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Let’s Make Bubbles: Connecting History and STEM

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This post was written by Amara L. Alexander, 2019-20 Library of Congress Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator

Blowing bubbles can be fascinating for any age group, sparking curiosity: What varies with each bubble? Why do bubbles conform to a sphere-like shape? Does the solution change the size and longevity of the bubble? Can I freeze a bubble and keep forever? Invite students to explore the science of bubbles, and learn about a moment in history, using this primary source. 

Nyssa, Oregon. FSA (Farm Security Administration) mobile camp. Japanese-American children

Provide students with this photograph featuring Japanese-American children creating bubbles during their time at an internment camp. Take a moment and draw student’s attention to this photograph with the following prompts:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What people and objects are shown?
  • What is the location and time period of this image? 
  • What can you learn from examining this image?
  • What do you see that you can’t explain?

It appears as though the children have used household items to spark an activity of excitement during difficult times. Ask students to share their feelings about missing school and friends. 

Tell students that after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps. Some were eventually sent to farm labor camps in states such as Oregon. Conditions were harsh and unkind to residents; however, looking at this image, it appears as though the children found activities to brighten their day. Depending on your students, take time to explore the science of bubbles or allow time for students to create them using a few items. 

The soapy film that makes a bubble has 3 layers. A thin layer of water is knitted between two layers of soap molecules. The colors on a bubble are caused by the reflection and refraction of light waves. The sphere-like shape of a bubble stays in place due to surface tension – the forces holding molecules of a liquid together. 

To make a bubble solution, mix soap and water together in a bowl or container. Modeling the children in the image, grab a few straws for some bubble-making fun. Tap the straw into the soapy mixture and fill the straw with air on the opposite side. Bubbles. Challenge students to a virtual bubble-making contest or designing their own bubble-blower. Encourage students to snap a picture of their bubbles and bubble-blowers to share with classmates. 

The Japanese American community rallied together to create positive memories for the children while in the internment camps and farm labor camps, and students might research other common activities. For example, baseball was frequently played at the camps, as well. Taking a sheet of paper, fold it in half to resemble a hot dog. Unfold the paper and on the left side vertically list the letters of the alphabet. Matching the beginning letter of the alphabet to words leads students to recall ways the community has united together to support one each other. For example, D-Doctors or N-Neighbors. The list could include community leaders, teachers, nurses, and grocery stores to name a few. 

This interdisciplinary lesson connects students to science and social studies content. Check out the Japanese American Internment primary source set for more resources to expand learning. 

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