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The Great Chocolate Experience: A K-12 Internet Project Makes Math Delicious!

"Almost everyone has some background knowledge about chocolate, and most students are motivated to learn more about it because they like chocolate," said one participant in The Great Chocolate Experience. "Those things make great conditions for effective learning!" Packed with graphing, calculations, and a few calories, The Great Chocolate Experience is a project that teachers and students are eating up! See how this integrated project began and find out how to join in the fun. Included: Comments from teachers across the grades who have participated!

Glenda S. Bequette, a principal consultant for the Illinois State Board of Education, designed a delicious Internet-based project just four years ago. It combined her love of chocolate with her need to help her third-grade students become more proficient in estimating, charting, graphing, predicting probability, and performing other math skills. She invited other classes to join in The Great Chocolate Experience -- her name for a project involving M&M's, math, and hungry kids!

"In the state of Illinois, third-graders are given state assessment tests to determine individual student achievement relative to the standards," Bequette told Education World. "This 'chocolatey-good' telecommunications project enabled me to introduce my students to computers and the Internet and at the same time prepare them for the state test.

"The Great Chocolate Experience is a project that focuses on M&M Math or M&M Fractional Math," explained Bequette. "K-12 classrooms from across the United States and Canada are broken into six geographical regions. The students use 'fun-size' bags of M&M's to determine packaging patterns with regard to number, color, and region of the United States and Canada."

Participants use the raw data obtained for more involved mathematical calculations. "Students and teachers use technology to develop spreadsheets, graphs, and word processing documents and communicate via e-mail," said Bequette. "In addition, students have the opportunity to submit stories, poems, recipes, [and more] that are published on the World Wide Web [on The Great Chocolate Experience Website] or through another media."

The project has several student objectives, which include developing math skills, understanding science processes, and developing technology skills, and integrates other subjects. It correlates with the Illinois Learning Standards and the National Educational Technology Standards for Students. The number of classes participating in The Great Chocolate Experience has grown from 88 classes during the first year to 118 the second and 283 last year. This year promises to be the largest yet, with an expected 350 classes taking part.

Want to read a heart-warming story? Read more about the development of this project, which began four years ago in a modular classroom in flood-stricken Valmeyer, Illinois, with one phone line and a borrowed computer! See History of the Great Chocolate Experience.

Bequette is pleased with the progress of the project. "I believe the greatest feedback comes in the form of return participation by the same teachers every year," she said. "Last year, a fifth grade class in Harrisburg, Illinois, was known as 'Chocolate Central.' The Harrisburg School District had approximately 31 classes participating. The school was literally turned upside down as the students and teachers participated in this project."

CHOCOLATE CENTRAL

What is it like to be in "Chocolate Central"? Just ask Scott Dewar, a fifth grade teacher at East Side Elementary School in Harrisburg, Illinois. His classroom served as the repository for all the delicious data compiled by last year's participants in The Great Chocolate Experience.

"More than 30 classrooms participated, from kindergarten to sixth grade," reported Dewar. "My classroom was known as 'Chocolate Central.' Our role was to tabulate the results from all the regions, from all the coordinators, and from the hundreds of classrooms to determine packaging patterns of M&M's across the United States. Dealing with all the numbers and the massive amount of e-mail -- that was an awesome task!

"This was my first year as the Chocolate Central classroom," added Dewar. "The year before, we just participated like a regular classroom."

Dewar found the "central" experience to be a rewarding one. "The students had a wonderful experience with this project," he said. "They enjoyed communicating with others via e-mail. They also learned how to use a spreadsheet and to combine statistics. Even though we were extremely busy with this project, I still taught fractional math, which was my main goal in doing this project in the first place. Lastly, everyone enjoyed eating their M&M's."

CANDY MAKES MATH SWEETER

Another participant, Pat Plummer of Marie G. Davis Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina, learned about The Great Chocolate Experience from a posting on the Global Schoolhouse Network's Hilites, an e-mail listing of school projects.

Plummer's exceptional education class of seven boys and their partner class, an eighth-grade science class, joined in the project. Her role was that of facilitator for the chocolate M&M's count. The class submitted photos for the project's Web site and made certificates for some of the participants.

By enrolling in the project, Plummer sought to bring an enjoyable tool into her students' mathematical studies, but she found that there were even more benefits. "My goal was to involve my exceptional education students in something fun that they could learn from," she explained. "We really enjoyed learning about frequency and distribution from M&M's! The students also were very proud to see their pictures on the Web page. They gained in self-esteem as they were able to work with a regular education class and actually teach them things."

Extensions to The Great Chocolate Experience provided literature links and scientific aspects. "We did the M&M math, submitted recipes to the cookbook, made certificates for other schools, and read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, " said Plummer. "We had our own chocolate unit and study. We did a blind taste of chocolates to determine the class favorite. Hershey's won over all the rest, including Godiva! We replicated the M&M math with Skittles."

Plummer's students were thrilled with the math activity that they could eat. At the beginning of this year, they asked if they could do the project again!

KIDS GAINING MORE THAN JUST MATH OUT OF THE 'EXPERIENCE'

The Great Chocolate Experience was a means for teaching math concepts and the scientific method in Renee Mathis's first-grade classroom at McNabb Elementary in Paducah, Kentucky. She has already signed up for this year's project.

"We predicted, counted, graphed," said Mathis. "Each group also did their own science project during this time. I read the M&M Counting Book, and the children did the activities as it was read. They really enjoyed that. I was also able to introduce new concepts as the amounts we were adding got quite complicated for my kids. Parents even came in to help us fill out charts."

The conversations of students while they worked revealed the instructional nature of this project. "The children actually loved making predictions and finding out the answers," Mathis stated. "It was interesting to hear them talk when deciding how many of each color they thought they would have. Some of them thought they might have 100 in their little bags. It was also neat when they grouped their colors. They would ask each other how many they had."

The only difficulty she ran into during the lesson occurred when students wanted to trade their M&M's to obtain more of their favorite colors!

A three-year veteran of project, Sandra D. Litteken also plans to participate again this year. She teaches first grade at Belle Valley North Elementary School in Belleville, Illinois. The school's technology coordinator, Jeff Morrison, brought information about The Great Chocolate Experience to all the teachers. Several classrooms opted to join in the fun!

"My goals for joining the project were to actively participate in an Internet project, to demonstrate to my students how we could communicate information (via e-mail and the Internet) to others about what we were doing with the project, and to involve my students in the use of the Internet and technology," explained Litteken. "Those goals were all met. Our class also learned many other things about technology, chocolate, and the Internet that we did not know before we participated in the project."

Litteken believes the key to the success of this project is its sweet subject. "The students loved the project!" she said. "Chocolate is something that every child can identify with. Almost everyone has some background knowledge about chocolate, and most students are motivated to learn more about it because they like chocolate. Those things make great conditions for effective learning. The children especially loved visiting the Hershey's Web site to see how chocolate is made. They were excited and actively engaged in all the activities."

TASTY TEACHING FOR KIDS AND ADULTS

Susan Silverman, a participant for two years and a second-grade teacher at Clinton Avenue Elementary School in Port Jefferson Station, New York, has had excellent results with The Great Chocolate Experience. She chose this activity because she wanted her students to participate in a collaborative Internet project that met mathematics learning standards. The students had a wonderful hands-on math experience, and there was a great deal of integrated learning as well.

"We sorted and graphed M&M's," said Silverman. "The results were reported to Chocolate Central. We read books about chocolate, saw the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, made chocolate ice-cream sundaes, wrote stories, wrote poems, drew posters, and created graphics using Kid Pix Studio [software]. My students all loved this unit. At the end of the year, we talked about all the themes that were covered, and my students had very fond memories of our chocolate unit."

In addition to using the project as a teaching tool for students, Silverman has included it in her instructional presentations for other teachers. "Last year I introduced The Great Chocolate Experience to teachers in my staff development course. Several of them joined and loved it. I have presented at a variety of technology conferences. One of my presentations is 'Collaborative Internet Projects for Lower Primary Students.' The Great Chocolate Experience is always included in those presentations.

"Last June, while I presented at the NECC conference, something wonderful happened," added Silverman. "As I was talking to the conference attendees about The Great Chocolate Experience, the project coordinator stood up and identified herself. It was such a touching moment that tears came to my eyes. Glenda came up, gave me a hug, and I could just feel the energy and excitement in the room. Wow!"

THE GREAT CHOCOLATE EXPERIENCE IV

Are you interested in joining in the chocolatey fun? "The Great Chocolate Experience always begins the day after Martin Luther King's birthday and concludes sometime around the middle of March," said Bequette. "Initially, the project was open only to second and third grades. However, since that time we have had all grade levels (K-12) participating."

Sandra Litteken believes that The Great Chocolate Experience is an ideal project for teachers who are new to technology and those who are experienced with it. "Glenda is an effective coordinator of the project," she said. " She is very organized. She sends all participants a packet of information filled with lots of activities to use along with the project. Many of the activities involve technology, and other activities involve hands-on experiences not related to technology. Glenda sends along a calendar to help you keep track of what is due, when information should be turned in. ...

"Glenda's ideas and expectations for the project are very realistic," added Litteken. "She is also very easy to reach via e-mail if you have questions or need help completing any aspects of the project, and she always gets back to you very promptly. This is a great project for teachers who are just beginning to use the Internet as well as experienced teachers who are looking for a way to enhance their technology curriculum."

With projects such as hers guiding the way, Bequette suggests, such projects will become more common. "As more and more schools across the country are connected to the Internet, it is becoming increasingly important for teachers to become involved in collaborative, engaging projects," she stated. "These types of projects give teachers and students the opportunity to work with other students from across the state and country, develop technology skills, and most importantly have fun! Each year, the Great Chocolate Experience adds another component or dimension to allow all grade levels and students to participate."

[Editor's note: Before bringing candy into the classroom, be sure you are aware of any students who might have allergies or conditions that would preclude them from eating those candies.]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2001 Education World

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Updated 10/01/2001

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