Simple ice cubes contain lots of instructive potential.
Simple ice cubes contain lots of instructive potential.

Properties of matter come in two main groups: chemical and physical. Reactions between different substances, often involving heat, count as chemical properties of matter. Think of making a cake: Mixing ingredients together and putting them in the oven creates a new substance. Physical properties of matter involve what a particular substance does in its solid, liquid and gaseous states. While many liquids exhibit only one commonly seen state, others, such as water, exhibit all three in nature: ice, water and steam.

Water's Properties of Matter

Ask students to discuss any substances in nature they can think of that exhibit all three physical properties of matter -- solids, liquids and gases.

Prompt students to think about water if no one has come to this conclusion.

Write on the board the physical transitions water goes through. Give temperatures in both Fahrenheit and Celcius for water’s transitions from ice to water (at 32 degrees and 0 degrees, respectively) and water to steam (at 212 degrees and 100 degrees, respectively). Remind them of terms that signify changes in properties of matter, such as freezing, melting, condensing and evaporating.

Experimenting With Water

Pass out ice cubes and paper cups to each student or each group. Have students write down observations about their ice cube.

Ask students to hold the ice cubes in their hands over the cups. Allow them enough time to melt their ice cubes thoroughly. Have them record observations about what the ice did when it was melting: Does it melt evenly? How long does it take? What does the ice do to the temperature of their hand?

Have students place their cups in a sunny portion of the windowsill. Ask them to use rulers to measure how much water is in the bottom. If there isn’t enough for meaningful observation, allow them to add more.

Measure the daily drop in their water levels over the rest of the week. Ask students to record their observations of how the water evaporated once it is gone. Assign students a paragraph in which they explain how water’s properties changed throughout the experiment, asking them to use the words “melt” and “evaporate” correctly.