Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Party Popper Lab

Posted on: December 31, 2010

Am I the only teacher that spent half of the holiday break grading papers and working on lessons?  Here is a lab my students will be working on when they come back from break on Monday.  I figure it will give me a day or two to settle in without having to get up front and teach.

We just finished Newton’s Laws before break, what better way to refresh their memory than making them think.  I got this lab from the NSTA regional conference in Baltimore, it is called “Inquiry in a Box” and presented by Deborah Roudebush.  I put the instructions into a format my students are more familiar with and I expect they will need two days to get their arms around the whole thing.  What is very different about this lab (compliments to Deborah) is that the students are given only the problem to solve, some minimal tools, and no instructions.  They need to figure it all out on their own.  It could be a disaster, I fully expect a lot of whining.

The basic idea is that the half ball Party Popper shown above is a cool little science experiment.  Giving them only a ruler and access to a gram scale, they need to figure out how to determine the velocity, time, and force exerted by the popping event.  At the conference, we were put into groups of four and set about solving the problems.  It didn’t take us too long, but there were some very good discussions on when the time and acceleration actually occurs.  There will be no answers posted here, some of my students know about this site.  If you need some help, email me.

Here is the lab handout:  Popper Lab Handout

Now, you would think these little poppers are easy to come by…  good luck!  I went to many toy stores and party stores and found none.  I ended up online at Oriental Trading Company.  Their 1.5″ poppers are great, their 0.75″ are going back, they don’t work at all.  I found another place selling them; Century Novelty.  I’m ordering 1″ poppers from them.  The key here is you have to plan ahead for this lab, you can’t run out to the store the day before and find them easily.  I won’t have the 1″ poppers in time for this year, but next year I plan for them to analyze different size poppers and compare the results.


4 Responses to "Party Popper Lab"

Hi Scott,

I love problem-solving labs like this! We just did one where I gave students a 50-gram mass, a spring, and plastic box. They had to determine the force of friction between the box and the table. (We hadn’t gotten to coefficients of friction yet, or I would have had them calculate that, too.) It required the application of 3 different principles: weight, Hooke’s Law, and motion under balanced forces. You can see a video lab report one of my lab groups did here:

Although we didn’t do this with the friction problem above, one twist I like to add is that they must come up with 2 different methods to determine the values. In the case of your lab, you would need to add a stopwatch to your allowed equipment in order to do this.

Eugenia Etkina has a bunch of the problem solving labs on her PER website. She calls them “application experiments.” I highly encourage checking them out:

You can find more examples on her “Kits” page. Click the topic, click “design experiments”, click “All”, and look for “application experiments” in the PDF.

Also, if anyone out there has trouble finding poppers, you can substitute “spring jumpers” or “ice cream shooters” (be sure to cut the string). We re-use the ice cream shooters during our study of projectiles.

Great activity, Scott! Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to hearing how it works out.

Want to do this-
What do you keep handy for them to measure with- what equipment?

Like idea- pictures of the force sensor set up?

I don’t have any pictures of the force sensor set up. The “table” I used was a small piece of Styrofoam centered poster board about 2.5″ square. I poked holes in all 4 corners and used two pieces of string. Each piece of string went in one hole and out an adjacent one. The four ends were brought together, the table was made level, and I tied all 4 ends together. The strings need to be long enough so that the kids can fit their hands in there to place the popper on the table.

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