Yin Ding shares Chinese language, culture with first classes at H-F High

Jacob Fox, left, watches as
Aiman Muhammad takes
a measurement.

Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost over night?

It’s likely the seventh graders at James Hart School in Homewood don’t know the 1961 Lonnie Donegan song that asks that question, but they can give you an answer thanks to an introductory science experiment using bubble gum.

It may be quirky, but it works with the District 153 science instruction says teacher Jill Vagner, who uses the principles of the Fundamental Approach to Science Teaching (FAST).

“We use a hands-on inquiry approach based on recognizing a problem, coming up with a hypothesis, collecting data, graphing data and coming to a conclusion,” she explained.  “I started in the district 15 years ago when I graduated from Purdue University and I was so excited to get this position because not many districts were using the FAST approach.”

James Hart School science
teacher Jill Vagner reviews
the bubble gum experiment

Vagner has used the bubble gum experiment for 12 years now.  It’s a favorite of hers and her students, and a great way for them to learn by doing, all part of the FAST teaching techniques. The experiment reinforces the four steps of the scientific method: control, variable, standards and replication.

There’s lots of excitement in the class as each student is handed the gum.

By giving each student a piece of wrapped gum, Vagner sets out to have the students determine if the mass of gum will increase, decrease or stay the same.

“I know it’s tempting, but you will just have to control yourselves,“ she tells the 26 students as she directs them to scales where they weigh their gum and use the number as the experiment’s data. Weights vary from 6 to 6.9 grams.

The standards by which the gum will be tested are basic, but must be followed precisely by each student.

“To make the experiment valid, you all need to chew for three minutes,” Vagner stresses. “No popping, no bubbles and chew moderately for three minutes with mouths closed.”

Arianna Stewart weighs her
gum for the final piece of data.

The testing period ends and the students go back to the scales to re-weigh the gum. The weights decrease, dropping in some cases to as low as 3 grams.

What happened? You typically chew gum for the sweet taste. Students discovered that when they chewed, their saliva broke down the sugar in the gum and was swallowed.  As the sugar was removed, the gum weight dropped.

In weeks to come, Vagner’s students will run other verification experiments. Her science lessons cover ecology, physical science and relational studies. For the lesson on water quality, Vagner has taken students to the nearby Izaak Walton Preserve to take water samples from the pond.

Students also do additional assignments at home and submit the work via computer through the Study Island portal. Vagner also searches out written materials to reinforce class lessons. One recent article on helium gas had students read about where it’s from, how it’s trapped and why helium sources may be depleted by 2021.

Vagner was honored by the Illinois State Board of Education in October with a Those Who Excel Award in recognition of her classroom teaching. She’s also been selected Teacher of the Year in District 153 and regularly opens her classroom to student teachers and observers.

“Jill is an incredible teacher. She does a great job of teaching her content in ways that her students can relate, and when they struggle she devises different lessons to ensure they understand what they need to understand to be successful in future lessons,” said Scott McAlister, Hart principal.  

She is known to foster long-term relationships with Hart students and families.

“The true proof of the impact she has had on her students is that whenever you mention her name to any family whose children she has taught they all have the same reply, ‘We love Mrs. Vagner!’  She is an asset to our school and profession,” McAlister stressed.

As for the question in the Donegan song: Vagner says the gum would have already been chewed, so the flavor was most likely gone before it was stuck on the bedpost.

Photos by Marilyn Thomas/HF Chronicle.

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