Life Science

Food in the Science Classroom for the Purpose of Learning

I recently came across an activity where a spinal cord was represented using candy.

I can only imagine how excited the students must feel while completing this project, but I am wondering if it truly led to a better understanding of the material for the students? At the very least, it's a memorable experience!

 

Francesca Blanco
Francesca Blanco
385 Activity Points

I would agree with you entirely about both wondering if the students were truly given a better understanding of the topic through the use of candy to demonstrate the concept in addition to it being quite memorable. 

This reminds me of a lesson I taught last year during my practicum at a middle school. My Cooperating Teacher had suggested that we use Oreos with various levels of cream scraped off to represent the different phases of the moon as a form of formative assessment. Students were told that they could eat their Oreos after they’d shown either me or their teacher all the phases of the moon in the correct order and direction and then uploaded a picture of them to a specific photo sharing website. Overall, it seemed to go well, with the majority of students easily creating and arranging the phases. 

However, there were times where students would become a bit impatient and eat their Oreos before we had approved their model. Or they’d begin to wolf them down before the taking a picture of them. In addition, some students did their best to rush through the activity in order to get to their Oreos faster. 

Yakira Cochran
Yakira
210 Activity Points

Hello Francesca,

Reflecting on activities like this is something we should all do with everything we contemplate using with students.  You asked the most important question: will this activity lead to a better understanding for your students? 

The answer can be found in what your goal was for using the activity in the first place.  If you just wanted students to understand the layout of the spine and spinal cord then perhaps arranging candy in a pattern that mimics this anatomy might work.  But, if you need them to understand how the form and function of the spine work together then I believe a physical model like this could be accomplished with clay or some other more durable and inedible material.

The other way to approach this model-building is to have students brainstorm conceptual models.  How could you represent the spinal cord by its purpose?  If students get the idea that nerves are how organisms transfer information and control their bodies using signals they may decide to represent a spinal cord using bundles of wires.

I was well-known for handing out goodies to students – but I refrained from using candy or other foods for hands-on activities primarily because students will eat some.  Are their hands, the containers and all work surfaces hygienic?  What would students do with morsels that fall on the floor?  What kind of mess will you be left with after the activity? Or, what about students who can't eat those treats - do you need to provide an alternative so they feel they aren't missing out?

Save the candy for treats.  Use something else for models.

Hope this helps!

Gabe

Gabe Kraljevic
Gabe Kraljevic
4174 Activity Points

Of course! Students always love the idea of food in class! I really like your idea of using candy to represent the spinal cord. I did an activity last year that my 8th graders really enjoyed. They used red vines for the backbone of DNA and toothpicks attached to different colored marshmellows to represent the 4 different types of nitrogen bases in DNA. I think it was not until then, that many of them could really grasp the structure of DNA. 

Jennifer Toy
Jennifer Toy
715 Activity Points

Food might make it easier to understand the topic, such as when I helped my teacher with the lesson of the phases of the moon using Oreo cookies. It got messy but we had all the students carve out the moon phases. 

Igdalia Gonzalez
Igdalia Gonzalez
130 Activity Points

When I have done activities with food in my class, it is important that you have planned everything to the letter. Give clear expectations for the assignment and what the purpose its. Otherwise, some will see it as just a time to have fun and eat in class. Definitely have a written activity to go along with it. 

 

Brittany Alao
Brittany Alao
580 Activity Points

Hello!
I love the idea of using food as a method to learn. It is a very memorable experience for the children, and it is a fun way to represent the topic at hand. However, as a teacher it is important to note every child's allergy prior to any experiments with food. Also, as mentioned by others, children become impatient with candy and yummy food during explanations (and I don't blame them!). It usually depends on the students' ages and abilities for a teacher to decide whether using food is "worth it" or not. For me, it almost always is worth it! 

Nicole Orta
Nicole Orta
1015 Activity Points

Hello!
I love the idea of using food as a method to learn. It is a very memorable experience for the children, and it is a fun way to represent the topic at hand. However, as a teacher it is important to note every child's allergy prior to any experiments with food. Also, as mentioned by others, children become impatient with candy and yummy food during explanations (and I don't blame them!). It usually depends on the students' ages and abilities for a teacher to decide whether using food is "worth it" or not. For me, it almost always is worth it! 

Nicole Orta
Nicole Orta
1015 Activity Points

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