September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Kinetic Theory Lab

Posted: Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

by Jeff Bradbury and Patricia Buchanan

Question: All of these individual experiments found in this lab relate to one another. In knowing this, what one property of gases is demonstrated in the following experiments?

Purpose: To develop a theory that explains why gases behave the way they do.

(The full unit with formatted worksheets can be found in PDF format on the CSTA website:

Procedure, Observations, and Data:

1. In this lab you will work in groups of three.  Go to each station (not necessarily in order) and follow the directions on the instruction card.  Take no more than 15 minutes per station.

2. Record observations and give a brief explanation for each station.

3. Draw a diagram (model) for each station showing it at the molecular level what the particles of gases are doing (black box diagram).


Station one:  Cartesian diver

Station two:  Fill inverted vial

Station Three:  Candle under beaker

Station four:  Boyle’s law apparatus

Station five:  can crush


Station one: Cartesian diver

Materials: Eye dropper and 2 liter bottle

Procedure: Can you make the eye dropper stay in the middle of the bottle?  Keep the bottom of the bottle on the table.  Make careful observations and describe what happens to the eye dropper.


How did you get the eye dropper to stay in the middle?

Station two:  Fill inverted vial

Materials: Tray of water (1 inch) and a vial and a syringe

Procedure: Can you fill the vial with water using the syringe?  You must not remove the mouth of the vial above the water level.


How did you get the water into the vial?

What did this station teach you about pressure?

Station Three:  Candle under beaker

Materials: Tray of water (1inch), a candle held up by clay, and a 150 ml beaker

Procedure: Light the candle, and then put the beaker over the candle


What happened to the water inside the beaker?

Explain your answer to the above question?  Why did the water do what it did?

Draw a diagram of what happens in the above experiment at the molecular level.

Station four:  Boyle’s law apparatus

Materials: Boyle’s Law apparatus, 15 books of uniform size

Procedure: Place a book on the apparatus and record the volume in your table.  Continue by adding one book at a time, recording data, until all of the books are on the syringe.


Data Table: make a table and record your data (pressure in books and volume in ml) into your notebook.

Table 1:         Changes in pressure and volume

What happens to the air molecules in the syringe?

What happens to the pressure inside the syringe?

Do you think the speed of the moving particles changes?

Graph 1: How gas volume changes with changes in pressure

U 25
mL 20
0 5 10 15 20

Pressure (Books)

What is the relationship between volume and pressure of a gas?

Make a sketch of your “Black Box” diagrams for the Boyle’s law apparatus.  Draw the apparatus before any books and after 12 books.  Show a diagram of what it would look like at the molecular level.

Station five: Can Crush


Safety goggles must be worn at all times

This part of the lab deals with a Bunsen burner, which should always be used with caution. Make sure the flame is not pointed directly at any person.  Follow directions on how to complete this part.  Be cautious: the water in the will be HOT!

Materials: Small hot plate, empty soda can, 1000 ml beaker, beaker tongs, cold water

Procedure: Put about 15-20 ml of water into the can and place it over the Bunsen burner using the beaker tongs.  When the water is boiling (you can hear it and you can see steam) very quickly stick the top of the can into the beaker of water so that the opening of the can is under water (the can should be upside down).


Explain what happened to the can.


Watch the demonstrations and record your observations and draw a diagram in the spaces provided.

Demonstration:  The Vacuum Pump

Observations & notes:

Demonstration: 4 Balloon and a flask

Draw a picture of what will happen to the balloon:

Draw a picture of what actually happened to the balloon:

Explain what happened to the balloon:

Questions and Answers:

Answer the questions that are on the instruction cards at each station.  Write the station number and title of each station before you answer the questions. After the responses to the questions at each station answer the questions below.

1. What causes pressure?

2. What are some ways to change pressure?

3. What happens to the pressure of a gas as you increase the temperature?

4. What happens to the volume of a gas as you change the pressure?

Conclusions and Reflections

What does the kinetic theory mean to you now?

Jeff Bradbury is a professor of chemistry at Cerritos College in Norwalk and is community college director for CSTA; Patricia Buchanan is the Cal Grip Grant Project Assistant at Cerritos College.  The original idea for this activity came from the Los Angeles County Office of Education 15 years ago, which the authors modified.

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.

5 Responses

  1. Great activities! Suggestion: Can Crush Activity — use a twist top “Monster” drink can.

    Where do you get inexpensive syringes(large)?

  2. There is no way that this could be done in a single 55 min. lab period. All of the experiments are valid. But should be done over several days. The can crush alone is interesting enough that most of a period could be devoted to it (including safety procedures.)

  3. The can crush is great, but I wouldn’t have students do it. I love it as a demo.
    Also, those old ditto master cans were the best for this demo.

  4. On number three, im not too sure what the point is. At one time it was believed that as oxygen was used up, the vol of the gas became less and the water rose. Even books published that. We now realize that the water rises because of cooling gas. I doubt that students will have the knowledge to make a valid conclusion here. The author suggests the students explain what is happening on a molecular level. Just what is expected here. No answer in the lab, so im wondering ————-

  5. One problem with labs like these is the assumption that the teacher knows where things are going. They are of little value without answers for the teacher.

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State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. 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.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw


This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.