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  • Ezra Creighton

Sink or Float

Updated: May 29, 2019

Materials: Dish soap, water, a bowl, and a paperclip.


1. Fill a bowl with water.


2. Gently place a small paperclip on the surface of the water. (If you are having trouble with this, place the paperclip on a small piece of a paper towel. Then, using the paper towel as a boat, place it on the water. Once the paper towel and paperclip are floating, push the paper towel to the bottom of the dish with one finger, leaving the paperclip floating.)


3. Carefully add some dish soap to the bowl and watch what happens to the paperclip.


Why this Happens

Water has what is called surface tension. Surface tension happens when all the water molecules on the surface of the water hook together forming a skin on top of the water. The paper clip is able to sit on top of the water because it is resting on the surface tension. As long as you put it down gently the paperclip is just light enough to rest on the surface tension without breaking into the water. The soap’s job though is to break the surface tension. When it breaks the surface tension there is nothing to hold the paper clip up anymore so it sinks.

Character Teachings

Sensitivity means using your senses to better respond to the people and situations in your life. The paperclip is sensitive to its surroundings. When the surroundings change the paper clip changes as well. The paperclip rests on the surface only while there is surface tension from the water. When soap is added the situation has changed and the paperclip sinks instead of floating.


We also need to be sensitive to the situations and the people around us. Some things that may be alright in some situations or with some people are not alright in others. For example, telling jokes is fine in most situations but may not be alright at a funeral. Where else might you need to be aware of the differences in situations or people? How can you be more sensitive to different situations?