Sugar Water: Uncovering Student Ideas Volume 4

Page Keeley
Type Category
Assessment Materials Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This probe introduces the phenomena of dissolving sugar and elicits students understanding of what happens when substances are added to a liquid, what happens when sugar dissolves in water. The probe is designed as a formative assessment to be used at the beginning or in the midst of a unit of study on matter and its interactions.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 5
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

5-PS1-1 Develop a model to describe that matter is made of particles too small to be seen.

Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence could include adding air to expand a basketball, compressing air in a syringe, dissolving sugar in water, and evaporating salt water.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the atomic-scale mechanism of evaporation and condensation or defining the unseen particles.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students are asked to consider the phenomena of sugar being mixed into water and choose which statements are true before being asked to explain their choices. To work further toward the Performance Expectation have students model their ideas using pictures as well as words in their notebooks or on whiteboards before explaining their thinking to a partner. The teacher could move between partners listening and recording student ideas for a larger student-driven discussion.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students are both developing and using their models when they draw and talk about them. Students might demonstrate their understanding by coming up with another physical model that could help them develop the same concept that the sugar is still in the water even if you cannot see it. Students could decide to check for differences in weight between the substances on their own and the substances when mixed. Having students plan and conduct an investigation weighing before/after mixtures of water would provide more student generated evidence to the claim that sugar is made up of particles too small to be seen. Having students ask questions and consider similar substances that would produce the same (or different) result and testing those mixtures would also contribute to student understanding and model development. A venn diagram where students compare similar / different interactions between water and different substances could be used for students to record their observations in a way that would support student science talk around such differences.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
A suggestion to include in the learning experiences that might strengthen students’ understanding of the disciplinary core idea is to have them construct a Frayer Model around the concept of dissolving where students explain what they think the word means, draw picture of the concept, give examples or other models and non-examples. Having students observe changes to dissolved mixtures before and after evaporation time would produce additional observations and modeling opportunities for students to model the matter as particles through daily pictures of their observations.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students are expected to explain their thinking which begins to get at cause and effect. Encouraging the students to draw 'particle pictures' to show and explain what happens to the sugar and where it goes when it's dissolved in the water is one way to be very explicit about the crosscutting concept. Another tip to help students explain the reasoning might be asking questions such as these What evidence do I have that something that is not visible has weight? What do I need to measure to provide data? What should I use to measure the phenomena (what scale?) e.g. gram, milligram or kilogram? These questions might be asked and answered when students are physically investigating the substances and the solutions they make after being mixed.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This probe was created prior to the development of NGSS . The disciplinary core idea is present but both use of practices and the crosscutting concepts in the instruction is only implicit. Consider eliminating the C and G from this probe as these concepts are not expected understanding for fifth grade students.

  • Instructional Supports: The resource suggests physically conducting the dissolving of sugar in water so students can actually watch what happens before making their choices. By doing this students will be able to directly observe the dissolved sugar is no longer visible.The resource uses (mostly) scientifically grade-appropriate scientific information, phenomena, and representations to support students’ three-dimensional learning. If C and G are eliminated from the choices the resource will be more grade-appropriate.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This resource is meant to be a way to assess student understanding either formatively or summatively. The explanation of what is expected of students at different ages, provided with the resource helps make this a stronger resource.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -