Halloween can be a scary time of year for educators-- candy, costumes, calamity -- oh my!
In this season of changing leaves, could it be time to change our mindsets as well? Can we turn the season of “boo” into a season of “oooh” in our classrooms this fall?
Here are some ideas on how to use the crispness of autumn and some tasty candy sensations to sweeten some lessons for your students this Halloween.
Last year, slime was all the rage. Why not take a moment to use its stickiness to make the concept of viscosity cling to the minds of your students?
Encourage students to make their own slime and then to change one of the ingredients to vary the consistency. How does varying the different ingredients change the way the slime feels? How does it change the way the slime moves? You might have students break apart the science behind the slime by making a model of how the ingredients change the end product, and then set up a mystery where a visitor has left a trail of slime behind them. Can students explore their predictions and reverse engineer the perfect slime to find the slimy solution for themselves? They’ll sure enjoy trying!
Provide students with a single type of candy (like gobstoppers) and have them brainstorm different labs that could be developed using the materials (for example, changing the type of liquid to Sprite, water, rubbing alcohol, or vinegar). Have students vary their independent variables, but practice keeping constants. This activity may also help students to examine the conservation of mass: Have students practice measuring the mass of the gobstopper at different intervals before it is going, going, gone!
This activity may be applied with NGSS 5-PS1-2.
Conservation of Mass
Gummy Worm Osmosis
Teaching on Halloween may give you the creepy crawlies, so why not look at how water creeps into a crawly candy through a selectively permeable membrane? Similar to the gobstopper lab above, have students examine what happens when a gummy worm is placed in water or other solution. The gummy worms will grow as the water moves from an area of high concentration outside the worm to the lower concentration area within the worm.
This activity may be applied with NGSS MS-LS1-2.
Are your students blaming some poor behaviors on candy consumption? Why not use this time to lead a discussion of where their energy is coming from? Just how much energy is in a yummy, bite-sized morsel? Have students build a calorimeter to find out.
Melts in Your Mouth, But Not in Your Hand?
Candy companies make claims, but are their claims supported by evidence? Have your students examine classic candy claims and improve upon them. Does candy-coated chocolate actually melt in your mouth, but not in your hand? What kinds of materials have been invented that insulate the chocolate, and are also edible? Are there ways that this technology could be applied to help the hunger crisis? Could this technology be applied in other ways?
This activity may be applied with NGSS MS-PS1-4.
Taste the Rainbow
Do different colored candies have similar tastes? Is it in the flavoring or the color? Have students taste candy in different ways by setting up blind taste tests and recording their findings. Next, have them break apart layered candies or candies with a shell (such as hot tamales) to examine where the flavoring is in the candy, i.e., is it in the shell or throughout? How might this help a candy company with production?
This activity may be applied with NGSS MS-PS1-3.
Mentos Geyser 2.0
Diet soda and Mentos geysers are a favorite and a classic for many science classrooms. Encourage students to use their enthusiasm to improve upon this tried-and-true lab and make it better than ever, with learning all along the way. Help students hone their engineering skills by taking something traditional and tweaking it.
A geyser tube can easily be fabricated out of construction paper, index cards, etc., and a toothpick. For version 2.0, have students build, test, and modify their design solutions using the engineering design process. Encourage students to ask questions along the way that may guide their design, such as: Does changing the length of the tube improve the height of the geyser? Does changing the width of the opening at the top impact how long the geyser sprays?
This activity may be applied with NGSS MS-ETS1-4.
Student interest is certain to soar, as are their pumpkins, with a pumpkin chuckin’ challenge! Pumpkin chuckin' (also referred to as punkin chuckin') is an activity where students devise a way to propel their leftover pumpkins a certain distance while engaging in the engineering design process.
This activity may be applied with NGSS MS-ETS1.
Growth Mindsets for STEM Careers
Creeping Candy Chromatography
Chromatography is the process of taking a mixture and passing it through a solution where the materials in the mixture travel at different rates, leaving a pattern or trail behind as they go. For a twist on this process, have students examine the way colors are mixed to produce different hard-shelled colored candies, such as black jelly beans.
This activity may be applied with Core Art Standard Anchor Standard 10.
When Skittles are placed in a shallow container with water, the colors will diffuse into the water, but will not mix. The result is a splatter print reminiscent of artist Morris Louis’ veil paintings. Using Louis’ work as inspiration, challenge your students to recreate veil-style artwork with this sweet twist.
This activity may be applied with Core Art Standard Anchor Standard 10.
What Are the Odds?
When students open their bags of candy on Halloween night, the trading begins; but what if students could figure out the likeliness of getting their favorite tasty treat in advance? There are many variations that you can use in your classroom to practice the principles of probability around this festive time. Have students calculate the probability of drawing a certain color or flavor out of a box of multi-flavored candy. Students might open snack-sized containers of assorted candies and then compare them to a class set to determine if their package is a representative sample. Then, have students determine the independent or dependent likeliness of the probability of events.
This activity may be applied with CCSS Math.7.SP.C.8a.
Probability: Can You Beat the Odds?
Modeling Radioactive Decay (M&M’s)
Radioactive decay is a concept discussed in science classrooms, but it's one where students can't see the process first hand. A sweet simulation may help students visualize this complex topic. Using multi-colored logoed candies, one can simulate the process. In this lesson, students shake the candies in their hands and then release them onto a surface. If the candies land logo up they are still the candy; logo down they have decayed. Have students record their data and then graph the trend to show how many shakes it would take for their candies to decay.
This activity may be applied with NGSS MS-PS1-1.
Graph Like a Pirate!
Argh’ your students bored with graphing? Instead of swimming through data sets, consider taking a twist on graphing classics and making them thematic to generate interest. In the Graphing Gold Lab, students embrace their inner pirate while avoiding scurvy, as well as curvy lines. Eye patches optional, but highly encouraged.
This activity may be applied with CCSS Math.5.G.A.1.
The time of year may be a little scary, and it's easy to lose some “steam” as we round the corner into the second quarter. But as we head into the season of thankfulness, I hope these lesson ideas will help to sweeten your fall.
For more great STEAM ideas, be sure to check out our NGSS Deep Dive.
Do you have a fall lesson (or candy) to share? Post ideas in the comments below!
Meg Richard is a seventh grade science teacher at California Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kansas. She’s been teaching science since 2010 and is a graduate of Central Methodist University and the University of Central Missouri. She’s passionate about integrating authentic, hands-on science experiences for her students, and sometimes can’t believe how lucky she is to get to do the best job in the world: teach! Meg is excited to be a part of Teaching Channel’s Tch Next Gen Science Squad. Connect with Meg on Twitter: @frizzlerichard.