Colonial Science Day!

One of the thing I love doing in our unit studies, is building in days where we change up our schedule and spend the whole day focusing on our unit. I especially love it when I can make those days math or science based days, because our unit studies are usually history based.

The Utah Education Network ( has a lesson plan for students to “explore the science involved in the making of items used in colonial life.” The lesson uses 6 stories that students are supposed to read, evaluate, and decide if each story is describing a physical or chemical change. (I first read about these activities on the Teaching in Room 6 blog. She describes how she implemented the lesson plan.)

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Reading six articles sounds OK, but kinda boring 😉 So, I turned the lesson into a fun day of hands on Colonial activities and invited our friends over too 🙂

First, we got started making bread. So that each kid could make their own bread I used a mini-loaf recipe from I set my kitchen up assembly-line style, and used blue tape on my counter top to write down how much of each ingredient was needed – I halved her recipe for each kid and the amounts worked out perfectly. As she suggested, we used resealable bags so that we could move around with the dough and easily make observation. Not very colonial, but they worked well and were fairly mess free.

While the bread was resting we discussed the characteristics of chemical and physical changes. By this time we could see bubbles in the kids’ dough and could determine that making bread involves chemical changes. We also looked at yeast blooming under the microscope.

Next we added the 2nd round of ingredients to our bread, kneaded the dough, and placed it into pans to rise.

While the dough rose, the kids took turns reading aloud one of the 3 stories we weren’t doing hands on. They actually did this mostly independently while I cleared up in the kitchen. They were still reading and discussing when I was done, so I listened in. The kids decided that making soap involved chemical changes, making yarn involved physical changes, and that making bricks involved chemical changes too.

We had a discussion about bricks – depending on the process used, bricks can involve only physical changes (if they are drying in the sun water is evaporating and this step can be undone) or both physical and chemical changes (if they are fired in a kiln the the heat causes elements to fuse). I think it’s unlikely that the bricks the Colonial Americans made could have been fired at a high enough heat for chemical changes to take place, but they weren’t totally wrong. BuildersMart has a nice article on the modern brick making process.

After the bread went into the oven we started our next hands on experiment – making butter. So this is a weird one for us. We’re vegan, but our friends aren’t. We made the butter, but myself and my kids didn’t eat it. I looked into making vegan butter, but that involves chemical changes, while regular butter making is a physical change…so that’s how we did that one! While they were shaking the butter I read the Story of Butter from the UEN lesson plan. The kids unanimously decided that butter is a physical change.

The kids went to play for a while until the bread was ready, and then we had fresh baked bread (and either vegan or regular butter) for lunch!

We’d now analyzed five different colonial activities, and had one more to do. After lunch I set up candle making. My candle making kit came from Amazon. I looked around and found the one that I thought was the best deal – plenty of wax, lots or wick, sticks to hold the wicks in place, and fun colors to add to the wax. However, it also comes with some torso shaped candle molds…obviously we didn’t use those! If you order, maybe open the kit yourself before the kids get to it 😉

I dipped candles once somewhere as a kid, but I’ve never set it up, and it had a bit of a learning curve. Seems the trick is to have the wax hot and melted, but sort of almost back at a setting temperature. The kids all came out and attempted making candles, but I think the wax was too hot when they tried. While they played some more I experimented a bit and got some candles going. They all came back and had another go and ended up with little candles 🙂

This was a really fun way to hand out with friends, tie our history and science studies together, and really make an impression that science is everywhere. The stories and lesson plan could be ramped up for more analysis and writing, and you could very easily add in a wool carding activity.

Don’t forget to check out our book/video list for this unit, and the other Colonial America posts – Introduction to the Unit, and Would You Survive in Jamestown?

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