What can ping pong balls, straws and funnels teach kids about the reasons why planes and birds can fly? A lot, especially when they’re used as part of a Bernoulli Principle experiment!
As with all children’s introductions to the science world, the Bernoulli Principle is best taught hands-on. Many young people enjoy kinesthetic learning because it allows them to apply what’s being taught immediately. Plus, it’s just plain fun for both educators and learners.
Below is a ping pong ball science experiment for kids you can do at home or in your classroom. If you’re teaching students online, you can have your learners gather the easy-to-find materials for this experiment and follow the steps together. But first, you may want a refresher on the Bernoulli Principle and why it’s important.
A Quick Background on Bernoulli’s Principle
Daniel Bernoulli was an 18th-century mathematician from Europe. Over his years of studying the dynamics of fluids, he discovered and named what has become known as the Bernoulli Principle. His principle, as outlined in his literary classic “Hydrodynamica,” explains that as the speed of a fluid passes over and around an item, it causes different pressures that affect the item. Fast speeds produce low pressures, whereas slow speeds produce higher pressures.
Because air is a type of fluid, Bernoulli’s Principle clarifies the basic reason why an eagle or sparrow stays in the air. As air rushes over and under the bird’s wings, the pressure on the wings changes. The faster the air passes across the wings, the more lift the bird will have. Lift allows the bird to soar and maintain flight.
Bringing Bernoulli’s Principle to Life With a Ping Pong Ball and Funnel Experiment
When you’re ready to start teaching your kids the Bernoulli Principle, gather the following materials for each child:
- One ping pong ball
- One bendable drinking straw
- One funnel
(Note: Though children can share ping pong balls, they should not share straws or un-sanitized funnels for hygienic reasons.)
Once everyone’s prepared, you can embark on two basic experiments.
First, ask the kids to bend their straws into an “L” shape and position the straw with the short part of the “L” pointing upward. They can then balance the ping pong ball onto the short part of the “L”.
Blowing into the straw firmly and continuously, the children should try to keep the ping pong ball in place. The faster and more consistently they blow, the easier it will be to avoid losing the ball. The ping pong ball will hover in the rushing air. This demonstrates how fast air puts pressure on the ball.
This is a terrific chance for you to ask your kids the following questions:
- Why did the ping pong ball stay in place?
- Were you surprised by anything that happened during your experiment with the Bernoulli Principle?
- What do you predict would happen if you tried this with a heavier ball, like a golf ball?
After discussing what just happened, ask the kids to put the ping pong ball into the wide end of the funnel. As they did with the straw experiment, they should blow into the funnel from below. They will find that the ball does not move up. Instead, it remains trapped in the funnel because the air pressure around the ball (which is moving rapidly) is lower than the air pressure above the ball (which is coming from the static air in the room).
To follow up, initiate some conversation by asking:
- What was the difference between the straw and funnel experiments?
- Were you able to move the ping pong ball at all?
- Did you try different ways of breathing into the funnel? If so, what was the result?
- Can you think of other ways to test the principle?
Congratulations. You’ve introduced your learners to Bernoulli’s Principle!
Other Ways to Help Kids Learn Science
It’s important for young people to read about science but also play around with scientific principles, whether they’re in kindergarten or high school. At Science Explorers, we bring science to life. Sign your child up for one of our in-person or virtual STEM summer camps or after-school STEM clubs today!