The following portfolio uses a variety of lessons incorporating inquiry based learning strategies which can be implemented for primary students. The lessons teach students the science of floating and sinking.


          The aim of our RICH task is to develop the students understanding of floating and sinking. We will achieve this by providing students an opportunity to investigation a range of aspects through inquiry based learning, where they may explore the density and buoyancy of object to explain why objects sink or float. To introduce this concept to the students, the teacher will have a fish tank set up at the front of the classroom with a random object placed on each table- this will indicate to the students that a new concept is being started in the classroom. To originally engage students in the unit, the teacher will discuss with student items they already know which sink and float, prior to them placing their objects on either the ‘sink’ or ‘float’ table. Over the coming weeks, the students will investigate a range of concepts associated with sinking and floating, including buoyancy and density, prior to completing an inquiry based learning unit whereby the students are required to build a boat using their knowledge and attempt to float it. Along with this activity, the students will be involved in a range of class activities to explore the floating and sinking of different objects, and as a class explain why this is.

(Reference at end)


Buoyancy Game

          After watching the video clip above and discussing what has been learnt, student will then complete the quick quiz below with a partner. By completing it with a partner, students will be able to discuss the answers prior to selecting one. At completion of the quiz, the teacher will determine who got the most ‘points’ and may award either points or a prize.

          This activity can also be used as a game show- with quiz on smartboard and students are in small group and must select which question to answer (the most points the question is worth the harder the question is). The team with the most point at the end is award the winner.



          The above quiz provides a small amount of information about the science Archimedes’, which also incorporates a history into the unit. The general concept is that Hiero was given a golden crown by a goldsmith and asked Archimedes to find out if it really was pure gold. Archimedes, on discovering the principle of displacement needed to measure the density of the crown is said to have shouted "eureka, eureka!" while running naked through Syracuse. This shows that Archimedes' method successfully detected the goldsmith's fraud, as the goldsmith had made a crown of silver and coated it in gold, ensuring it weighed the same as a gold crown and ultimately ripped Hiero off. This shows that two objects may weigh the same, however their density may be different meaning that one item will sink and the other will float. 

          This concept can be reinforce by reading the book ‘Mr Archimedes’ by Pamela Allen which briefly explains the concept of water displacement in a bathtub. Students who are interested can be provided with the opportunity to find further information on this interesting concept.

          These experiences aim to give background information to the students to start developing the concept and ideas related to floating and sinking, and maybe starting to address misconceptions at an early stage in the unit.

(Reference at end)

Buoyancy and Density- Video Clip

          This is a 12 minute video clip which explains buoyancy and density using a number of examples, including hot air balloons and blocks. It also provide an example of how to determine density, and explains how if the density of an object is more than the density of the water is will sink but if it is less it will float. This would be a great resource to use to introduce children to the concepts of buoyancy and density, prior to completing a lesson on it.


Buoyancy and Density- Video Clip

Teaching Outcomes

ACT Curriculum Framework- Every Chance to Learn

  • ELA 19.LC.17. Observe, explore, investigate, consider, identify, describe, compare and sort natural phenomena and living & non-living things.

The role of the teacher in this outcome is to facilitate the children’s learning and exploring the concept of sinking and floating. It is vital for a teacher to provide open ended investigations that the children can solve themselves.

  • ELA 19.LC.18. Examine and predict events, speculate about how and why things happen, and compare explanations from different sources, using scientific language.

The role of the teacher in this outcome is to allow the children to hypothesise outcomes before performing or researching the outcome. This is vital to a child’s process of thinking and will challenge the child’s way of thinking especially if the result wasn’t what they had expected.

  • ELA 19.LC.6. Comparison of properties of an object with those of the materials of which it is made and why materials are chosen for a particular purpose.

The role of the teacher in this outcome is to get children to be proactive in the development of experiments and getting them to gather resources and having discussions on what resources are best and why is giving children freedom in their own learning.

NSW Science & Technology K-6 Syllabus

Stage 1: 

  • Physical Phenomena – pushes and pulls can make things move & stop
  • Products & Services – products can be created to fulfil a specific purpose

National Science Curriculum: Framing paper

Stage 1, students from 5 to 8 years of age

  • Curriculum focus – Awareness of self and the local natural world
  • Sources of interesting questions and the related science understanding – Everyday life experiences involving science at home and in nature.
  • Relevant big ideas of science – Observation, Order, Questioning & speculating

Curriculum focus: awareness of self and the local natural world

Young children have an intrinsic curiosity about their immediate world. Raising questions leads to speculation and the testing of ideas. They have a desire to explore and investigate the things around them. Exploratory, purposeful play is a central feature of their investigations. Observation is an important skill to be developed at this time, using all the senses in a dynamic way. Observation also leads into the idea of order that involves describing, comparing, and sorting.


It is common for students to have misconception associated with floating and sinking, particularly why different items float or sink. Some of the most common misconceptions related in floating and sinking include:

-          Small objects float and large objects sink

-          Soft objects float and hard objects sink

-          Floating objects have air in them somewhere

-          Floating is when a sizeable amount of the object is above the water, if there is only a small amount above the water it is partly floating and partly sinking or that it was ‘starting’ to sink and would eventually go down

-          Many believe that objects completely submerged but freely suspended, such as fish and submarines were not actually floating

-          When asked why an object float, children often say it is because the object is light

          The main misconception however, about floating and sinking is concerned with the weight and size of the object. Many children believe that if two objects are the same in weight then they must both either float or sink. This is incorrect as density determines whether an item float or sinks. A simple example to show this is the ‘soft drink test’, by completing this test the children can see that a normal can of coke sinks whilst a diet can of coke floats. This is concerned with the additional sugar in the normal can of coke which makes the object more dense and hence causes it to float.

(Reference at end)

          Furthermore, there have been a range of studies into the misconceptions concerned with floating and sinking, one of particiular interest is the research completed by F Thompson and S Logue- 'An Exploration of Common Student Misconceptions in Science'. Throughout their research, they identified the scientific concept along with the most common student misconceptions, as shown below:

Scientific Concepts

Associated Misconceptions

Whether something sinks or floats depends on a combination

of its density, buoyancy, and effect on surface tension

Things float if they are light and sink if they are heavy.

Clouds contain very small particles of water or ice that are held up in the air by the lifting action of air currents, wind and convection. These particles can become bigger through condensation and when they become too heavy to be held up in the air they fall to the earth as rain, hail or snow.


Clouds contain water that leaks out as rain.

An animal is a multicellular organism that is capable of independent movement.

An animal is a land mammal other than a human being. Insects, birds and fish are not animals.

       How do you modify student’s science misconceptions?

          It is frequently discussed that it can be very difficult to change the way an individual perceives something (Guesne and Tiberghien, 1985). 

          The process of conceptual change occurs when a state of disequilibrium occurs for a student an instructional three-step strategy is suggested by Finegold & Gorsky 2004. Firstly students’ preconceptions must be interpreted through an exposing event. Secondly conflict must be created from a discrepancy which conflicts with students’ preconceptions where they are unable to explain the outcome of an event. Thirdly students require a learning support system such as scaffolding that will assist them to find a viable explanation. 

          The most successful approaches to changing misconceptions explained by Prescott & Mitchelmore, 2005 are for teachers to firstly be aware of their own misconceptions and ensure that students are aware of their misconceptions. Teachers should discuss common misconceptions with students in depth and give students the opportunity to test their misconceptions in a variety of ways. 

          Misconceptions are a development of ideas that are developed by people with the information that they have and it is important to note that everyone has “alternative conceptions about how the world works.” (Skamp. K, 1998) The role of the teacher is to provide inquiry based learning opportunities for students to deal with their misconceptions by “confronting them with conflicting evidence” (Skamp. K, 1998)         

          “Misconceptions can be difficult to change however research shows that creating a disequilibrium in the students thinking is essential to change misconception” (Harlen. W, 2004). For this reason we have developed a RICH task which provides students with the opportunity to address their misconception by first allowing them to predict whether an object will sink or float, prior to completing an inquiry based experiment to test their theories. 

Task- Building a Boat

The following RICH task will be implemented over a number of weeks, where students develop their understanding of floating and sinking, and what causes such items to float or sink including the basis of concepts of density and buoyancy. They will develop an understanding of different materials which may be used when designing a boat. When students make their boat, they will then test its ability to float and hold additional weight before completing an evaluation.

Introduction to Concept

            To begin the unit, the students will investigate a range of items and their ability to float or sink. The students will view a number of items, and then using the worksheet provided in Lesson Resources section below,  the students will:

-  Write or draw the item in column 1.

-  Predict whether it will sink or float and record their prediction in column 2.

-  Place the item in the water and observe what happens.

-  Record their results in column 3.

-  Repeat the procedure and record the results in column 4.

-  Place the items that sank in one pile and the items that floated in another pile.

(Reference at end)

            When each group has completed the testing in water, they then will select an unusual substance, such as oil, soft drink or jelly mix and begin complete the worksheet again with the new substance. The students will be shocked to see that items may sink in one substance but float in another. After each group has finished testing their objects discuss the results using the following questions:

-       How many of your predictions were correct?

-       Did your predictions get better, worse, or stay the same?

-       Look at the pile of objects that sank. Describe them. Do they have anything in common with one another?

-       Look at the pile of objects that floated. Describe them. Do they have anything in common with one another?

-       Compare the results for each group. Did everybody get the same results? If any of the results were different, ask students to replicate their trial.

          The students will then investigate the concepts of density and buoyancy, researching the fact that whether an item float and sinks is not necessarily determined by the weight of the objects, but also the size. It is important that students understand this concept prior to designing their boat.

           As a class the students will then discuss from their observations the type of material which sank and the type which floated. Materials in which they may discuss include living materials such as flowers, leaves, wood and fruit and non-living materials such as metal, plastic and plasticine The students will then extend on this understanding by also investigating how changing the shape of a material can alter the ability for it to float or sink. For example, changing a plasticine ball into a dome type shape will cause it to float, as it has altered its density through making surface area bigger.

The Task 

          The students will then focus on beginning their main task, the ‘Boat Making Activity’. Students are required to build a boat which fits into the following categories:

-       Ability to float: Boat must float for at least 1 minute and be able to withstand additional weight of 5 cent coins

-       Ability to move: boat must be able to move with assistance from wind

-       Cheap: materials acquired for boat must not exceed $10

-       Environmentally friendly: materials used for boat must be environmentally friendly, including recycled materials or materials which may be re-used. Students need to ensure that when testing their boats, materials will not affect the testing water.

-       Appealing: boat has visual appeal with aesthetics in mind.

 Design Process

          Through discussions and extensive research, the students will begin to gather ideas about the best materials to build their boat out of, whilst considering the criteria above. In their workbooks, the students will then complete their first design of their boats, explaining the following:

-       why they are using the materials they have chosen

-       whether the materials float/sink

-       the size of their boat and the impact of this

-       how much weight they believe their boat will be able to withstand

-       the cost of their boat

Evaluation of Design and Boat Building

          After discussion with a fellow classmate about the quality of their plans, the students will be provided an opportunity to make changes to their design prior to the commencement of building their boat. The students will be provided with a number of lessons and different resources both at school and from home to build their boat, keeping in mind the price limit on the boat.


          When all students complete the building of their boats, they will have an amazing race at the local pool. In conjunction with that, all boats will be tested in terms of their ability to move (the race) and the ability to withstand additional weight, by placing coins on the boat. Prizes will be given out to the winner of the race and the individual’s boat who could withstand the most weight, therefore acknowledging the students that constucted the boat to fit the criteria.


(Reference at end)

Evaluation of Final Product

          The students will then complete an evaluation, commenting on why their boat did or did not work factors they could change if they had to complete the activity again and factors which they would keep the same. They would also be required to evaluate the original criteria, including the boats ability to float and withstand additional weight, the cost of the boat, how environmentally friendly their boat was and how appealing their boat was. They would then be provided with the opportunity to comment on another class member’s boat, evaluating them in a similar way. A template for this evalution is provided in the lesson resources section for a teacher to be able to model off.


At the end of the unit, after the construction of the boat, a copy of the rubic (located with lesson reources) will be used to catergorise the students ability to demonstrate their knowledge learnt throughout the unit. This is important to be able to identify, as changes to teaching style may need to occur if results were not consistant.

Indicators of Success

This is a coherent unit of work with assessment guidelines throughout. It is based on the science behind the concept of floating and sinking but technology (with the building and designing of the boat) has been enbedded into the unit in order for the students to physically explore floating and sinking. Indicators of success would be with every child understanding the concept of floating and sinking through the development and testing of their boat. Other indicators to consider include:

- That the children were engaged and communicated ideas with peers.

- Students have learnt to differentiate between the concepts of bouyancy and density.

- That children have extensively explored the concept of floating verses sinking.

- The misconceptions at the start of the unit have been reshaped and new conception is made due to exposure to correct information.


Activity 1- The Magical Diving Sub

          Grades K-6: In this two-day exploration, students use their background knowledge of how scientists work to discuss and predict if a given object will sink or float. They record these predictions on a data sheet. They then test the objects and organize them into floating/sinking groups. Students also observe the floating and sinking of a toy submarine and infer what is causing the sub to float or sink.

ENGAGE: This activity engages students by discussing what scientist do and how they make predictions and conduct tests.

EXPLORE: Students explore a toy diving sub by firstly seeing if it can float then secondly putting water in the sub to see if it sinks.

EXPLAIN: Students predict what they think will happen on a chart then they chart their results.

ELABORATE: Students elaborate this activity by using baking powder in the sub pushing it under water then see if the air bubbles created by the baking soda will help the sub float.

EVALUATE: Students are evaluated when they present their charted findings to the class and explain how the sub floats and sinks in the two scenarios.


Activity 2- Submarine science (60 to 90 min)

Students use drinking straws, plasticine and a soft-drink bottle to make an amazing bottle diver and learn about floating and sinking while having fun. They eagerly exercise complex thinking skills to understand and describe how the bottle diver works and can apply this knowledge to submarines and fish biology.

ENGAGE: This activity engages students in a fun activity of building a diving octopus.

EXPLORE: Students explore this activity by firstly making a submergible straw they explore buoyancy by varying the amount of blu-tac on the straw. Then the straw is put into a bottle which the students can further explore varying results.

EXPLAIN: The students chart the variables and results explaining what effect different results will have on the straw.

ELABORATE: to elaborate students can make an octopus from a straw and paperclip and decorate their bottle to make it look like the ocean.

EVALUATE: The students fill in an evaluation sheet where they have to explain how the straw sub works, what could they use for buoyancy other than blu-tac and why does the experiment not work as well when the bottle is not full of water. The teacher can evaluate from these questions if the students understand the concept. 


Activity 3- Will it float? (40 to 90 min) –

          Will it float is a surprisingly contagious and fun educational game you can play everyday. Students attempt to stump the class with mystery items from home. From the bizarre to the mundane, each item will captivate students’ interest. In the process, they use critical thinking and learn the difference between a prediction and a guess.

ENGAGE: This activity engages all student as they make predictions as to whether the item will sink or float, and then conducts tests to determine the outcome. The student may also be engaged by bring in items from home.

EXPLORE: The students explore different items and whether they float or sink to investigate the concept of density.

EXPLAIN: Students predict what will happen on the worksheet, and then after the experiment write what actually happened

ELABORATE: Students elaborate this activity by explaining why a certain items will sink or float

EVALUATE: Students are evaluated on this activity by filling in the worksheet and showing an adequate understanding of why items sink or float.


 Activity 4- Online float and sink Game

          The game pictures a group of children sailing on a lake, they come across different items in the lake that the students have to guess if they float or sink then click on the item to find out the answer.

          The next task is to guess why three items all float, this encourages student to think about why certain items float and discuss.

ENGAGE: To engage the students have them sit on the floor in front of the Smart Board. Instruct them that they are going to play a game and the quietest person can be the first to participate. This activity is making connections from past learning throughout the unit.

EXPLORE: This activity helps the students be interactive in their learning and manipulate materials on the Smart board that years prior would not have been able to have been done. The environment would be set up so the Smart board was at the front and every student could see it.

EXPLAIN: Through out the activity their can be class discussions on what people think and why and overcoming any misconceptions. This means that at this stage in the activity the students are able to verbalise their conceptual understanding and using this strategy for peer teaching.

ELABORATE: This activity is providing an extension to the learning that has already developed throughout the unit. This means that this activity develops a deeper understanding of floating and sinking that can be adapted to everyday situations.

EVALUATE: Being able to evaluate the activity is important as a teaching practice. To do this a teacher would evaluate the students understanding of key concepts in the activity.


          Through the use of these activities the concept of floating and sinking is reinforced. Most of these activities are set out in a game like situation and test the knowledge that has been developed through the unit. This is a important way to look at teaching as it is appealing to students that would normally struggle through understanding concepts as it is just explained where the practical applications are supporting students learning through different approaches. These are also good resources as they can be used in different instances for example; with the teacher and students working together on the Smart Board, working individually to assess children’s knowledge or can be printed out and done in class if their isn’t access to technology.

          These resources have been collected with the understanding and incorporation of cultural perspectives and identity in science. In the Online Floating Game there is a representation across children from different cultures so individuals from the class don’t feel the minority because of not seeing people like them involved in science.


          Floating and sinking is a common activity in early year’s classrooms as a result of it being a common concept that children come across daily. Students’ ideas about floating and sinking are intriguing. We developed our Rich assignment to give students strategies for developing their understandings all allow them to explore by probing, investigating and challenging the activities to gain a well rounded knowledge on floating and sinking.

           The role of learning is moving away from the traditional conception of teacher directed and moving forward in a more guided approach which means more freedom placed on the learners to challenge what they know and discover what they don’t. The Rich task that our group created is based on a constructivist approach to inquiry-based learning. This is where students are required to act like scientists by making predictions, testing their theories and evolving their knowledge.

           This task links to ELA 19 in the ACT curriculum framework, the students examine and predict if an object is going to sink or float, they speculate about why it will sink or float and compare information they have learned in the floating and sinking task to help them to build a boat from material that will float.

          The 5 E’s are present throughout the rich task. The teacher engages students in the concept of floating and sinking through reading the Archimedes bath story, by watching a buoyancy and density video clip and by playing a game on the interactive white board.  The students explore floating and sinking through hands on activity where they test a range of objects after predicting the outcome of floating or sinking. Students explain their findings on an activity sheet including why they think an object floats or sinks. Students elaborate the float and sink task by building a boat, each group can choose the material they would like to use to make their boat. The teacher evaluates the tasks by the explanations students gave for their sink/float activity and by seeing the students transferred the knowledge learnt to the boat building exercise.

          The view that our group took when approaching this task is that children are active in their own learning, teachers are facilitators of knowledge not dictators and teaching is not limited to the classroom, whereby students need to practically gain their own knowledge.


~ Sinking boat image, Weinberger. S, (2007) Coast Guard Sinking Even Faster, viewed 13th May 2010,                                                                             coast_guard_sin/#ixzz0nmG6JzZl

~ Feldman. B, (1998) Surfing the net with Kids: Buoyancy Game Show, viewed 13th May 2010,

~ Mr Archimedes image, Stackpole, B. (1999) Mr Archimedes Bath, viewed 13th of May 2010,

~ Science online, (2007) viewed 13th May, 2010,

~ Act Government (n.d) Act Curriculum Framework- Every Chance to Learn

~ Board of Studies, NSW (1993) NSW Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus

~ National Curriculm Board, (2009) National Science Curriculum: Framing Paper

~ Image of coke cans, Department of Physics (1996) Floating and sinking pop cans, viewed 13th of May 2010,

~ Thompson, F & Logue, S. (2006), An Exploration of common student misconceptions in Science, International Education Journal, viewed 13th of May 2010,

~ Guesne, E & Tiberghien, A. (1985) Childrens ideas in Science. Milton Keynes, UK Open University Press

~ Finegold, M & Gorsky, P 2004, ‘Learning about forces: simulating the outcomes of pupils’ misconceptions’, Journal Instructional Science, Vol 7 no. 3, viewed 11 May 2010

~ Skamp, K (1998) Teaching Primary Science Constructively, 3rd ed, Cengage Learning Australia, South Melbourne, Victoria.

~ Harlen. W, (2004) Evaluating Inquiry- based Science Developments, University of Cambridge and The University of Bristol, Retrieved on April 4, 2010 


~ Picture of floating objects, Boss and Jumars (2003) Physical solutions in Everyday problems in aquatic, viewed 13th of May 2010,

~ Image of tin foil boat, Perez, A. (2009) Foil Boat Experiment, viewed on 13th of May 2010,

~ Center for Chemistry Education, (n.d) viewed on 13th May 2010,

~ Investigating Straw Submarines, (2004) viewed 13th May 2010, 

~ ABC Science (2006) Will it float? viewed on 13th of May 2010,

~ BBC Float and sink (2010) Digger and the Gang, viewd on 13th of May 2010,

Prescott, A & Mitchelmore, M 2005, ‘Teaching projectile motion to eliminate misconceptions’ Psychology of MathematicsEducation Volume 4, viewed 11 May 2010

~ Moore, T & Harrison, A (n.d) Floating and sinking: Everyday science in Middle School, viewed 13th May 2010,



Deleted user
21 June 2012, 13:50
1 comment