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A student in my class came in and told me that he and his brother drink about one full 2 liter bottle of pop each day. The class decided that this is a good place to begin an investigation on pop, nutrition and even what that much soda would do to your teeth.
There are so many ways to use this teachable moment. I think that dental health combines a bit about acids and bases with some great anatomy. So, that is where we began our inquiry.
Every good inquiry begins with a good question. I had the students brainstorm questions about this pop drinking phenomenon. There were some excellent questions:
- How much soda does the average student in our school drink?
- Is there a difference between sugar and diet soda (besides the sugar)?
- Will this quantity of soda cause cavities?
- Will a smaller amount of soda cause cavities?
- What exactly does soda do to harm teeth?
- Is all soda equally harmful in quantities?
If you can it is best to let the students pursue their own questions and manage the science content in the discussions that take place throughout the lesson and specifically in the discussions where the student researchers are presenting the evidence from their experiments and research.
The class favorite was a weeklong examination of teeth in soda. Our local dental school donated some teeth and we also used some solid calcium carbonate. The students brought in a sample of soda and we tested the teeth in a variety of soft drink flavors. Our results were interesting but the real learning came from the discussion about what could be wrong with our experimental procedures. The students identified a number of places where the experiment would not allow us to extend our findings to human soda consumption and tooth damage.
The key was in trying to find out how much soda contacts the teeth when you drink one. The key to understanding and using science is in those details. Just seeing students question the experimental set up tells me that they are becoming scientific information skeptics. They will grow to question shaky science from a variety of sources. That is the best part of any lesson.
There are a number of great sources that the students found on soda and health. These two were voted the most helpful and most reliable.
The science content that came from the inquiry centered on solutions and Ph. For Ph there are some interesting and helpful sites.
For solutions the students need to understand how different materials dissolve. That leads to experiments on solvents and solutes.
This one is a little higher level:
Armed with an understanding of how materials dissolve, the chemical composition of teeth, and acids and bases the students are ready to apply some of this knowledge to answer their questions. We are still working on some way to wash the teeth with soda to simulate the same contact conditions that might exist in the mouth as someone drinks a pop. However, the student whose pop consumption started this entire set of questions has visited his dentist and found some problems with his teeth. He, and his brother have cut their pop consumption and they have a much more personal inquiry running in their lives. I will update this as they continue to investigate.