Dancing Popcorn Science and STEM Experiment

Dancing Popcorn is a popular STEM experiment among teachers of young children.  It requires only three materials, is easy to prepare and clean up, and can be used to teach a variety of science concepts such as:
  • buoyancy, sink, float
  • density
  • states of matter (solids, liquids, and gases)
  • chemical changes
  • making and confirming predictions
  • vocabulary development: carbon dioxide
There are two ways to do the Dancing Popcorn STEM experiment, one using seltzer water and the other using vinegar and baking soda.  This blog post is going to focus on the easier of the two... dropping popcorn kernels into seltzer water.  Keep reading to learn more about this experiment and how you can use it with your little ones.

A glass of seltzer water is sitting on a tree stump.  There are popcorn kernels floating in the glass.  #kellysclassroomonline

Disclosure: Affiliate links to Amazon are included in this post.

Dancing Popcorn STEM Experiment

This project is similar to the Dancing Raisins STEM activity that many teachers use in their classrooms. If you'd like, you can swap out the kernels and use raisins instead... the results and process will be the same and the activity will be just as fun!  The materials for this STEM activity can be found in your kitchen or purchased inexpensively from a dollar store. 

A glass of seltzer water and popcorn kernels are sitting on a tree stump.

Question

What happens when I drop popcorn kernels into a glass of seltzer water?

Hypothesis / Prediction

I think the popcorn kernels will _______________ (Insert student's prediction here.).

The materials needed to conduct the Dancing Popcorn experiment are sitting on a tree stump: seltzer water, popcorn kernels, and a clear glass.

Materials

  • popcorn kernels (not the microwave popcorn)
  • seltzer water or clear carbonated soda
  • clear glass or cup



Directions

  1. Pour some seltzer water into the glass.  Exact amounts aren't needed.
  2. Drop 10 popcorn kernels into the seltzer water one at a time.
  3. Observe.

A glass of seltzer water is sitting on a tree stump.  Popcorn kernels are floating in the glass.

Additional Questions

  • What happens if I drop all 10 popcorn kernels into the seltzer water at once?
  • What happens if I drop more than 10 popcorn kernels into the seltzer water?
  • What happens if I stir the seltzer water with the popcorn kernels in it?

Results

The popcorn kernels rise to the surface of the seltzer water, fall to the bottom of the glass, then float up again.  They look like they are dancing!

A glass of water is sitting on a tree stump.  Popcorn kernels are floating in the water.

Conclusion

The popcorn kernels fall to the bottom of the glass because they have more density than the seltzer water.  When the bubbles of carbon dioxide in the seltzer water attach themselves to the popcorn kernels, the popcorn kernels become more buoyant and float to the surface.  Once the popcorn kernels reach the surface, the carbon dioxide in the bubbles is released into the air, causing the popcorn kernels to drop back to the bottom... starting the cycle all over again.

Clipart drawing of an ear of corn turning into popcorn

This isn't the only way to conduct the Dancing Popcorn STEM experiment.  It is, however, the easiest.  Stay tuned to see how you can do this experiment using vinegar and baking soda instead of seltzer water in an upcoming blog post!


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