may be occurring are fizzing, bubbles, or a color change.

Students should Turn and Talk with their peers to discuss their thinking, take 1-2 minutes to write their thoughts on the Mystery Powders Inquiry worksheet, then finally, share answers with the class. When students Turn and Talk they engage in meaningful conversation.


35 minutes


I want students to get involved in the content, so through the Mystery Powders Inquiry, I provide an opportunity for them to build understanding. I first want students to understand the physical properties of each mystery powder by making observations (5-PS1-3) with a hand lens and microscope. This gives students another occasion to use scientific tools like a microscope and hand lens. Making observations is a fundamental science process skill and one that consistently can be improved. Recording observations in a Data Table also provides students with the use of a consistent organizational tool. Data Tables are important for sorting and filtering information, as well as providing a visual format of the information.

The next step is for students to use an indicator on each mystery powder. After following a set of directions, students should record their results in the next Data Table and then, using the Indicator Key and their evidence, be able to predict the mystery powder. In this inquiry, students will (MS-PS1-2) analyze and interpret data on the properties of a substance before and after the substance interacts to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred; (SP#1) ask questions to determine each mystery powder; (SP#3) carry out the investigation; (SP#4) analyze and interpret the data regarding each mystery powder; (SP#8) obtain, evaluate, and communicate this information with their peers and record their findings on their lab sheet; and finally (RST.6-8.9) compare and contrast the information gained from reading about physical/chemical properties with that gained from the experiment.

Students Talking About Mystery Powder Lab