I open this lesson by asking students some general questions about sugar. Sugar is a concept they understand, and teaching gram in this context can help them see the reason for small units of measure.
What foods have the most sugar?
How do you think we measure the amount of sugar? (This is an intentional precursor to talking about grams).
How many grams of sugar do you think are in a Fruit Roll Up? A can of root beer? A jar of spaghetti sauce?
I ask students to think about the question after I ask it (I usually time this for at least 20 seconds) and then I have them share with a neighbor and I listen in. Then I call on them randomly to share out with the class.
This video, Flavored Lies, is an eight and a half minute award-winning video made by some high school students. It is a powerful and creatively rendered message about the harm done to people by sugar over-consumption.
This is a topic that many people debate. I personally believe we are obligated to give students the tool to assess their food and beverage choices. What they do after that is up to them, and our young students may have limited control over their food choices.
Diabetes is an unpleasant condition that is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. There is a high incidence of diabetes in my community so I choose to give students the information they need because to not do this would be irresponsible at best and unethical at worst. I respect that people have different views about this and suggest you preview the video prior to showing it to your class. I found that it gave a real purpose to this lesson.
I tell students that I enjoy soft serve ice cream cones, though I should really only eat them for an occasional treat. I ask them to make a guess about how many grams of sugar are in a soft serve ice cream cone. I write a few of the guesses up on the board and then we check. They all have the sense of the size of an ice cream cone, and I pass around gram weights (1, 5, and 10 grams) to give them a sense of what a gram is, as this will help them see the grams in proportion to the total mass of the ice cream cone.
Students usually have absolutely no sense of what a gram of sugar means, though if they watched the Flavored Lies video they have a starting point. Using subtraction or addition with a missing addend, we compare a few of their guesses to the actual amount of sugar.
Then I pick a snack I know a lot of my students like, Skittles. We repeat the process. (On this site, some of my astute students will notice that the number of cubes is not equal to the grams of sugar. A little division will lead them to the answer. Each cube is 4 grams of sugar! Sugar cube representations are approximate).
The core mathematical concept in this lesson is that grams are a very small unit of measure used to determine mass, but just because grams are a small unit of measure doesn't mean it is unimportant. 47 grams of water in a glass would be a very small drink of water. 47 grams of sugar in one food item is significant. That's about all one should eat in day.
For the active engagement part of this lesson, students make a simple table and list ten (unhealthy) foods they like/eat often and make an estimate about the number of grams of sugar in each. Then they use computers to search for the grams of sugar in each food item and on their table they record the researched data and the difference between their estimate and the actual amount of sugar.
If your students are familiar with searching, then they can just type "chocolate cookie nutrition information" into an online search. An alternative is to provide both more support with the internet search and more guidance in choosing foods by linking them directly to sites such as Sugar Stacks or this Nutrition Calculator that will let them look up almost anything, with the caveat that it is spelled correctly!
During the last 10 minutes of this activity students leave their computer stations and walk around to talk with with their classmates. Using either a piece of paper or a whiteboard and a marker they record information for at least seven additional foods, that they then add on to their list.
During the last 10 minutes of this activity students leave their computer stations and walk around to talk with with their classmates. Using either a piece of paper or a whiteboard and a marker they record information for at least 7 additional foods, that they then add on to their list. As they are doing this, I also walk around and confer with them to determine what kind of an understanding about grams of sugar in food they are taking away from this lesson.
This student expresses surprise about the 95 grams of sugar in a Koolaid. Another student expresses surprise at how little sugar is in a slice of pizza, because he knows that tomato sauce has a very high sugar content. I had showed them a jar of spaghetti sauce and we read the label and it's clear this made an impression on them because this student is also surprised about the relatively low 9 grams of sugar in Spaghettios. This student has begun to process how many grams of sugar might be in typical foods and is therefore able to critique the reasoning of a classmate (MP3). Notice how kindly she does this!