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Neil Sandham


"Good teachers are always looking for ways to bring anything into their lessons to make them more exciting and memorable for students," says Neil Sandham. "I find some of my best ideas come from listening to what the kids talk about in the halls, watching the same shows and movies as they watch, and from talking to other teachers."

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Sandham, who teaches in Airdrie, Alberta (Canada), uses "edible experiments" with his sixth through eighth grade students to "hit them where they live" -- their stomachs! After they work with their edible materials, the students at Muriel Clayton Middle School may eat the product. The practice demonstrates difficult scientific concepts in a concrete manner and adds a sense of fun and whimsy that science classes can lack.

"Students are able to manipulate and control the experiment for themselves, so they not only have power over the experiment, but are forced to process the experiment through several areas of the brain," Sandham told Education World. "Because the experiments use common household items, they draw things from the students' personal experiences, and that allows them to better internalize the lesson."

Students measure ingredients to make ice cream in a coffee can. They roll the can for several minutes to mix the ice cream.

In the edible activities, Sandham has students make their own ice cream using empty coffee cans and zippering sandwich bags to illustrate phases of matter, changes of state, energy transfer, and types of mixtures.

A second activity has students make popcorn as a visual analogy for studying particle motion and the effect of heat on the movement of particles.

In another experiment, it might look as though students are just fashioning ice cream treats, but they actually are making ice cream sundaes to watch them melt and learn about how glaciers move. The patterns left behind in the graham cracker base show striations and examples of glacial movement, and the melting ice cream creates moraines, meltwater channels, and eskers.

The ice cream is ready! Sandham's students enjoy the sweet taste of science.

"The key to using edible experiments in science class is to make sure the science lesson is not masked by the adolescent focus on food," Sandham explained. "To avoid that, I make sure the concepts are explained clearly by me before and during the activity, and again by students in their own words after clean up."

Sandham believes that teachers, especially those in the field of science, need to be seen as "human" in order for students to open up to what they are being taught. Science teachers can accomplish their goals even when they lighten up and "throw out the textbook" from time to time.

"Im not afraid of looking foolish or having lessons that fail," Sandham added. "In fact, I think students learn more about life and science by seeing me go through the essential human processes of experimentation, evaluation -- or failure -- and modification. That metacognition is the ultimate goal of all teaching, regardless of the grade level or material taught."

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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