Back to School... with Candy

Making plans for back to school? Don’t forget the candy! It doesn’t sound like something a nutritionist would recommend, but what about a chemistry educator?

Deanna Cullen recently sent an email to ChemEdX contributors, asking for suggestions of Journal of Chemical Education (JCE) resources related to this year’s National Chemistry Week theme “The Sweet Side of Chemistry—Candy” that had potential for sharing.

It jogged memories of one of my favorite American Chemical Society (ACS) High School Day presentations that Laura Slocum and I shared when we served as JCE’s precollege associate editors. It was “Connecting Candy to Chemistry: Ready-to-use Resources from the Journal of Chemical Education.” Participants got a chance to hear about and try some sweet hands-on activities. As you head back to school, one activity in particular that we used jumped out as being suitable for using early in the school year.

The activity is part of the article “A Spoonful of C12H22O11 Makes the Chemistry Go Down: Candy Motivations in the High School Chemistry Classroom,” a fun collection of more than a dozen brief "motivations." We used the author’s suggestion for measurement. It could be used when discussing measuring, significant figures, precision, and accuracy. She describes, “Groups of three students are given a roll of Fruit-by-the-Foot (about three-feet long) and asked to divide it into three parts. This motivates a discussion on accuracy (how much do the three pieces differ) and precision (is any piece 12-inches long).” We offered standard 12-inch wooden rulers and whatever cutting implements were in the hotel conference room. I loved seeing an activity I’d previously only seen on the printed page come to life in the hands of teachers. Groups offered ideas for how they could integrate it into their classrooms. Back-to-school sales should be cropping up, including ones at the grocery store with common lunch items, including Fruit-by-the-Foot fruit snacks.

An activity that appeared in the Journal after our presentation was another hands-on activity that is well suited to topics normally covered at the start of the school year, “JCE Classroom Activity #112: Guessing the Number of Candies in the Jar—Who Needs Guessing?” As the title states, students are challenged to apply some science to a game they may have seen before: estimating the number of candy pieces in a jar, perhaps in order to win a prize or the container of candy. They first make an estimate, but they then refine their estimate with some simple measurements and a consideration of proportional ratios. They receive two bags of candies. They count the number of candies in each, then weigh them and determine their volume in a graduated cylinder, to determine number/mass, number/volume, and mass/volume. The student decides how to use this information to calculate a better estimate.

Looking for more ways to connect candy to chemistry, all year long? Keep an eye out for JCE's resource list as NCW approaches. What candy activities have you used in your classroom?


(Photo published in: Stephanie Ryan; Donald J. Wink; J. Chem. Educ.  2012, 89, 1171–1173. DOI: 10.1021/ed1009943 Copyright © 2012 The American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.)