Lesson 3: Properties of Matter I


Activity 1: Element Characteristics

Materials: aluminum foil (kit), copper wire (kit), play dough (kit), quarter, dime, or nickel, rock, ruler, small pan, thermometers (kit)
The periodic table is a display of the chemical elements organized on the basis of their atomic numbers, electron configurations, and recurring chemical properties. In the activities in this lesson, you will learn a little bit more about some specific properties. In this activity, you will look at the properties of malleability, ductility, and luster. You will use substances such as play dough, aluminum foil, and copper wire to test each characteristic, and you will record your findings on the "Element Characteristics" activity page. Be sure to read the procedures carefully as well as the instructions for each section of the activity sheet.

Malleability means that a material can hammered or flattened into thin sheets without breaking.

Examples: silver, gold, iron, lead
Ductility is the ability of an element to be stretched or drawn out into a wire.

Examples: gold, steel
Web Link
Follow these steps:
  1. Take the play dough and work it in your hands. Try to flatten it into a thin sheet. How large of a sheet can you make before the play dough begins to fall apart?
  2. Now roll and stretch the play dough into a long tube/wire. See how long of a tube you can make before it breaks apart.
  3. On the "Malleability" and "Ductility" tables of the activity sheet, record whether or not you think the play dough is malleable and ductile.
  4. Based on your examination of the aluminum foil and copper wire (and the information in the video) determine if those materials are malleable or not malleable and ductile or not ductile. Also record any similarities and differences you note.
Luster means a bright and shiny condition or tone.

Examples: silver, gold
Follow these steps:
  1. Compare and contrast the following: a quarter, dime, or nickel (choose one) with a rock.
  2. Look for the presence or absence of luster in each item.
  3. Next, observe the play dough, aluminum foil, and copper wire and decide if each item does or does not have luster.
  4. On the "Luster" table, record your observations as well as any similarities or differences in luster you observe among the objects.
Conductivity is the ability of an object or substance to transmit heat, electricity, or sound.

Examples: silver, gold, iron, steel, brass, bronze, mercury, graphite, dirty water, concrete
Follow these steps:
  1. Roll the play dough into a cylinder about 6 inches long; do the same for the aluminum foil. (The copper wire should already be in the desired shape.)
  2. Fill a small pan with cold water and add ice to it.
  3. Read the paragraph above the "Conductivity" table on the activity page and then predict whether you think each item will conduct heat or not. Record your predictions for each section.
  4. Place one end of the play dough cylinder in the ice water. Place a thermometer at the opposite end of the cylinder and record the temperature in the "Before" column of the table.
  5. After five minutes, again measure the temperature of the play dough cylinder and record your findings in the "After" column.
  6. Repeat Steps 4-5 for the aluminum foil and then for the copper wire.
  7. Make note of differences between the play dough, the aluminum foil, and the copper wire.
When making observations about conductivity, consider the following. Did you expect a change in temperature of the material? What did you observe? If no change occurred, write "no change." If a change did occur, write what type of change (for example, the material cooled down or the material warmed up). Use brief statements.
Student Activity Page
In this activity, your child will examine play dough, aluminum foil, and copper wire to determine whether the materials do or do not have certain properties. A video helps explain the difference between the properties of malleability and ductility and demonstrates whether aluminum and copper are malleable and ductile.

Answer Key:

  • Malleability: aluminum and copper are malleable; answers may vary for play dough (it can be pounded into a thick sheet but may break apart as the sheet gets thinner)
  • Ductility: aluminum and copper are ductile; answers may vary for play dough (it can be rolled into a thick tube but may break as the tube gets thinner)
  • Luster: the coin, aluminum foil, and copper wire all have luster; the rock and play dough do not
  • Conductivity: predictions will vary; play dough has poor conductivity; aluminum and copper have good conductivity