Friday, April 3, 2015

Butter.....My Favorite Versatile Experiment!

With so many allergies, many schools are going away from edible experiments and rewards, but I still do this one every year regardless of the grade or subjects I teach. What experiment is it?
My mother, a preschool teacher, introduced me to this experiment. She did it with her class every year. I thought about it and decided to do it with my fourth graders. I tried it one year, and the students and I enjoyed it very much! I absolutely love this experiment for many reasons!
  1. It is inexpensive to do, unlike many that require a lot of supplies, this one only requires heavy whipping cream and a jar.  I use a baby food jar and have the students work in teams. A smaller jars means a quicker reaction. A pinch of salt, a popsicle stick, and  bread or graham crackers to taste the butter afterwards is optional.
  2. It is easy to set up and prepare. All you do is pour the cream into the jar about halfway up and  seal the jar tightly,
  3. It is quick to do. In teams, the students shake for about 10-15 minutes, or until the cream separates into a buttermilk liquid and a cream solid ball. It takes longer if the cream is cold or the jar is bigger.  I often take it out at lunchtime and do the experiment at the end of the day.
  4. It can be adapted for so many areas across the curriculum, and I will expand on that below. It is this reason that I have found a way to do it each and every year!
I feel like this experiment is great for ages 5 to 105! I recently did the activity this year and had a sibling of a student from a couple years ago. The sibling told me his mom doesn't buy butter any more and only makes butter this way at home in her mixer. She then stores it in the refrigerator because she liked it so much when the older child brought it home. Since they often bring in their own containers, I let them take home leftovers if they want it.

I have taught fourth and fifth grades and have used it in both. With the science involved, it could be used in older grades, or simplified for younger grades.

The ways I have used it and ways it can be used in these grade levels are listed below by subject area.


1) General investigation and the use of the scientific method. This can be paired with any of the other uses below to assess and grade for implementing the scientific method. (Variables, qualitative, observations, etc.)

2) States of matter - The cream will go from a liquid state to a fluffy whipped state (this is whipped cream, add sugar and put it on pie...YUM), to separating into a liquid and a solid (buttermilk and butter). This could include homogeneous mixtures, heterogeneous, etc.

3) Force and motion - This incorporates speed, friction, motion, force, all in one quick experiment. Discussion points included what speed would be most efficient, why the speed mattered, how friction played a role in changing the liquid, how the motion, or shaking, played a part in the change, etc. A variable could be shaking it up and down versus shaking it side to side.


1) Elapsed time - Write down the time the experiment started, shake it until it turns frothy. Record the approximate time it changed. Shake more until it separates into the liquid and solid, and record the time again. Calculate the time from the start to the end, in between different stages, give different start times and ask what the end time would be based on the experiment.

2) Measurement - Measure the liquid that is poured in, then measure the buttermilk produced and compare. 

Virginia History

1) Colonial Virginia - In the VS.4 standard, it talks about the food used by the colonial people. With this experiment, we talk about how this was the way they made butter then. They didn't have Costco or Target to buy butter. The colonists also didn't have refrigerators, so they made the butter when it was needed. The discussion and extending lends itself to where and how they got the cream, and the animals needed to have cream.

2) Regions Products and Industries - What region would have the products and industry needed to harvest the cream in order to make the butter? The Valley and Ridge region has Dairy as a major economic product.

Language Arts

5 paragraphs :
1) Write a "How to" explaining to someone how to do the experiment.
2) Descriptive writing describing the three phases of the experiment. 

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