Investigating the Relationship of Mass to Volume

Author(s): Linda Akiyama and Ranyee Chiang

Lesson Overview

Grade level(s):

Elementary School (K-5), Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5


FOSS-Related, Physical Science


Properties of Matter

Big ideas(s):

Two materials can have the same mass and yet have different volumes.
Science progresses by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations.
Scientists share their findings with other scientists to create a shared body of knowledge.

Vocabulary words:

Before lesson: matter,mass,volume,weight,graduated cylinder,balance scale
During lesson: testable question,prediction,procedure,data,conclusion

What you need:

Overhead projector, Investigation sheet overhead, copies of investigation sheet for each student,
From FOSS Kit: balance scales for each pair of students, gram weights, plastic cups, graduated cylinders.
From SEP Supplemental Kit - Matter – one container of sand and one container of gravel for each pair or triad of students, containers of other particulate solids for extension activities (cornmeal, salt, flour, etc.), funnels, trays


Part 1 of lesson – whole class
Part 2 of lesson - Pairs or triads
Part 3 of lesson – whole class sitting with partners


regular classroom

Time needed:

Part 1 - planning investigation - 40 minutes
Part 2 – doing investigation and collecting data – 30 minutes
Part 3- Sharing results and drawing conclusions – 20 minutes
Extension activity – 60 minutes

Author Name(s): 
Linda Akiyama and Ranyee Chiang

Students practice the process of doing investigative science through team investigations. They investigate two materials that weigh the same amount. The testable question: If I have an amount of gravel and an amount of sand of the same weight, will they take up the same amount of space? Together, the class makes predictions, and decides on materials and procedures. Then in pairs, students do the investigation, collect data and draw conclusions.  After this activity, students will be better able to develop independent investigations in this and other subject areas.

Prerequisites for students: 

Students have done the “What is an Atom?” activity. They have learned how to measure volume and mass by doing CA. Foss Energy and Matter Activity 3 – Parts 2 and 3 (measuring mass and volume using the metric system). They will have experience observing properties of matter. (See Obseriving Properties of Matter lesson on this site)

Learning goals/objectives for students: 

Investigation and experimentation
Students will be able to collect and use numerical data to describe and compare measurements.
Students will be able to predict the outcome of a simple investigation and compare the result with a prediction.

Physical Science
Students will be able to collect data in an investigation of the relationship of mass to volume and analyze the data to develop the conclusion that different materials with the same mass do not necessarily have the same volume. This will lead to further investigations about density as it relates to states of matter.

Getting ready: 

Check out Supplemental kit from SEP, or make 10 containers of sand and 10 containers of gravel and get funnels.

Lesson Implementation / Outline


When I watched you use the balance scales to measure the weight of matter and the graduated cylinder to measure the volume, I thought of this question. If two kinds of matter weigh the same, will they take up the same amount of space? For instance, if I have 30 grams of gravel and 30 grams of sand, will they take up the same amount of space when I pour them into two graduated cylinders? What do you think? Take a minute to talk about it with your desk partner. (After a couple minutes, partners share their ideas with whole class.)
Today we’re going to work together to create a science experiment that will help us find an answer to  this question. Then we’ll work as scientists and do the experiment.


Part 1 - Planning the investigation
1. Review how the balance scale and gram weights are used as tools to measure mass by measuring the weight of about 30 grams of a particulate solid (cornmeal, salt, or flour). Then demonstrate how the graduated cylinders are used to measure volume by measuring the volume of the particulate solid.
2. Show investigation sheet on overhead.
3. Introduce testable question: Scientists often start with a question that they want to answer by doing an experiment. Here is the question that I want to test.

If I take two kinds of matter, gravel and sand, that weigh the same, will they also take up the same amount of space?
4. Ask students what they predict is the answer to the question.
5. Ask for their ideas on how we could do an experiment to find out the answer to the question. Discuss and come to consensus on procedure and materials and write down on overhead.


Part 2 - Doing the investigation
6.Hand out photocopied Investigation Plan overhead or display overhead.
7. Have pairs pick up materials
8. Students do investigation and write down results including measurements.


Part 3 - Sharing data and drawing conclusions
9. Make a chart of group data
10. Discuss results.
Have student pairs share their conclusions (answer to the testable question) and give evidence that supports their conclusions.

Checking for student understanding: 

See sharing data and drawing conclusions

Wrap-up / Closure: 

See sharing data and drawing conclusions

Extensions and Reflections

Extensions and connections: 

Students can gather more evidence about the relationship of mass to volume by choosing different materials from the SEP Supplemental Kit to compare. using the whole class investigation plan as a model,  they can write their own investigation plan, do the experiment, collect data and draw conclusions that they share with the class. This can be done as a center activity as well.

Experimental Plan.doc25.5 KB
Investigating Mass and Volume - Class Designed Experiment.doc22 KB
NGSS Topics
Kindergarten through Grade 5: 
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
NGSS Performance Expectations
NGSS Performance Expectations: 
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: 

Standards - Grade 3

Physical Sciences: 
1. Energy and matter have multiple forms and can be changed from one form to another. As a basis for understanding this concept:
h. Students know all matter is made of small particles called atoms, too small to see with the naked eye.
Investigation and Experimentation: 
5. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:
a. Repeat observations to improve accuracy and know that the results of similar scientific investigations seldom turn out exactly the same because of differences in the things being investigated, methods being used, or uncertainty in the observation.
b. Differentiate evidence from opinion and know that scientists do not rely on claims or conclusions unless they are backed by observations that can be confirmed.
c. Use numerical data in describing and comparing objects, events, and measurements.
d. Predict the outcome of a simple investigation and compare the result with the prediction.
e. Collect data in an investigation and analyze those data to develop a logical conclusion.