Summer Research Program for Science Teachers
Ann Meyer
New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math
Manhattan
August 2005
Grade Levels: High School (can be adapted for Middle School students)
Objective:
Stage and duration of activity: 50 minutes
Handouts: Yes
Supplies: One regular sized bag of M&M’s for every 2 to 3 students
One regular sized bag of M&M’s for demonstration
One bag of peanut M&M’s and one large bag of M&M’s
The teacher holds up a bag of regular sized M&M’s. The teacher asks a question to begin the discussionWhat things might we want to know about this bag of M&M’s? Students will respond with a variety of inquiriesHow many M&M’s are in the bag? What color M&M’s are in the bag? How many of each color M&M are in the bag? How much does one M&M weigh? How much does the bag weigh?
The teacher chooses one question. A useful introductory question isHow many M&M’s are in the bag? Students guess the number of M&M’s. Using the framework of students’ guesses, the teacher introduces scientific terminology. For instance, during the discussion of answers to the question of how many M&M’s are in the bag, the numbers put forth are hypotheses. At this point, the teacher should write the definition of the new scientific term on the board and have students copy it onto their definition sheet. In addition, the teacher writes ‘Hypotheses’ on the board and lists the numbers volunteered by students underneath the word. After asking many if not all of the class to respond with a hypothesis about how many M&M’s are in the bag, the teacher asks—How do we determine which hypothesis, if any, is correct? Usually, a student will ask the teacher to open the bag. The teacher then introduces the concept of data collection to determine if one’s hypothesis is correct. The teacher opens the bag, counts the number of M&M’s and writes ‘Data’ under which she writes the number counted in her bag. Following the introduction, students form small groups to complete the M&M activity.
Break students into groups of 2 or 3 students. Hand out directions (see Handout). Read directions aloud while students follow along. Allow students about 15 minutes to complete the activity.
The teacher brings the class back together and asks all of the groups about their questions and the answers that were found. At this point, the teacher asks every group to fill out a data table about the multiple bags of M&M’s—How many M&M’s are in the bag and How many of each color M&M are in the bag. By collecting the data from all of the groups, the teacher introduces the concept of multiple trials. (One discovers that the number of M&M’s per bag is not constant nor is the number of each color in the bag resulting in variation between M&M bags and the potential for calculations using the data.)
Example Table for Board:
Group # 
Total Number of M&M’s in bag 
Number of Green M&M’s 
Number of Brown M&M’s 
Number of Yellow M&M’s 
Number of Orange M&M’s 
Number of Blue M&M’s 
1 






2 






3 






4 






Data Analysis
Using the data from the class, the teacher is able to address the idea of variance in data. To follow up the teacher asks—From our data, what would be an accurate way to determine the number of M&M’s in a random bag I pick up at the grocery store? The average of the numbers provides an accurate description of the number of M&M’s in a randomly chosen bag. Also, the average number of each color M&M per bag may be calculated. In addition to the average calculations, the class determines the median and mode for the total number of M&M’s per bag and/or the number of each color of M&M per bag. Students may also graph the data in histograms and/or pie charts (colorcoded graphs follow easily from the M&M colors).
Extending the concepts one step further, the teacher brings out a bag of peanut M&M’s and asks—Do we know anything about this bag of M&M’s based on our data? Additionally, the teacher may want to bring out a large bag of M&M’s and ask—Do we know anything about this bag of M&M’s based on our data? At which point the teacher introduces inference. Often, one group determines the weight of a single M&M during the group activity. If not, the teacher weighs an individual M&M. Dividing the weight of the large bag by the weight of a single M&M determines the number of M&M’s in the large bag (disregarding the weight of the bag).
Standards:
Standard S5 (af) The students demonstrates scientific inquiry and problem solving by using thoughtful questioning and reasoning strategies, common sense and conceptual understanding from Science Standards 14, and appropriate methods to investigate the natural world.
Standard S7 (ad) The student demonstrates effective scientific communication by clearly describing aspects of the natural word using accurate data, graphs, or other appropriate media to convey depth of conceptual understanding in science; that is, the student: represents data and results in multiple ways, such as numbers, tables, and graphs, drawings, diagrams, and artwork; and technical and creative writing.