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Monday, September 03, 2007

I chew-chew-chews you

Last week, I did an introductory science experiment with my classes. It was called the Bubble Gum Lab. In addition to the fact that it was listed on our curriculum planning guide, I thought it was important to conduct this experiment because of a question that popped up on last year's science benchmark test.

"Mrs. Flower's class was conducting a bubble gum experiment. They wanted to see what would happen to the mass of a piece of bubble gum when it is chewed. What is the best hypothesis for this experiment?

A) the mass of the bubble gum will increase.
B) the mass of the bubble gum will decrease.
C) the mass of the bubble gum will stay the same.
D) the mass of the bubble gum will change color."

I might not have gotten the wording of the question exactly right, but it did basically boil down to, "Which would be the best hypothesis?" Now my fellow science teachers can help me out here, but I'm pretty sure that when it comes to hypotheses, there really are no better or worse. A hypothesis is merely a prediction that you hope to prove or disprove over the course of your experiment. If you already knew what was going to happen, you wouldn't be making a hypothesis -- you would be stating a conclusion or a fact.

So it seems to me that this is a horrendous question. But since I am merely a commonplace third-grade teacher (ie, lowly peon), no one who actually writes these tests listens or responds when I bring this up.

SO, when I saw the Bubble Gum Lab listed as an opening week activity, I decided that my kids should definitely have the experience and know the conclusion, just in case this awful question rears its head once again on the benchmark.

On Thursday, I passed out spiral notebooks to be used as science journals, and together, we wrote out all of the introductory steps. Problem, hypothesis, materials, procedure. The hypothesis was, "I think that the mass of the bubble gum will _____________ when it is chewed." I let each kid fill in their own blank with their own opinion, with the choices being increase, decrease, or stay the same. Thankfully, no one even suggested "change color" as an option. When I took a quick poll in each class, the three options all had takers, and there was no overwhelming favorite.

On Friday, we actually carried out the experiment. I'm sure that the intention of the original writers of this lab was to have each individual child weigh their unchewed piece of gum, then again weigh their piece of gum after each minute of chewing, but I calculated that if we did it that way, it would take us roughly 217,089 minutes of class time. I figured we didn't really have that much time, so I decided that all of the kids would be able to do the chewing part, but that everyone could watch as I weighed my piece of gum each time.

So I borrowed a triple-beam balance from the fifth-grade science lab (yes, for our THIRD grade experiment, a triple-beam balance was indeed specified). And I went out and bought a few packs of Orbitz chewing gum.

When I pulled the packs out of my desk and started to unwrap the container, several kids called out, "What flavor did you get?" I replied, "Lemon-lime," and suddenly there was a unified chorus going, "OOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH!"

You would have thought that I had just parachuted out of a helicopter and into the classroom, holding a ginormous bag of cash in one hand and a PlayStation 3 in the other.

I had somebody pass out a piece of gum to everyone, while I set the balance up on a table in front of everyone. The first step of our procedure was to unwrap the piece of gum, so we all did that, and no less than eight kids in each class held the wrapper up to their nose, inhaled deeply, and then shuddered with satisfaction. I know it sounds vulgar, but it really did remind me of Booger from Revenge of the Nerds, sniffing a pair of unmentionables after the panty raid on the girls' dormitory.

Moving on from that disturbing image, the kids held onto their gum while I weighed my piece on the balance in front of them. I called out the measurement, and everybody wrote the number down into their Results table in their science journals.

Then we started chewing. We used the red second hand on the wall clock to chew for exactly one minute. At the end of one minute, everyone took the piece back out of their mouth, and the kids held their own pieces of gum while I weighed mine.

During this time, many of the kids commented on the flavor of the gum. There was one or two comments along the lines of, "Thanks, Mister Teacher -- this gum tastes great!" But most of the comments were more like, "This tastes SOOOOOOO good...." -- spoken in a tone of voice that I would more commonly relate to a nicotine addict who has involuntarily gone an entire weekend without access to their smokes.

After the first minute, we chewed for another minute and weighed again. Chew, weigh, record. Chew, weigh, record. Lather, rinse, repeat. We did this until we had officially chewed the gum for five minutes.

And you know what our conclusion was? It certainly wasn't what I was expecting. The mass of the gum DECREASED -- by about half of its original mass!

With my morning class, I let the kids continue to chew their gum until it was time to switch to their other teacher. Then I held the trash can for them to spit out their gum as they filed past me out the door. However, my afternoon class and I finished the experiment at about 2:55, so we really hustled to get everything ready to get out to the buses to go home, and I forgot to have them spit out their gum before they left.

As we were walking down the hall to get outside, the PE coach noticed, and asked one of the kids, "So they're letting you chew gum now?" I heard him and replied, "Yeah, it's for science."

Like that's just the world's greatest blanket explanation for everything.

If my kids picked up on that, I can imagine hearing about this conversation next week:

Teacher: Did you just kick him in the privates??
Student: Yeah, it's for science.
Teacher: Oh, OK then. Carry on.

At any rate, it was a nice way to end what had been a very frustrating first week of school. And who knows, maybe my kids even learn something -- I know I did. Now we'll just see if that awful question pops up once again on the benchmark test, or if someone with sense has actually changed it.


Ed U. Cater said...

so... errrr... ummmm... what exactly is the correct answer to that puzzling question?

Mister Teacher said...

I'm assuming they wanted "The mass of the bubble gum will decrease..."

geewits said...

I knew it would decrease and I'm not a teacher or a scientist. The flavor and sweetening crystals would liquify with your saliva and be swallowed.

Anonymous said...

I guessed "will increase." I really wonder, however, what was scored as the correct answer!

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