We don’t mourn the days when teachers handed out candy as bribes or rewards. Still, there are some times of year when it makes sense to have candy around, and it can always be an interesting subject of study.
We suggest beginning with a book. Depending on the age of your students, you might like one of these:
- The Big Rock Candy Mountain by John Kanzler has wonderful pictures and a song sheet.
- The Candy Corn Contest by Patricia Reilly Giff is a tale of greed, honesty, altruism, selfishness, confidence, and the lack thereof. Oh, and candy corn. It’s good for Halloween or Thanksgiving and includes some math.
- Milton Hershey: Young Chocolatier is a biography of the innovative entrepreneur in his young days.
- Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America is a witty book that older students will enjoy. They’ll learn about economics as well as candy manufacturing along the way.
To us, candy is a perfect opportunity for math and science:
- Hallowe’en Candy Math shows how to use candy for basic math manipulatives.
- A Candy Corn worksheet from Mathwire focuses on communicating mathematical thinking. Use candy corn as a manipulative with this worksheet to make it more concrete.
- You can chart all kinds of different aspects of candy, from the kinds people like to the proportions of colors in bags of M&Ms or hard candies. Put students in small groups and challenge each group to come up with their own question or observation to graph. Then have them present their discoveries to the class.
- Chocolate Lesson Plans looks at both science and math.
- Create a solution of sugar and water (1.5 cups of sugar in half a cup of boiling water). Suspend a string in the solution by tying one end of it around a pencil and letting the other end hang in the sugar solution. After a while, you’ll see crystals of sugar — rock candy — growing on the string. If you have ant issues in your classroom, you can do the same with salt or Borax, but you won’t end up with candy.
- Examine candy recipes and list the scientific principles involved. Students should notice heat, saturation, solutions, crystals, and perhaps suspension. They may notice more concepts if they’ve gone further with their study of chemistry. Visit Chocolate Lesson Plans to find links to discussions of the physics involved in candy making for more advanced students. Challenge students to identify as many concepts from their physical science books as possible.
Making traditional candy in the classroom is excellent practice with precise measurement of temperature and quantities, and it really does offer a lot of opportunities for practical applications of chemistry and physics. With an experienced candy-maker to supervise, it can be a memorable experience.
It’s also a good way to get burnt, so we’d be inclined to stick to less bold types of candy making if you don’t have an experienced person at the helm.
Make this unambitious candy easily in the classroom with chocolate, pretzels, and dried fruit.
- Melt chocolate or chocolate candy coating in a drip coffee pot (the kind with a glass carafe) by putting the chocolate into the carafe and turning it on. Do this first thing in the morning, because it takes a while to melt chocolate in this way. A microwave is faster.
- Dip pretzels into chocolate.
- Overlap them as shown to make a wreath, or leave them as individual candies.
- Push dried fruit into the chocolate.
- Let the confections cool and set.
Discuss whether the process involves physical or chemical changes. Compare it with the process of making hard candy in the video below.