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6 Thanksgiving Science Activities for Students to Try Around The Holiday Table

Kitchen table experiments


Students will soon be heading home for the holidays; keep them busy and engaged over the break with family-friendly hands-on science activities. Remind students that science doesn’t just live in a lab. It surrounds us in our everyday lives.

Students will gobble, gobble, gobble up these at-home science activities. They can use common household supplies around the kitchen to conduct these activities focused on physics, biology, and chemistry.

Before everyone gets into feast mode or during football halftime, students can gather their supplies and set up these experiments to a-maize their family.

Cells divided with cookies that are 2-sided

How do cells grow and divide? During growth from stem to fully specialized, cells in the body go through a series of events where they divide (mitosis) and "seem" to be dormant (interphase). This process is called the cell cycle. Understanding cell cycles is critical for research on cancer and other health problems. So, grab some sandwich cookies and prepare to model the process of cell division and mitosis. You need six cookies. Gently unscrew each cookie so that the icing is on only one side (if some of the icing gets on the wrong side, gently scrape it back).


Start with interphase. In this phase, chromosomes coil up and replicate. So, place six sprinkles on the icing to represent the chromosomes (use three different colors).

In prophase, the chromosomes cool and form X-shaped chromosomes. So, take the same color sprinkles used on the first cookie and arrange them into three X-shapes on the second cookie (the Xs are not in any particular configuration). Keep the colors the same to show the changes from one step to the next. In metaphase, the chromosomes line up in the middle of the cell.

So, use the same color sprinkles to create three Xs lined up in the center of the cell (cookie). Next up is anaphase. Here, the sister chromatids (one half of a duplicated chromosome) start pulling apart from each other from the center of the cell. Using the same three colors, arrange the sprinkles in the same order to see the changes from metaphase to anaphase. Show each chromatid (sprinkle) on opposite sides of the cell (pulling away).  

The last phase of mitosis is telophase. At each pole of the cell, a full set of chromosomes gather. Now surrounded by a new nuclear membrane, both sets of chromosomes begin to "relax" or decondense. Since the chromosomes are more relaxed, the sprinkles can be less orderly. Mitosis is complete. Cytokinesis usually begins in late anaphase or telophase. A membrane forms around each set of chromosomes to create two new nuclei. The single cell then pinches in the middle to form two separate daughter cells, each containing a full set of chromosomes within a nucleus.1 So put the sprinkles the same way as for telophase. Then gently break it in half with half of the chromosomes (sprinkles) in one cell and the other half in the other cell.


Tablecloth trick, voilà!

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. Students can demonstrate Newton’s law with the classic tablecloth trick. Inertia is a measure of how hard it is to change an object’s motion. It’s harder to make a heavy object move! This means that if something is sitting still, its inertia keeps it in place. In this activity, students cover a table with a hemless tablecloth. They place a few heavy dishes (parent-approved, of course) on top of the tablecloth. Don’t use fragile or easily breakable items – stay away from Grandma’s china plates!

Students demonstrate inertia by quickly pulling the tablecloth straight down to their feet---with a good hard yank. The dishes are at rest with no force acting on them, so they stay on the table. Ask students to consider the effect friction would have if they pulled the tablecloth too slowly.


Regrow food; it’s alive!

Plant regeneration refers to the physiological renewal, repair, or replacement of tissue in plants. Many herbs and vegetables used in classic Thanksgiving dishes—including alliums (leeks, green onions, scallions), carrots, and basil—can be regrown.

Have students grab a couple of stalks of green onions before they all get chopped up for the stuffing or potatoes. Place the bottom stalks (the white portions) in a glass, root down with a few tablespoons of water.

Be sure they put the glass of water near sunlight (like on a windowsill).  Within two days, your young scientists will be able to measure new growth in the green stems.


Discover the causation of condensation

Condensation is the process where water vapor (water as gas) becomes liquid. It’s the reverse of evaporation, where liquid water becomes a vapor. Condensation happens one of two ways: Either the air is cooled to its dew point or becomes saturated with water vapor that it cannot hold any more water. The condensation point of water is the same as the boiling point of water.

As drinking glasses around the Thanksgiving table get filled with ice water, your students can begin their investigation. They’re likely to notice water droplets forming on the outside of the glasses right away. The air in the room is warmer than the air close to the water glass. As the glass cools because of the ice and cold water inside, the air by the glass also cools. And finally, the cold air turns water vapor in the warmer air into water droplets, and the water droplets stick to the glass. You can build a lesson plan around this activity that connects to their observations. Before the bird is out of the oven, they’ll have already explained all the facts about condensation to their family.


Milky rainbow

Got milk? Well, let’s make a rainbow! This activity demonstrates the property of surface tension and the effect that soap, a surfactant, has on the surface tension of milk. Students fill a plate with whole milk (the best for homemade biscuits) and add several drops of different food coloring separately in the center of the plate. Next, they use a cotton swab to apply soap to the milk’s surface.  

The magic happens when the liquid dish soap touches the milk’s surface near the drops of food coloring. They will observe the effect soap has on the milk's surface tension. Since the food coloring is less dense than the milk, the first droplets of color float on the milk's surface. When the student adds soap, it reduces the milk's surface tension by dissolving the fat molecules. The milk outside of the soap drop has a higher surface tension, so it pulls the surface away from that spot. The food coloring moves with the surface, flowing away from the soap droplet. The moving surface creates convection, causing the food coloring to be drawn down into the liquid and appear to rise somewhere else.

As they move the swab to different plate areas, students will continue to see colorful reactions.


Core science with apples

Now that you’re stuffed full of ideas, we’ve saved something special for dessert. In this activity, students will observe how chemical reactions work to keep apples fresh even after they’ve been cut!

Just download the activity below to get detailed instructions for this pH experiment.  Be sure to ask students to nab an apple before the family baker slices them up for the apple pie.  Basically, this experiment rates a perfect 10 on the pH scale.

Download Lesson


The team at Ward’s Science hopes you and your students have an enjoyable, safe, and science-filled holiday with your families. Happy Thanksgiving!


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References: 1. Meiosis – Biology.