Thursday at Central Middle, I helped with an activity to get the students thinking about testable questions and hypothesis formulation. Each table received a piece of chewing gum for each student (luckily only one student in all three classes had braces!) and a triple beam balance. The percent flavor, or sugar, in each piece of gum could be found by measuring the mass of the piece of gum before and after chewing. The kids were incredibly engaged in this activity, likely because chewing gum is not allowed in the school, but they had a hard time conceptualizing what to do with the measurements they read off the scale. It was a major breakthrough for them to figure out that mass was lost as they chewed because they swallowed sugar…they weren’t sure where the extra mass went. They also were entirely unfazed that the gum brands we tested were ~50-70% flavoring!
As I went to one of the tables to help out with the gum massing, I noticed a few of the students looking at me with rather blank looks as I tried to explain the procedure to them. Then I saw that one of the girls sitting at the table was actively translating for them in a language that I couldn’t place. I asked her why she was translating. She said the girls were new to the school and could not understand much English. What were they speaking? Burmese. Wow—how does a school adequately prepare its ESL (English as a Second Language) helpers/teachers for students like these?