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Blowing Bubbles to Learn About Math and Science

When students are engaged in a lesson they are actively involved, motivated, and focused on learning. Engaging students is one of the most important aspects of our job as teachers, and it has been one of our biggest challenges during the pandemic. Another challenge that we’ve faced is finding the time to teach everything we need to teach during a school day. This has always been difficult, but now it just seems impossible.

In the math and science methods courses that I teach at UCSD, we’ve been focusing on developing and teaching lessons that are both engaging and that save us time by integrating math with other areas of the curriculum. Blowing Bubbles is a lesson that we did together recently and it was a big hit with my student teachers and the students that they teach. Kids and even adults love blowing bubbles! The materials needed are fairly accessible, especially if students are working at home:

  • water

  • a cup

  • some dish soap

  • a straw

  • some paper towels

  • a surface on which to blow the bubbles

Before my student teachers planned and taught Blowing Bubbles with their students, we did the lesson together via Zoom. I’ve rarely seen a group of adults so fascinated by merely blowing bubbles on a table top! As I visited various break out rooms, I was amazed at the student teachers’ creativity and experimentation, and their rich use of language and mathematics. After blowing bubbles together, the student teachers set off to plan and then teach the lesson. Following are highlights from their written reflections.

Introducing the Lesson

After agreeing on some basic safety rules, the student teachers modeled for their students how to capture bubble solution (made from mixing some dish soap with water) from a cup by covering the hole at the top of a straw with one finger and then dipping the straw into the bubble solution. They then pulled the straw out of the cup and spilled the bubble solution onto a flat surface and showed the students how to blow a bubble.

Some student teachers began their lesson by asking their students what they already knew about bubbles. Others started the lesson by showing the picture book called A Drop of Water by Walter Wick (Scholastic, 1993). In this book, beautiful photographs show what can happen with soap bubbles when different objects are dipped in soapy water. Using children’s literature when teaching mathematics is a time honored way to integrate different areas of the curriculum.

Letting Students Explore

Before asking any focused questions about content, the student teachers allowed their students to explore, experiment, and most importantly use language to describe and compare the bubbles and to ask questions. Some merely asked their students what they noticed and wondered about when experimenting. Students described the bubbles’ sizes, and hypothesized about why we see rainbow colors in the bubbles. One student described cause and effect by noticing that if he blew slowly through the straw he could make bigger bubbles. Students made predictions about how long their bubbles would last and wondered aloud if different dish soaps would make better bubbles than others.

The student teachers reported that they were successful in engaging their students in important content standards such as describing shapes in the environment, creating and analyzing 3-D shapes, reasoning about shapes and their attributes, and measuring and estimating lengths and diameters.

Focusing the Explorations on Mathematics

Several student teachers simply asked the students how they could measure their bubbles. This open-ended question stimulated some interesting and creative thinking. Students estimated the height of their bubbles in inches and used rulers to measure the diameter of the bubbles after they popped (when a bubble pops, it leaves a circular residue on a surface). This led them to compare the sizes of the bubbles they made. Concepts such as larger, smaller, about the same size are important measurement concepts for younger children. The student teachers used this experimentation time to introduce academic content vocabulary such as transparent, hemisphere, diameter and circumference, height and width.

Students asked all sorts of questions:

“Can you blow bubbles inside of bubbles?” “What’s the biggest bubble you can make before it breaks?” “I wonder how long a bubble can last?” “I wonder if the bigger the bubble is the longer it can last?” “I wonder if the bubbles will be different if I blow them on different surfaces?” “Can I make bigger bubbles if I put more soap in the bubble solution?”

Questions are at the heart of inquiry science, and when students are given the opportunity, the experimentation can go on and on. Children are naturally curious, and they are also natural scientists.

Summarizing the Lesson

To bring the lesson to a close, some student teachers had their students talk about what they learned using Seesaw and Flip Grid. One third grader created a video tutorial about how to make bubble solution, how to capture the solution in a straw, and how to make bubbles. She recorded the whole thing from her closet using her phone. Here she is, demonstrating how to blow bubbles:

Throughout the tutorial, she sounded like a little teacher with her precise directions and serious delivery. I’m certain she’ll soon become a social media influencer! The video is both hilarious and entertaining, but also a testament to what students will do on their own when they are motivated and engaged.

Engagement is the Key

There are many reasons to try out this bubble lesson with your students. Whether your intent is to focus on language, experimentation, math content and practice standards, or integrating math and science, we found that the most important aspect of blowing bubbles was student engagement. One student teacher reflected that at the end of the lesson, a student spontaneously told the class, “This is the best math and science lesson I’ve ever done!” That’s enough to bring a smile to any teacher’s face.

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