Forgotten Genius

Activity Ready, Set, Sort

Ages 4 and older.

Have you ever picked your favorite colors from a bag of jelly beans? If you did, you were separating the jelly beans by color or by the flavor you like most. A scientist named Percy Julian separated parts of seeds to get what he needed to make medicines and other products.

You Will Need

  • bag of mixed beans (pinto, kidney, black, lima or any 4 types of beans that look different from each other)
  • sheet of white paper

What to Do

  1. Gently pour your beans onto the sheet of paper.
  2. Look at your beans. Are they all the same? Are some different from others?
  3. Think of different ways to sort (separate) the beans (for example, by color, size, what else?).
  4. Separate your beans based on your rule. Don't tell others your rule.
  5. Take turns guessing each other's separating rule.
  6. Were the rules all the same? Why do you think some rules were different? (Often a group of objects that are different from each other can be separated in many ways. Beans can be separated by color, size, and shape.)
Overhead view of sorting table

Learning More

Science Play
by Jill Frankel Hauser and Michael P. Kline (illustrator). Williamson Publishing, 1998.
Contains a variety of science activities for children two to six years old.

Super Science Concoctions: 50 Mysterious Mixtures for Fabulous Fun
by Jill Frankel Hauser and Michael P. Kline (illustrator). Williamson Publishing, 1997.
Includes science experiments that introduce chemistry to young children.

Features chemistry activities for young children.

Curious George
Includes a grouping activity called Sort It Out.

Percy Julian and Separation
Percy Julian was a chemist, and separating materials is an important part of chemistry. Julian separated out some of the parts that make up soybeans. These parts were then used to make medicines and other products, such as foam to put out fires.

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© | Created January 2007