Halloween Science Treats
by Kim Moldofsky, The Maker Mom
When it comes to Halloween science there are no tricks because everything can be explained, which means everyone who celebrates gets treats in the form of knowledge. Granted, that line might go over better in your classroom than with an eager group of costumed children standing at your front door, but let’s move on to some Halloween STEM fun anyway.
Students who trick or treat often wind up with large bags of candy. What do they do next? Ask your students how they handle their hauls and point out the math involved in their processes. My boys simply sorted the candy, by brand, into messy piles, while one of their friends meticulously built a bar graph with his loot in order to more easily track his inventory.
What is the value of a fun size chocolate bar versus that of a full-size or, dare we dream it, a king-size bar? How many chocolates are equal to a package of gummies? What has a greater worth, peanut butter filling, nougat, or coconut?
How Long will the Booty Last?
It takes math to figure out how long all those candies will last. Students can put their growing algebra skills to work to find the answer. “If you have 50 pieces of candy and eat one a day, how long will your stash last? What if you eat three pieces each day?”
CSI- Candy Scene Investigator
If students are willing to sacrifice some of their candy, there’s even more to be learned.
For example, the colorful candy shell of M&M’s is water soluble, but the lettering on top is not. Therefore, if you soak them in water, the color dissipates, but the Ms do not dissolve. Indeed, they rise above the water. So there’s a lesson in density, too.
Encourage students to explore the properties of a given candy. Does it sink or float? How dense is it? How does the candy change if it’s warmed up or frozen?
How do Pop Rocks pop?
Pop Rocks start out similar to other hard candies. That is, they are made of sugar, corn syrup, water, food coloring, and artificial flavors. But then the mixture is gasified with 600 PSI carbon dioxide. Gas gets trapped inside the bits of candy and later, when the candies are warmed by a person’s tongue, the sugary structure melts and the carbon dioxide is released. Aspiring inventors will want to check out the patent on the gasified candy, USPTO number 4,289,794.
Sweet Inspiration for Young Scientists
We’ve talked about dogs as an inspiration for several Young Scientist Challenge Finalists. Why can’t candy be a muse? The American Chemical Society has the right stuff to inspire students. Their site features links to sweet experiments, background materials, and informative videos on the five main candy groups: hard candies, chocolates, Peeps, chewing gum, and gummies.
There’s also a candy experiment blog that can help any young scientist get started on small candy research project that could serve as the first step toward becoming America’s next Top Young Scientist.