Oh Buoy!

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Learners work in pairs to design, construct, and test a device that exhibits positive, neutral, and negative buoyancy. They test a number of different objects in water to see if they sink or float. Then they experiment with different configurations of modeling clay and aluminum foil, and attempt to construct an object with neutral buoyancy - which neither sinks nor floats but sits in the middle of the water. Learners begin this activity by listening/reading chapter 18 from "James and the Giant Peach" by Roald Dahl. The lesson plan includes handouts, background information, and suggested extension activities.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 11

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Modeling clay
  • Aluminum foil
  • Plastic film canisters
  • Transparent cups
  • Paper
  • Crayons, markers, or watercolors
  • Overhead projector & markers OR chalkboard & chalk OR chart pack & markers
  • Large clear tub (small animal cage, transparent bowl, or glass pitcher) for demonstration
  • Assortment of objects: e.g., lime, lemon, apple, peach, nuts, can of diet soda, can of regular soda, rock, pumice, balloon filled with salt, balloon filled with baking soda, tennis ball, baseball, and Ivory soap and other brands of bar soap
  • Paper towels
  • "James and the Giant Peach" by Roald Dahl
  • Materials to Photocopy: Science Background, Student Procedure, Masters A, B, C, and D


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
  • Physical Sciences
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Mass and Weight
      • Volume and Density

Informal Categories

  • Literature


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • hear
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • NASA