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Use Bubbles—Observe Wind Speed and Direction: Ask a Question and Plan an Experiment

By Samara Gann
Curriculum Product Developer


National Science Education Standards

  • Grades K–4: Science as Inquiry, Abilities Necessary to Do Scientific Inquiry, Understandings about Scientific Inquiry
  • Grades K–4: Physical Science, Position and Motion of Objects, Properties of Objects and Materials

In this activity, students explore wind speed and direction. They generate an investigable question then plan and perform an experiment using bubbles to investigate that question.


Objectives

  • Work in cooperative groups of 2
  • Describe the distance a bubble travels, through repeated trials, using nonstandard measurement units
  • Determine wind direction and wind speed using bubbles
  • Demonstrate that air is all around us and wind is moving air

Materials

  • Bottled Bubble Solution with Wand, 1 Per Student
  • Student Activity Sheet, 1 Per Student
  • Clipboard (or other suitable surface for writing), 1 Per Student (optional)
  • Graph Paper (optional)

Procedure (teacher)

  1. Download the Measuring Wind Speed and Direction student activity sheet and make a copy for each student.
  2. Ask students to think of a question they have about wind.
    • With younger students, consider starting a whole-group discussion to find an investigable question. Use chart paper to record student ideas/questions. Guide students in choosing a single question.
    • Older students can work in teams of 2 or 4 to generate a question. Use the question as an opportunity for students to “think about it” and have students record their group’s question on their individual student activity sheets.
  3. Provide each student with 1 bottle of bubble solution and a copy of the student activity sheet. (Since the activity occurs outdoors, we recommend that each student have a clipboard or other firm surface to use when writing.) If doing this activity with younger students, consider using the activity sheet as a guide and record student responses and observations on chart paper.
  4. Explain the directions given on the activity sheet and ensure that students understand the task. Set classroom guidelines for the experiments. Guidelines may include:
    • Use bubbles in your experiment plan. Take nonstandard units of measurement with items easily found in our classroom or brought from home (e.g., a shoe, a book, or a jump rope).
    • Have your teacher review your experiment plan and materials before you set up the experiment.
    • Follow class rules for safety in the science lab.
  5. Review the students’ experiment plans. Approve their materials lists and/or make suggestions for substitute materials.
  6. Guide students to complete their experiments and record their results.
  7. Plan time for each team of students to share its experiment and results with the rest of the class.
  8. After students complete the activity, conclude with a class discussion. Make sure to use the discussion to build a working definition of wind speed and direction based on the results of the experiments. Here are some examples of guiding questions:
    • Did your bubbles travel a distance longer, shorter, or the same as you predicted? Why do you think this happened?
    • How did you measure the distance that your bubble traveled away from your wand before popping? Why do you think the bubble popped?
    • How did bubbles help you determine wind direction? How did they help you observe wind speed?
    • What did you learn about wind?

Background information (teacher)

If you can’t see wind, then how can you tell its speed or direction? Meteorologists depend on wind features in order to forecast the weather. They use tools such as weather vanes to determine wind direction and anemometers to measure wind speed.

While they can’t see wind, students can observe what it does to things around them, such as blows their hair, moves tree limbs, or crackles flags. Meteorologists use the Beaufort Wind Force Scale to estimate wind speed. Scientists designed this scale based on the movement of flags, trees, and smoke. In this activity, students make direct observations using bubbles to measure and describe wind speed and direction. They use appropriate vocabulary (e.g., calm, breezy, and windy) during class discussions to describe their observations about wind conditions.

Note: As the students work with bubbles to make observations about wind, they may ask, “Why does my bubble pop?” The most common reason is contact with a dry surface.

When students experiment with bubbles outside, the bubbles evaporate quickly. This is why 1 partner blows the bubble while the other partner observes the location where the bubble pops, moves to that position, and stands there. This allows the first partner to pace the distance the bubble traveled. When there is strong wind, or even a gentle breeze, bubbles are much more difficult to create and inevitably pop due to the wind’s force. If you are in a dry climate or if a bubble touches a dry finger, blade of grass, or concrete, it will pop instantly.


Curriculum connections


Publish and share student work

The I Teach Inquiry® Network is a great place for students to publish their work and blog about their data with peers across the country. For every submission published, you will receive free materials as a thank you for your contribution.

  1. Scan student work and save as a jpeg file.
  2. Go to www.iteachinquiry.com.
  3. Submit student work or your ideas under the “ Contribute” link at the top of the page. Complete the form and press “ SUBMIT.”
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