In this project, students will study the chemistry behind a toy or novelty item of their choosing. They will look at the parts that make up their item and determine what materials each part is made of; the types of atoms, molecules, and bonds present in those materials; and their physical and chemical properties.
Middle School, High School
This project will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:
- MS-PS1-1: Develop models to describe atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.
- MS-PS1-3: Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.
- HS-PS2-6: Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials.
- Scientific and Engineering Practices:
- Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
By the end of this project, students should be able to:
- Describe the materials (elements and/or compounds) that make up a toy/novelty item and the properties that make them work.
- Describe the types of bonds (ionic or covalent) and intermolecular forces present in the final product.
This project supports students’ understanding of:
- Elements and Compounds
- Physical and Chemical Properties
- Ionic and Covalent Bonds
- Intermolecular Forces
Teacher Preparation: 10 minutes
Lesson: 50 to 60 minutes of class time, additional time as homework as needed.
- Computers with internet access
- Student handout
- A toy/novelty item for each student or pair of students
- No specific safety precautions need to be observed for this activity.
- This project would best be used after the following topics have been covered in class: elements/compounds and their properties, ionic and covalent bonding, and intermolecular forces. To adapt this activity to middle school or a less advanced class, you can remove the requirement about the types of bonds/intermolecular forces and have students focus instead on just the types of elements and compounds used in their item and their respective properties.
- Students should be given time to obtain their toy/novelty item if they do not already own it. You may want to have some options available for students who are unable to obtain one on their own or allow students to work in pairs/small groups. Some things are fairly inexpensive or can be made with materials commonly found around the home (such as oobleck, silly putty, Play-Doh, and even Shrinky Dinks using #6 plastics from certain food containers). Pairs or small groups may be ideal so that you can avoid having toys used more than once.
- Teacher approval is required for students’ toy selections so you can be sure they are school-appropriate and will have enough chemistry behind them to warrant researching for this project. The following list includes some examples of toys that can be used, though it is not an exhaustive list:
Glow in the dark items
- Students may need some assistance thinking about the physical and/or chemical properties that make the toy function. Depending on the toy, it may be helpful to think about a material’s hardness/softness, stretchiness, smoothness, melting/boiling point, vapor pressure, density, solubility, conductivity, whether it is hydrophobic or hydrophilic, reactivity with a certain chemical, etc. Not all of these will necessarily be relevant to every toy, and there might be others to include as well. For example, vapor pressure would be particularly relevant to the drinking bird and hand boilers, density and solubility would be important for the lava lamp, and the smoothness/low friction of ball bearings in fidget spinners and yo-yos would be worth noting.
- Resources students can use to create digital infographics include Canva, Piktochart, and Venngage. You can also provide students with this article for some tips on designing a good infographic (many of which can also apply to posters).
- Students should be turning in the student handout, the final poster/infographic, and a complete reference page that lists all the resources that they used for their project, properly formatted.
- The last phase of the project is to provide feedback to another student. You can have students choose who they want to provide feedback to, or you can assign them yourself, but make sure that every student gives feedback and receives feedback from a classmate. The feedback sheet is available for download. Include the project name at the top of the feedback sheet for each one.
- If you would like to have a class discussion after students view one another’s projects, you could have students respond to some of the questions posted on the feedback sheet.
- The extension part of the project could help students think about the design process and could tie into experimental design, especially if students are able to actually create prototypes of the alterations they suggest (though this might not be possible for all of the toys students select).
For the Student
Human beings have been making and playing with toys for thousands of years. The materials used to make toys are often chosen for their specific physical and chemical properties. In this activity, you will research the chemistry that goes into the making and/or operation of a toy or novelty item of your choice.
Think about a toy you played with as a child.
a. Why did you like that toy?
b. What was the main function of the toy?
c. What was it made of?
d. Why do you think those materials were chosen for that toy?
What materials are used to make your toy? How do the materials’ properties contribute to the toy’s function?
- A computer with internet access
- A toy/novelty item to investigate
- Select a toy to investigate, either by yourself or with a partner. Get your teacher’s approval and have him/her sign off below.
Toy choice: _______________________________
Partner (optional): ______________________________
Teacher signature: _______________________________
- Draw a rough diagram of the toy in the space below.
- Label the components of your toy on your diagram from step 2. (If your toy appears to have only one component, list out the materials it is made of as you research them in step 4.)
- Research the materials that are used for each component of your toy. Take notes on the questions below as you conduct your research. (You may use additional sheets paper if you need more space.)
- What elements and/or compounds make up each component of your toy? List the chemical symbols and formulas. (Include at least 3 materials. If there are fewer than 3 materials used in the toy, please indicate that!)
- How do the elements combine to form the compounds? Draw a model of the compounds or elements.
- Are the atoms metals or non-metals?
- In the compounds, what types of bonds do the atoms form – ionic or covalent? What type of intermolecular forces are present between particles?
- Are any of the materials are considered to be polymers? What does it mean to be a polymer?
- What are the physical and/or chemical properties of each material that make it useful for the toy? How do these properties relate to the bonds and intermolecular forces of the materials?
- Find at least 2 other products that use some of the same materials as your toy. Why do you think those materials were used in all of these products?
- Using your notes from step 4, compile your findings into an engaging poster or infographic explaining the chemistry of your toy. It may be digital or neatly hand drawn. Online infographic tools include Canva, Piktochart, and Venngage.
- Submit this worksheet, along with your poster/infographic and a separate, correctly formatted Reference page on _________________ (insert due date).
- Your teacher will post the posters/infographics around the room and you will have a chance to offer feedback on a classmate’s work. On the feedback sheet provided with the poster/infographic, make a note of one detail that you really like, one question for the poster-maker, and one suggestion for further research.
The CEO of a toy company would like you to improve on the toy you have been researching. They want you to change one aspect of the toy to make it unique and to help it sell even more. This could be using different materials with different properties, changing the ratio of the components, adding or removing a component, etc. What change would you make and why do you think it will make the toy better?