September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

5th Grade – Root Beer Chemistry

Posted: Monday, October 1st, 2012

by Sean Timmons

Activities involving dry ice and root beer help students understand the chemical and physical changes that occur in matter. Students will investigate evidence for changes in matter that occur during a chemical reaction.


Physical Science 1.a, 1.b,

Investigation and Experimentation – 6.c, 6.h.


  • Question/Prediction Chart
  • Compare/Contrast
  • Yeast Root Beer Recipe
  • Dry Ice Root Beer Recipe
  • Homemade root beer kit
  • Root beet extract
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Dry yeast
  • Dry ice
  • Digital Scale
  • Gloves
  • 2 Empty 2-liter bottle for each group (cleaned and sanitized)
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • The Root Beer Book: A Celebration of America’s Best-Loved Soft Drink
  • Root Beer Lady: The Dorothy Molter Story

Background For Teachers:
A physical change involves the changes that can be observed without changing the identity of substances. A chemical change is a process in which reactants are changed into one or more different products. A chemical change occurs whenever compounds are formed or decomposed. During this reaction, there is a rearrangement of atoms that makes or breaks chemical bonds. This change is usually not reversible.

Another way in which the distinction between chemical and physical changes is often expressed is to state that only chemical reactions involve the rearrangement of atoms within the molecule, which leads to the creation of a new molecule (new substance). Physical change does not create anything new; there is no change in the identity of the material (substance).

Changes in state but not chemical composition are not considered chemical changes. For example, while boiling water involves a change in temperature and the release of a gas (water vapor), a chemical change did not take place.

Click here for a brief history of root beer.

Instructional Procedures:

Which Soda Pop Contains the Most Fizz?

In this activity the class will be split up into five or six different groups. Each group will be given a different brand 24 oz. bottle of soda pop. The groups will predict which soda has the most fizz and tell why they think that. The groups will be instructed to equally disperse about 1⁄2 of their bottle to the members of their group using small cups. As the students drink their soda, instruct them to think about descriptive words to describe how the soda pop tastes. The students will write these words on 3×5 cards. The groups will then take the remainder of their soda in the bottle and put a balloon over the opening. Have the students will take turns shaking the bottle lightly. The balloon will begin to fill with carbon dioxide. Then, have the groups will then take the carbon dioxide filled balloons and tie them off. The groups measure their balloons on the scale provided to see how much carbon dioxide was released from their soda. The groups will then compare their findings.

Instructional Procedures

  1. Hand out the Dry Ice Root Beer Recipe. Read through the recipe with the class. (Because handling dry ice can be dangerous I have chosen to make the root beer with the class assisting me.) Hand out the Physical/Chemical Change Rhymes. Point out that in the following recipe a physical change will be used to add fizz to the root beer.
  2. As you follow the recipe, point out to the class some facts about dry ice. Hand out Dry Ice Facts and talk about some of the things dry ice is used for, how it is manufactured, and what it is made of.
  3. When finished, put dry ice in the root beer and have the students observe the effect. Discuss sublimation. Sublimation is the change from solid to gas while at no point becoming a liquid. When you place dry ice into some warm or hot water, clouds of white fog are created. This white fog is not the CO 2 gas, but rather it is condensed water vapor mixed in with the invisible CO 2. Also discuss that the carbon dioxide is mixing and attaching to the liquid root beer mixture.
  4. Ask the class: What type of a change is occurring to the root beer mixture? A physical change is occurring. This is because no new substances are being made, and we can easily reverse the change. The carbon dioxide existed as a solid before we placed it in the root beer and it exists in a gaseous form to create fizz in our root beer.
  5. As the dry ice sublimates in the root beer (10-15 min), take this time to use some of your leftover dry ice chunks to do a couple of experiments.
    • Popping Film Cans

A fun (and often wild) activity vividly demonstrates the sublimation process. Place a piece of dry ice into a plastic 35mm film container – the kind that has the snap-on cap. Then wait. The cap will pop off, and sometimes fly several meters. The clear Fuji brand containers shoot farther than the gray and black Kodak type. Warn anyone performing this experiment not to aim for anyone’s eyes.

    • Singing Spoon

Press a warm spoon firmly against a chunk of dry ice. The spoon will scream loudly as the heat of the spoon causes the dry ice to instantly turn to gas where the two make contact. The pressure of this gas pushes the spoon away from the dry ice, and without contact, the dry ice stops sublimating. The spoon falls back into contact again, and the cycle repeats. This all happens so quickly that the spoon vibrates, causing the singing sound you hear.

    • Fog Effects

When you place dry ice into some warm or hot water, clouds of white fog are created. This white fog is not the CO2 gas, but rather it is condensed water vapor, mixed in with the invisible CO2. The extreme cold causes the water vapor to condense into clouds. The fog is heavy, being carried by the CO2, and will settle to the bottom of a container, and can be poured.

  1. In this last step, the students will taste the root beer and write down some of the characteristics of the root beer on the Venn Diagram. (Focus on descriptive words and the fizz of the root beer. I like to ask the class to rate the fizz on a 1-10 scale.)
  2. Hand out the Yeast Root Beer Recipe to the groups. (Each of these recipes are different from one another.) Read through the recipe with the class, and distribute the tools needed to make this type of root beer. It should be explained to the students that the recipes are different to allow comparing and contrasting. Discuss with the class that zymology is the study of fermentation. Fermentation is the chemical conversion of carbohydrates (sugars) into alcohols or acids. Basically, the yeast eats the sugar and a chemical change occurs, creating carbon dioxide. The students will then fill out their Question/ Prediction handout. The students will try to rate which root beer recipe will have the most fizz.
  3. I have found it more exciting to let the students follow the recipe and make it themselves. Sometimes the students make errors or alterations to the recipe and the outcome is valuable in discussing the scientific process. Make sure to rotate through the class offering help as the class follows their recipe.
  4. After the groups have made their root beer, make sure they label their bottles. Then put the bottles somewhere in the sun where they will not be disturbed for at least 4 hours. Then chill the bottles overnight.
  5. In this last step, have the students taste test their root beer. Make sure the students get a chance to taste each of the root beer recipes. Using the Venn Diagram, have the class describe how the recipes are the same and how they are different. Focus on descriptive words and similes and metaphors.

Curriculum Extensions/Adaptations/ Integration

  • Explore zymology on the Internet/PowerPoint. What types of jobs use zymology and what types of products are made using zymology? Provide ideas for extension for advanced learners.
  • Explain and predict the effects that would occur if various changes were made to the root beer recipes
  • Supply students with vocabulary and definitions.
  • Extend time limit for students with special needs.
  • Use pictures in a Power Point presentation to show the steps of the recipe.
  • Include ideas for integration for other curricular areas Have the students describe what other things taste like using similes and metaphors.

Family Connections

  • Have the students take a copy of Root Beer Lady: The Dorothy Molter Story home to read with their parents.
  • Have students make a list with their parents of household products that have yeast/carbon dioxide in them. Then have them write what characteristics the yeast/carbon dioxide has upon the products.

Additional Resources:


  • The Root Beer Book: A Celebration of America’s Best-Loved Soft Drink, by Laura E. Quarantiello; ISBN 0936653787
  • A Flying Needs Lots of Root Beer, by Charles M. Schulz; ISBN 0694010464


Written by Sean Timmons

Sean Timmons is science coordinator for the San Joaquin County Office of Education and CSTA’s intermediate director.

4 Responses

  1. Sean, this looks like so much fun. Can you send along the handouts mentioned?

    Will need the recipe and rhymes. I’ll check out the books. Thanks!


  2. I have requested the handouts from the author, I should have them by Friday.

  3. Hi, Sean. Did you ever get those handouts and if so, could I get a copy? Thanks.

  4. Sorry for the delay, the links to the handouts and supporting documents have been uploaded.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.