This activity was developed to connect with the Goodnight Moon example. The substances in
an instant "bowl full of mush" are examined. Fewer steps can be used for the youngest students.
Bowl Full of Mush
The investigation of unknowns is central to science. In this exercise students are allowed to investigate
an unkown substance with their eyes, noses, and (if allowed) tongues.
Language with Science
substance sensors  magnifiers unkowns
knowns disolving dehydration rehydration
Things you will need
single serving packages of assorted instant oatmeal for each student (in unmarked containers)
black construction paper
samples of sugar, salt, dry milk and other salts and powders labeled and classified as safe or unsafe to eat.
samples of oats, rice,and grains labeled and classified as safe or unsafe to eat.
What to do
Want to do more?
- While passing out the packets, tell the students that they will acting as scientists identifying an unkown
substance. Explain that scientists use there senses to identify unknowns as well as tools that extend their senses. Caution
the students never to taste an unknown substance. Later, when the contents have been identifies this restriction
can be lifted.
- Ask the students to examine the content of their packets with their senses and the tools available. After a few
minutes have the students brainstorm ways that the substance can be identified. Suggest sorting the particles by size and
- Suggest that scientists often compare unkown objects to know objects. Let the students examine known samples of single
powders with magnifying lenses.
- Have the students record any substances identified.
- Explain to the students that scientists also test substances by their reaction with other substances. Demonstrate vinegar
poured over baking soda as compared to dry milk.
- Let the students test a small sample of their powder with a few drops of vinegar. Discard.
- Suggest that scientists also use their sense of smell to identify substances. Warm water poured over a solid can
sometimes increase the scent.
- Can the students identify all the unknowns in their substance. If so, add warm water and taste!
Try the mystery powder activity:
Mystery Powders (grades 4+)