Home » How to Do Dollar Store Science Day! Feb. 2021

How to Do Dollar Store Science Day! Feb. 2021


Guess what today is? Hooray! It’s Dollar Store Science Day! You might be asking, exactly what is Dollar Store Science Day? Well, allow me to walk you through it. After escaping the motherbored, I mean motherboard, of online work or school, collect up your couch cushion change, grab a science partner (an adult, if you aren’t one), and trek over to your local dollar store. When you get inside, pause slightly to activate your finely honed sense of scientific observation. Next, peruse the aisles for anything that could aid you in an afternoon of cheap and easy scientific discovery!*

First, Gather Materials:

Today, my science partner and I collected up about 12 items. These items will be instrumental in many scientific inquiries that we designed while strolling and surveying the shelf stock. Examples of items that we purchased today are, polymer gel beads intended for watering plants, a “made for TV” invention called Eggletes – a contraption that yields a hard-boiled egg without the shell (in an uncharacteristic moment of lament, my science partner admitted that when he saw this invention, he secretly wished he had invented it himself), balloons, some extra measuring devices, glow sticks, hair oil for damaged hair, a new science notebook, diapers, true lemon crystals, and a few more things. All of these and some items we already had at home will be the ingredients of investigations that we will keep track of in our Science Notebooks. This amount of stuff should keep us busy doing science inquiries and experiments every afternoon for about a week. 

Next, Start Inquiring:

If you are imagining a wild free for all, with glow stick juice all over the walls, I am here to tell you that scientific inquiry does not work like that. You and your partner will loosely map out experiments you want to do before you go and while you are at the store. One of the things that makes Dollar Store Science special is that a little bit of reverse engineering goes into the design of the inquiries depending on what is available in the store at the time. This gives a person practice asking questions about materials on the fly. In a typical Dollar Store Science Day, we will talk through about 10 plus possible tests, inventions, studies, or inquiries just while we are walking the rows. It takes practice too. The more you do this the better you get at it. The first time you go, you may only think of a couple really fun inquiries to try. To exercise your inquiry muscles, get in the habit of asking questions about the world around you out loud. Talk about natural phenomena in everyday life with your science partner. It never hurts to watch a few science videos. ScienceWorks has a whole bunch of awesome online content to get you started https://scienceworksmuseum.org/scienceworks-online/.

There are several approaches one can take when thinking of investigations. Applying engineering practices is always a good one. You and your science partner can design some kind of new marble run with cups and decorative items you may find. I am interested in doing a Mathematics data collecting project next go around, where we do data collection of types items over time in the store to make graphs and see trends. Measuring items after changes, this has some nice cause and effect lessons and helps a person to think in metric. Making models of cells out of odd items or weird food analysis/taster tests is fun too. Chemistry is very popular with my science partner. We love doing acid /base tests and mixing to see how chemicals affect each other. On your first attempt, your goal could be to get the stuff for one or two really good inquiries/investigations, but no more. You are shooting for success! 

Diligently utilizing your Science Notebook will anchor your investigations in the realm of science. Your Science Notebook is your most important part of any inquiry. Always date and title your investigations. Make sure you help your science partner to keep track of things in their Science Notebooks – it is easy to forget to write things down when you are excited.

Think of the Next Generation Science Standards:

When collecting your materials and thinking about your investigations, it helps to keep in mind the Cross-Cutting Concepts listed in Next Generation Science Standards, aka the NGSS, so your Dollar Store Science Day has the real meat of scientific inquiry which is far more fulfilling to all participants than a completely non-targeted plan. The NGSS present an excellent framework for understanding the scientific world around us and the Cross-Cutting Concepts are a list of ideas that span all scientific practices, no matter the domain of science.

1. Patterns. Observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, and they prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them. An example of this in practice is seeing a natural thing has a pattern

2. Cause and effect: Mechanism and explanation. Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. A major activity of science is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. Such mechanisms can then be tested across given contexts and used to predict and explain events in new contexts.

3. Scale, proportion, and quantity. In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different measures of size, time, and energy and to recognize how changes in scale, proportion, or quantity affect a system’s structure or performance.

4. Systems and system models. Defining the system under study—specifying its boundaries and making explicit a model of that system—provides tools for understanding and testing ideas that are applicable throughout science and engineering.

5. Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation. Tracking fluxes of energy and matter into, out of, and within systems helps one understand the systems’ possibilities and limitations.

6. Structure and function. The shape of an object or living thing and its substructure determines many of its properties and functions.

7. Stability and change. For natural and built systems alike, conditions of stability and determinants of rates of change or evolution of a system are critical elements of study.

Keep Notes in Your Science Notebook:

Below is our first list of inquiries we decided on for today’s materials:

1. Static electricity and balloons

2. Polymer fun 

3. Rate the invention Egglet 

4. Messing around with the superabsorbent polymer in the diapers and

seeing if the floral gel beads are the same thing as the diaper polymer 

5. Does the hair repair junk I bought truly repair hair? I need the microscope for this one

6. Crystal lemon taste test for my partner’s “Lemon Quik”™ recipe

7. Blow up a balloon with the gas coming out of an open soda

8. Balance a balloon or skewer through a balloon 

9. Use an acid indicator made from purple cabbage to find out if the shampoo is an acid or a base.

10. ice balls for salt and melting experiments

11. A gajillion glow stick investigations which we will test out, and look up on the internet

I am sure we will make up more, but that’s the list as we left the store… 

Safety First:

Now it’s time for the most important part of how to do a Dollar Store Science Day:


Last summer when Dollar Store Science Day was invented, my partner in science – I’m not naming names – accidentally lit his hair on fire with some “non-toxic” chemical compounds inside D.S. products. This taught us two really important things. First and Foremost- Personal Protective Gear is the MOST IMPORTANT PART OF SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY, and two, there is a lot to learn at the dollar store, so we all need to be serious and read labels and warnings on everything! 

Personal Protective Equipment is safety glasses, gloves, possibly a face mask or shield, tied back hair, and clothes that will protect your arms and feet. Scienceworks provides FREE Safety Glasses to any person who needs them. Please get some! We are open on the weekends – call or come in. 

Remember, NEVER smell, taste, or touch anything that you are not sure of its contents or toxicity.

Also, there are a lot of chemicals that CAN NOT be mixed. For example, ScienceWorks does not recommend even buying bleach, nothing good will come of bleach. It is a very caustic (caustic means base) chemical that is TOXIC and very bad for the environment. 

Lastly, I know I said this before, but it is very important – KEEP A NOTEBOOK of all your investigations. If you do have an accident, your Science Notebook has important information that will help your caregivers, and, on a more fun note, you may need to recreate something awesome and your notebook will tell you how to do that. That being said, I wish you all a delightful Dollar Store Science Day, which is a holiday of your choosing. Please post your inquiries on our website! We can’t wait to learn more about the science you practice!

*Special environmental note, many of the items at the dollar store, if not all the items are environmentally harmful, please keep that in mind when shopping for your science items, at dollar stores, or any stores, and please try to limit dollar store science days to the rare afternoon…ScienceWorks is a champion of the environment and we hope to promote responsible science activities.