Guest Blog Post contributed by Jake Burwell, STEM Capacity Development VISTA
The 5th grade teachers at Killip Elementary school designed a Problem-based Learning Unit that focused on the students reviewing FUSD's new Wellness Policy that restricts the food/drink items allowed in the classroom. This unit aligned standards for understanding "matter" while integrating real world relevance as the students learned some basic chemistry such as the three common states of matter, physical and chemical properties and changes. They learned what chemicals, including sugar, go into drinks and their final product was a recommendation to the FUSD governing board as to what additional drinks could be included in the policy as "acceptable."
Tracy Blahut, Katie Butterfield and Jillian Hernandez co-developed the unit, and on April 28th, chemists Irina Barrow and Amy Sessions from W.L. Gore gave the students some basic background on matter and had the students do simple experiments on chemical and physical changes. Amy told the students that she struggled with chemistry in 10th grade, but persisted in her studies and now enjoys her work as a chemist at W.L. Gore! Students guessed from Irina's accent that she was born in Russia, and despite learning a complex career in a second language, is now a highly successful chemist at W.L. Gore.
After this introduction to chemistry, the students were given the following drinks to analyze: NOS, Rockstar, Monster, Sprite, Diet Coke, Coke, Capris Sun, Sunny D, and Propel water. They worked in teams to test their sugar content through a boiling process, taking notes on the results as they completed the experiment. The end results were shocking! With most of the drinks, a large amount of sludge remained after the water evaporated. Some drinks (i.e. energy drinks and Coke) contained over 14 g of solids out of an initial 100 g of liquid. They wrote up their results and created presentations for representatives from FUSD, with suggestions for the drinks that should, or should not, be included in the District's approved list, based on their sugar content.
A selected group of the 5th graders presented their findings to the Forest Highlands Foundation to demonstrate the relevant and educational value of this PBL unit. Thank you to the Forest Highlands Foundation for granting Killip Elementary the funds for the equipment for us to do this unit in the years to come!
Thank you to Irina Barrow and Amy Sessions for their great contributions to this unit!