Sixth graders were burning major calories this month, and not just in athletics. In Aaron Murray’s science class, they set fire to their favorite snacks to find out how much energy the foods contain. The experiment follows a study of food components that have calories, such as protein, carbohydrates and fats.
To determine the calorie count, scientists like Celia McCarty filled a test tube with 30 milliliters of water, weighed a Wheat Thin cracker, ignited the cracker and held it under the test tube. Then, she and her lab partner Hugh Brophy recorded the temperature of the water and weighed the burnt cracker for comparison.
Using a formula, they calculated calories and kilocalories based on how the water temperature changed after being heated by the burning cracker. A calorie is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one milliliter of water by one degree Celsius. Burning the stored energy in the food raises the temperature of water by varying degrees. The higher the temperature, the more stored energy in the food.
"The students get the fun of burning, and I trick them into doing algebra,” said Mr. Murray. “The more they burn, the more algebra they get to do."
After collecting data about temperatures, mass, and calorie count, scientists compared the numbers and determined which snacks have the highest kilocalories per gram, an eye-opening lesson about the calorie content of many common foods. Next, they will devise their own questions regarding the various food items and hypothesize based upon a few days of observations and surveys. They will compare the various items and determine which has the most or fewest kilocalories per gram and write up their findings in a laboratory report to show their qualitative and quantitative observation and data analysis skills.
Much of the year in sixth-grade science is devoted to learning about energy movement through our environment especially regarding food. Now they are learning about the stored potential energy within their food and later we will explore how much energy and resources are required to cultivate, harvest, process, manufacture, transport and store our food. Scientists will analyze the energy inputs and outputs in our food manufacturing system and make recommendations for energy and resource conservation.
Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.