Breaking Bones

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Biology In Elementary Schools is a Saint Michael's College student project from a course that ran between 2007 and 2010 and fully described in this book chapter. The student-created resources have been preserved here for posterity. Link under 'toolbox' for printer-friendly versions of the exercises. Click on handouts to print full resolution versions. Please see Wikieducator's disclaimer, our safety statement, and the Creative Commons licensing in English and in legalese.

Breaking Bones

Student worthiness

This was an experiment borrowed from here. It has been tested and can be trusted.

Primary biological content area covered

  • Bone strength
  • Effects of Bone Structure

Materials Per Group

  1. Two Paper Plates
  2. Tape
  3. Scissors
  4. Six sealed bags of sand (150g) & Three sealed bags of sand (75g)
  5. Two sheets of 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper for the tight bones and three sheets of paper for the hollow bones, for each group.
  6. Scale (one scale, because the teacher should weigh the sand bags in advance)
  7. Poster to create a class graph that displays the results of the experiment


Figure 1. Handout required for activity. Click to see the full-size handout

Description of activity

This activity is used to teach students about the structure of bones. We want to show students that human bones are hollow, but have more stability and strength than tightly compacted bones. Students will use rolled paper to represent the bones. To test the bones they will place paper plates on top of the rolled paper. They will then add bags of sand to the plate to see how much each type of bone can hold.

Lesson plan

  • Introduce the experiment, showing students how the rolled paper will represent bones.
  • Give students the worksheet and let them make a hypothesis.
  • Give each group their materials and have them roll two large bones and three tighter bones.
  • Stand bones up on the table and place paper plate on top of each type.
  • Explain to the students that they need to carefully place the bags of sand on top of the plates so they do not fall over.
  • Have the students continue putting the bags of sand on until the plates fall.
  • Have the students write in their chart how many bags each set of bones held.
  • Let students finish the worksheet.
  • Explain why hollow bones are stronger and able to hold more weight.
  • Compare all results at the end to make a class bar graph.

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Potential pitfalls

  • Tight paper roles need to be even or they will not support the weight of the sand bags.
  • Students need to be careful when placing the bags of sand on top of the plates or they will fall right away.
  • Students need to be careful and keep the bags of sand closed, so they do not spill.
  • Even though the hollow bones are supposed to be the only ones to hold the weight, there is the possibility that they will not stand. This is where it is important to make sure that the construction of bones makes them of equal height and width.
  • Children might also use the paper bones as swords. If this should happen, describe to them that bones are fragile and need to be handled delicately.

Math connections

  • Students will add up total weight supported by different bone types.
  • For a finishing product, the students will help construct a cumulative bar graph.

Literature connections

  • The Lost Dinosaur Bone (Little Critter) by Mercer Mayer, HarperFestival, (2007)
  • Search For The Missing Bone (Magic School Bus) by Eva Moore and Ted Enik, Scholastic Paperbacks, (2000)
  • The Berenstein Bears and Too Much Junk Food (Random House) by Stan and Jan Berenstein (to introduce healthy eating to build strong bones), Random House Books for Young Readers, (1985)
  • The Milk Makers by Gail Gibbons, Aladdin; 1st Aladdin Books Ed edition, (1987)

Connections to educational standards

Vermont Standard 7.14b: Students demonstrate understanding of the human body-heredity, body systems, and individual development-and understand the impact of the environment on the human body.

  • Identify the parts of the human body and understand the functioning of different parts.

Next steps

A follow-up activiity that discusses what types of food are beneficial to healthy bones. Students will be aware of a nutritional diet versus other diets.


After teaching the first graders about bones and their strength, I feel that our lesson plan was a success! There were some incidents where the students started arguing over who was going to make the paper bones but other than that, our lesson ran smoothly and I am very proud of the results.

If there was one thing that I could change or add to our lesson,it would be that I wish that we could of read to the students a picture book from the Magic School Bus. I feel that this would have contributed to their understanding of bones and what is important for them to stay healthy.

Making experiments and graphs is one way to apply to the eight-multiple intelligences of students, and incorporating reading and literature is another. I am very impressed with what we have accomplished and look forward to the future lesson plans.

I also felt that the experiment went really well. The students really enjoyed placing the sand bags on the paper bone towers and they loved watching them fall over. I also feel that the class chart worked well because it helped the visual learners to understand the results of the experiment. The only major problem was which group got to do the small bones and which was allowed to do the large bones.

I also think that making a text connection would make this activity even better. If there was more time we would have liked to read to the children, but 20 minutes did not allow for that. Any book about bones would help the children to understand what our bones are actually like.

Also, if we had more time I would like to spend more time teaching the students about the bones structure. They could explore the different bones that humans have or compare human bones with animal bones. Although I believe that students did understand the main concept of our experiment, going into more detail would allow for an even greater understanding.

Citations and links

Borrowed experiment,