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The Great Bottle Flip Challenge

I will admit I am a little late to this game- the Bottle Flip Challenge, that is!

I considered inventing a challenge over a year ago, but just didn’t have time and I also knew I would want my version to be a little different… but I couldn’t decide how.

So, recently I had one of those Brain Pops I have sometimes and thought about this: What if we tested the bottles with water and then the students could use the gathered data and design their own challenge?

Sounds great, right? But, you know me! I thought of a really neat twist. What if we could fill the bottles with something other than water? Would it work?

Well, we tried it and I have some stories to tell you. Let’s conquer the bottle flip challenge! 

It's the Bottle Flip Challenge! This post gives some details on experimenting and then designing a STEM the ultimate bottle to flip.

Just Some Background…

Just in case you don’t know about the bottle flip challenge, it works very simply. You toss a water bottle and try to land it on its bottom. The trick is the amount of water inside the bottle and also what kind of plastic the bottle is made of.

Now, let’s be honest here! I knew there might be a lot of prep for this challenge. It turned out that I was right. But, as always, my experiences will help save you oodles of time! (and it is really is not a huge amount of prep!)

Let’s break this down to smaller steps:

  • Materials Needed
  • Water Levels
  • Supplies for Groups
  • The Data Tables
  • Spillage
  • Results and Designing

Materials Needed

This is very basic and super simple. You just need empty water bottles. I had 16.9-ounce bottles already and just bought the smallest packages of three other sizes. I did plan this in advance so I drank the water (and Mt. Dew) and saved all those bottles! 

TIP: Ask for donations. This is one of those items parents will send you. Just request specific sizes and you will likely get plenty of bottles. 

I used four sizes and needed eight bottles in each size.

Other Materials: For the experimentation part of this challenge you need water and bottles. You will also need towels, containers to use for pouring the water, calculators, and filler items for the design challenge. We used beans, beads, sand, marbles, pushpins, candy corn, rice, and un-popped popcorn.

For the bottle flip challenge you need several different sizes and types of empty bottles.

Water Levels

My first inclination was to just have the kids measure the bottles with rulers and mark the levels. But my bottles were all different heights and had different diameters.  I knew this would not be mathematically correct!

So, I used the amount of water – in ounces – as a guide to mark the water levels.

The photo will show you what I did!

Using the ten-ounce bottle I poured in 2.5 ounces of water and marked the water level. Then I added 2.5 more ounces and marked the bottle. This gave me measures of one-fourth and one-half. I repeated this two more times and had three-fourths and a full bottle.

For the remaining 10-ounce bottles I just laid the marked bottle beside an unmarked one, lined them up, and repeated the markings on the plain bottle.

For the 16.9-ounce bottle, I used 16 ounces as the ‘full’ amount and poured in 4 ounces to make the markings. The 12 and 20-ounce bottles were the easiest.

I promise, this really only took about ten minutes. I also labeled each bottle with its size – 10 ounces, 12 ounces, 16 ounces, and 20 ounces.

Were my bottles marked perfectly? Probably not! But they were close! You could have older students do this on their own, but I marked my bottles to save time.

Materials fort he bottle flip challenge- each team needs several different bottles and a large container of water.

Supplies for Groups

What do the kids need to get started? I prepared a bin of the four bottles and a large measuring cup with water in it. Each team also had two lab sheets with the data table ready to use.

TIP: If you do not have measuring cups or any type of cup with a pouring spout, don’t worry. A paper cup (3 ounces) really will work. Students can just squeeze the sides of the cup to create a spout. 

ANOTHER TIP: Kids may not be very skilled at pouring water into those tiny bottle openings. Be prepared for spills. More about this later!

Data recording of the experiment portion of the bottle flip challenge. The data will be used to design the ultimate bottle flip.

Data Tables

Obviously, this endeavor is heavy on keeping data and analyzing it in order to design the best bottle later. So, I created a fabulous data table with rules about who would be the flipper and the recorder.

My initial thinking was that only one student should be the flipper (control those variables).

 I totally disregarded how exciting this task was and that everyone would want to be the flipper. And I also chose the number FIFTEEN as the times a bottle would be flipped.

Think about it for a minute- one student would flip all four bottles fifteen times at each water level. Yeah, it took about ten minutes to know this was not going to work. There were too many students without a job and the flipper was getting tired.

So, we revised the rules right in the middle of the first class and by the second class, I also had a new data table. With the second version, the students were partnered. Each student flipped a bottle five times and recorded the number landed.

After every bottle was flipped two partnerships were joined as a team of four. The larger team totaled all of their landed flips and used those larger numbers for the analysis.

The data analysis included determining a fractional amount of landed flips versus total flips. We turned that fraction into a landing percentage. Using those percentages students could quickly identify which bottle at which water level was the most accurate.

Flipping bottles in the lab needed lots of towels to help with spills and leaks. Great STEM Challenge!


Now, let’s take a brief break from the challenge to talk about spillage of water.

Folks, it’s going to happen. It’s just water so we just laughed- especially when someone forgot to secure the lid to a bottle and it flew off soaking everyone around the table.

TIP: You need real towels. You can bring in a large roll of paper towels but you are going to use a lot of them. They work better than paper towels!

The ultimate bottle flip challenge- we used many different items to design our own experiment.

Results and Designing

Are you ready for the best part? Design your own bottle flipping challenge! This included deciding what to flip and creating their own data table.

First, we brainstormed many different things we could try. 

  • Fill bottles as full as you can.
  • Change the water levels to different amounts than already tested.
  • Fill the bottle with something besides water.

Which one of those do you think the kids opted to try?

Yep, putting wacky things in the bottles was the unanimous choice for all my classes!

We tried all the items you see pictured! I did have rules about the design (of course):

  • Students could only choose 2 items to use in the bottles.
  • The data table had to have space for a fractional amount and a percentage.
  • The team had to invent their own flipping rules.
  • The data table they designed had to have a space for a conclusion of their experiment.

Here is what we learned: It doesn’t really matter what is in the bottle as long as it has some weight to it. The rice and candy corn were very difficult to land. The sand and beans worked well. The marbles were heavy enough but tended to clunk on the table and not land at all. 

Overall, this was great fun! Easy set-up and easy cleanup!


Would you like to try this challenge? I have added it to my Teachers Pay Teachers store with a 6-page Teacher’s Guide! Click here or any of the images!

LINKS FOR YOU– if you like experiment and design challenges:

The great Bottle Flip Challenge is the STEM Lab. We experimented and then designed our own fabulous bottle to flip.