Science Inquiry Tools Tools for 5th Grade Scientists Written by B. Tramper
Science Inquiry Tools What kinds of tools do scientists use? View this slide show to learn about many of the tools used in scientific inquiry.
Thermometer A thermometer is used to measure the temperature of water or the temperature of air. In science, the unit of measurement used on the thermometer is degrees Celsius (which can be abbreviated °C). For everyday use, the unit of measurement most commonly used is degrees Fahrenheit (which can be abbreviated °F).
Using a Thermometer When measuring the temperature of a liquid, place the thermometer in the liquid. Never stir the liquid with the thermometer. When measuring the temperature of the air, keep the thermometer away from the sun or bright lights. When you are measuring the temperature of a material that is not in the process of being heated or cooled, wait about five minutes to be sure the temperature reading has stopped changing. When the material you are measuring is being heated or cooled, read the temperature as quickly as you can. To read the temperature, move so that your eyes are even with the scale line on the thermometer.
Dropper A dropper is used to move small amounts of liquid from one place to another. A dropper can also be used to measure the volume of liquids by counting drops. It is used when an exact measurement is not necessary.
Using a Dropper Gently squeeze the bulb on the dropper. Holding the dropper upright, put the tip of the dropper in the liquid. Stop squeezing the bulb on the dropper to allow the liquid to fill the dropper. Keeping the dropper upright, hold it over the place where you want to put the liquid. Gently squeeze the bulb on the dropper to release the liquid one drop at a time.
Tape Measure A tape measure is used to measure the length of curved or irregular surfaces. It can also be used to measure distances that are too great for a ruler or meter stick to measure. In science, the units of measurement used on a tape measure are millimeters (which can be abbreviated mm), centimeters (which can be abbreviated cm), and meters (which can be abbreviated m).
Using a Tape Measure Find the zero end of the tape measure. Place the tape measure around the object or along the distance you would like to measure. If you are measuring aroundan object, read the place on the tape measure’s scale where it meets the zero end of the tape measure. If you are measuring a length or width, read the place on the tape measure’s scale where it meets the end of the object or distance you are measuring. When you are measuring a long distance, you will need a partner to hold the zero end of the tape measure while you read the place on the scale of the tape measure where it meets the end of the distance you are measuring.
Spring Scale A spring scale measures forces, such as weight (the amount of gravitational pull on an object) or friction (a force that works to prevent motion). In science, the units of measurement used on a spring scale are newtons (which can be abbreviated N) and grams (which can be abbreviated g).
Using a Spring ScaleTo Measure an Object’s Weight Hook the spring scale to the object you want to measure. Lift the scale and object with a smooth motion—do not jerk the object upward. Wait until the spring stops moving, then read the force on the scale. You can measure the weight of objects that will not fit on the hook. Place the object in a lightweight plastic bag and hang the bag on the hook.
Using a Spring ScaleTo Measure the Amount of Force Required to Move an Object Set the object on a flat surface, and hook the spring scale to the object. Pull the object smoothly across the flat surface—do not jerk the object. As you pull, have a partner read the amount of force registered on the scale.
Ruler A ruler is used to measure the length and width of objects. In science the units of measurement used on a ruler are millimeters (which can be abbreviated mm) and centimeters (which can be abbreviated cm).
Using a Ruler Find the zero mark on the ruler. Be careful! Sometimes the mark is exactly at the end of the ruler; sometimes it’s a few millimeters from the end. Place the zero mark of the ruler next to the left end of the object you want to measure. On the other end of the ruler, find the place next to the right end of the object. Read the scale on the ruler next to the right end of the object; this will tell you the length of the object.
Measuring Cup A measuring cup is used to measure the volume of liquids. In science, the units of measurement used on a measuring cup are milliliters (which can be abbreviated mL) and liters (which can be abbreviated L).
Using a Measuring Cup Pour the liquid that you want to measure into the measuring cup. Put the measuring cup on a flat surface. Move so that your eyes are level with the surface of the liquid in the measuring cup. Read the volume of the liquid by finding the line on the scale of the cup that is even with the surface of the liquid.
Magnifying Box A magnifying box is used to help you see the details of objects more clearly—it makes objects look larger than they actually are. It is used for small objects that fit inside of the box.
Using a Magnifying Box Place the magnifying box on a flat surface. Remove the lid of the box, and place a small object inside. Replace the lid on the box, then look through it to observe the object. If you are using the magnifying box to observe a living insect, look at it briefly, and then release it.
Hand Lens A hand lens is used to help you see details more clearly—it makes objects look larger than they actually are. The purpose of a hand lens is similar to the purpose of a magnifying box, but it works well for objects that are too large to fit inside the box. Most hand lens have two different magnifications. Be sure to look for an additional lens on the handle.
Using a Hand Lens Hold the hand lens about 12 centimeters from your eye. Bring the object that you want to observe towards the lens until it comes into focus. Remember to check to see if there is more than one lens so that you can observe your object using different magnifications.
Forceps Forceps are used to pick up or hold small objects. They work well for holding small objects under the hand lens.
Using Forceps To pick up an object, place the tips of the forceps around the object. Squeeze the forces’ handles together with your thumb and first finger until they tighten snugly around the object. To release the object, slowly loosen your grip on the forceps’ handles.
Balance A balance is used to measure the mass of an object. Mass is the amount of matter in an object—it is not the same thing as the weight of the object. In science, the units of measurement used on the balance are grams (which can be abbreviated g) and kilograms (which can be abbreviated kg).
Using a Balance Find the pointer on the balance and make sure it points to the middle mark on the scale. Place the object that you want to measure in the pan on the left side of the balance. You should see the pointer move away from the middle mark on the scale. Add standard masses to the pan on the right side of the balance. As you add masses, you should notice the pointer moving back towards the middle mark on the scale. When the pointer is back at the middle mark, the pans are balance. Add up the numbers on all the standard masses that you put in the pan on the right side of the balance. The total is the mass of your object.
Microscope A microscope is used to help you see details more clearly—it makes small objects look larger than they actually are. The purpose of a microscope is similar to the purpose of a hand lens or magnifying box, but a microscope allows you to see much smaller objects than either of the other two tools. A microscope is designed to allow you to look through two lenses at the same time. This causes the object you are looking at to appear hundreds or thousands of times larger than it actually is!
Parts of a Microscope Eyepiece Adjustment Knob Nosepiece Lens Stage Clip Stage Base Light or Mirror
Using a Microscope If your microscope uses a light, make sure it is plugged in and turned on. If your microscope uses a mirror, make sure you have an available light source. Raise the eyepiece as far as it will go by turning the coarse adjustment knob. Turn the lowest power lens into place. Move the stage clips off the stage, and center your slide over the hole in the stage. Replace the stage clips to secure the slide in place. Turn the coarse adjustment knob to lower the eyepiece until the object on the slide is close to being in focus. S-l-o-w-l-y turn the fine adjustment knob until the object on the slide is in focus. If you wish to observe your object under a higher magnification, turn the nosepiece to a higher power lens, being careful to make sure the lens does not hit the slide. If necessary, use the fine adjustment knob to bring the object into focus.
Be Safe in the Lab! When using science tools, be sure to observe the science safety rules.
References Bell, Michael, et al. Science. Orlando: Harcourt, 2006.