Monday, March 30, 2015

Inquiry - The Great M&M Experiment

Some experiments are favorites of childhood. But the key to doing successful science is to encourage critical thinking on the part of the children. We like the M&M experiment and the many questions and observations it can prompt in a young child’s mind. 

All you need for this inquiry is a shallow bowl, a pack of M&Ms and some water. Show the children the pack of M&Ms first. Ask them what they know about these candies. You may want to make a list of responses to help children see literacy in action.

We like to divide children into groups, let them open a bag of M&Ms, and discuss their observations. During a recent experiment children were heard to name the colors, count the candies, and then divide the M&Ms into colors. They began to wonder if all M&M bags had the same number of colors in them. The groups can compare to see who has the most red, blue, green, etc. This could become a class chart that shows how numeracy is an important part of science.

We then talked about water. We asked children what might happen when water is poured into the bowl. Children discussed it and even thought some colors might “melt” faster than other colors. We took a poll about their predictions. These hypotheses can be charted to recheck later. 

The colors dissolve at different rates, making for interesting discussion and questions.
Children gently poured water to cover the M&Ms. Discussion using vocabulary like float, sink, and dissolve took place. Children noted the change in the M&Ms and began to examine, without prompting, what colors made other colors.  This observation led to valuable inquiry ideas like, “I wonder what would have happened if we had not separated the colors? I wonder what would have happened if there had been more blue M&Ms in the bag? I wonder what would happen if we used Mint M&Ms?” These kinds of child-generated questions are inquiry at its best.

Finally some children used the word, patience, as it related to science. They discussed the idea that sometimes experiments take time and you have to wait. We love when children come up with key concepts like this!

And…just as patience was discussed, the children observed floating white M’s in the water. This observation is very exciting and often elicits squeals of delight. Usually someone will stop and ask, “Wait a minute, are those M’s floating in my tummy, too?” This leads to a good discussion on the food we eat and how our bodies use that food.

The floating M's are always a big hit and a source of many questions!
So…what seems like a simple and easy to do experiment, can become more valuable if you let children pose their own questions, discuss freely, and even answer their own questions

Thanks to my young neighbor, Tim, for taking the photos of our experiment. This is another way to integrate technology with your lesson. And it brings up a good point – this activity is an easy one to share with families to do in their homes over spring break.

Standards Alignment:

NAEYC – 2D.05, 2.D.07, 2.G.- all.
Head Start – IV.A., XI. A. ,XI.B.

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