Activity 4.1 - Predictions about Ethanol Burning (30 min)

Target Student Performance

Students develop hypotheses about how matter moves and changes and how energy changes when ethanol burns and make predictions about how they can use their investigation tools—digital balances and BTB—to detect movements and changes in matter.

Resources You Provide

Resources Provided

Recurring Resources


Print one copy of 4.1 Predictions and Planning Tool for Ethanol Burning, 4.1 Good Explanations of Chemical Change Reading, and Three Questions Handout for each student. Prepare a computer and projector to display the PPT and the video. Print one copy of the Three Questions 11x17 Poster and display it on your classroom wall. Retrieve the materials from Activity 1.2. This may include a PPT slide from the lesson in which you typed students’ responses or a photograph of their sticky notes as well as the students’ completed 1.2 Expressing Ideas and Questions Tool for Ethanol Burning.


1. Use the instructional model to show students where they are in the course of the unit.


The Three Questions will be new to students, and Level 2 students will find the questions themselves hard to understand. In particular, they will initially be unable to connect the three columns in the Three Questions 11x17 Poster.

  • The question itself: Note whether students use the “Facts about atoms and molecules” that they studied in Lesson 2 as they try to answer the Matter Movement and Matter Change Questions. .
  • Rules to follow: The most important rule (and the first Fact about Atoms) is: Atoms last forever. Do they follow that rule when they try to answer the questions?
  • Evidence to look for: Students will address this column in more depth when they do the investigation. One thing to note for now: When students see gas bubbles leaving the soda water, do they cite that as evidence that atoms are leaving the soda water? Do they suggest ideas about what gas might be in the bubbles? Note whether students connect bubbles leaving soda water with atoms leaving soda water.
  • During the class, listen to the ideas students offer in the final step of the activity. At this point do students’ predictions follow the rules? At this point, do not correct student ideas, but listen for what they say about matter and energy in the context of combustion. After class, use the 4.1 Assessing the Predictions and Planning Tool for Ethanol Burning to compare your students’ what we would expect to see in Level 4 responses.  

This discussion will show that some students are still at Level 2 with respect to both their ideas about energy and their understanding of the questions. For example, do students have a sense of necessity about the connections between mass changes and movement of atoms? Do they recognize that if the ethanol loses mass, then atoms must be moving out of the ethanol? Do students account for energy separately from matter, or do they suggest that some of the matter in the ethanol might be converted to energy? You do not need to correct any problems now; they will be addressed through the investigation and Modeling in the Activities to come.



  • Have a designated place in the classroom where students store their 4.1 Predictions and Planning Tool for Ethanol Burning so they can easily refer back to their ideas at the end of the lesson.
  • Expect many students to make the right predictions for the wrong reasons. Note in particular whether they say that changes in the mass of the ethanol indicate that atoms are moving
Extending the Learning

Students may want to consider controls or other conditions (e.g., seeing what happens to mass and CO2 when the ethanol is not burning.)