I've read through a few other answers here on buoyancy and I was hoping to get some guidance on discussing it with at 5th grader.

So, taking a ball of playdoh clay and dropping it into a container of water which is filled to the top that is sitting in another container, just a little bit of water overflows and we can measure that amount using our kitchen scale. She records this as her value to compare other shapes to.

Taking other balls of playdoh which weigh the same amount on the kitchen scale, she's made various "boats" which differ mainly in the shape she's made - some are more cup-shaped, some are more pie plate shaped - some have sides and some are more pizza shaped. The pizza shaped ones sink like the ball did. The ones that are more pie plate shaped end up displacing more water than the others (and certainly more than the ball that just sinks) which are cup shaped, at least for her experiments.

So, she sees that these "boats" are able to float and doing so results in some amount of water that flows over the top of the container but what more can be explained here - that a 5th grader is going to grasp. The weight of the water displaced for each one is different with the cup ones resulting in less water being displaced. Buoyancy isn't my thing so I'm hoping for some layman-friendly explanation as to the difference in the amount of water displaced. And dad will learn a bit along the way too, which is always a bonus.

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    $\begingroup$ When I read the title, I thought it meant doing a buoyancy experiment using your child :P $\endgroup$
    – Zaz
    Apr 27, 2015 at 23:09

1 Answer 1


Can you take an empty plastic water bottle, make a mark on the side of it, and press it down to that mark in your larger container? Then can you show that the water that's displaced is 1) enough to fill the bottle up to the mark, and 2) it weighs as much as its bouyancy before (because when you fill the bottle up to that line, and again immerse it down in to that line, it's at neutral bouyancy, neither pushing up nor wanting to sink further)?

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks Mike - I'll run that by her and see if that helps explain things. I think it's a very easy way to understand it. $\endgroup$
    – itsmatt
    Nov 14, 2011 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ Mike, that definitely helped her understand better. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – itsmatt
    Nov 16, 2011 at 0:33
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    $\begingroup$ @itsmatt: Welcome. Teaching kids is fun. $\endgroup$ Nov 16, 2011 at 2:13

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