Thanksgiving Science

From the pop-up thermometer to turkey genetics, Thanksgiving offers lots of topics that can be explored through science. Thanks to Terry Shiverdecker for pulling together resources from the Ohio Resource Center collection of exemplary science, mathematics, and English/language arts resources.

Along with these resources consider asking students to conduct Internet research to answer these questions:

• What is it about a traditional Thanksgiving meal that makes you sleepy? Is it the tryptophan in turkey or something else?
• What is the science behind those golden brown and delicious dinner rolls? Hint: Maillard reaction
• Does cornstarch or flour make the best gravy?

Please share any other resources/ideas/questions/comments and have a great time!

Delicious and Nutritious
The food we use to celebrate Thanksgiving is delicious and may also be nutritious. But if we stuff ourselves we are likely to suffer the consequences. What better time to study digestion, what we get from food, and how science comes to the rescue when we over do it?

Thanksgiving Science: Tryptophacts and Tryptophantasies
Is turkey what makes you sleepy at Thanksgiving? No. Maybe. (How much did you eat?)

Food and the Digestive System
This lesson focuses on the digestive system. Students identify the major organs of the digestive system and determine the function of each organ. This Science NetLinks lesson is the first of a three part series.

Good Food, Good Health
Students explore ways in which food provides energy and materials for our bodies. In this investigation, students will use online resources to help them explore how food can affect their overall health. This lesson is the second of a Science NetLinks three part series.

Got Broccoli?
This lesson is designed to help students understand why the body needs food, and how it takes necessary nutrients as food passes through the digestive system. Students are asked to look critically at the advertising claims of foods they eat, recognizing those that ascribe unrealistic, emotional, or psychological benefits to foods, rather than nutritional benefits. Students will then create an original advertising campaign for a “forgotten” vegetable, presenting compelling, factual information about the nutrients found in these foods and the benefits derived from them.

Enzyme Salad Lab
In this activity students examine the effects of a specific digestive enzyme (bromelin) found in pineapple on a specific protein found in Jell-O.

The Effectiveness of Antacids
In this performance assessment from PALS, students design and conduct a scientific experiment to test which of four antacids would be most effective for neutralizing acid. They will rank the antacids in order from most effective to least effective and explain how they determined the effectiveness of each one. The resource is designed to assess grades 9-12 students but can be modified to be appropriate for middle level students.

Pop-Up Turkey Thermometers
How do those pop-up thermometers they put in turkeys work? It turns out that there is a little piece of a solder type material in the thermometer that melts at 185 degree F. So when the turkey reaches that temperature the solder melts, the plastic pops up, and you know it is time to eat. This bit of Thanksgiving information can be related to change of phase, heat transfer, and physical/chemical change. You could also consider a design challenge around this idea.

Matter of State
This lesson is designed to give students the opportunity to observe a phenomenon created by particle movement. Students begin to move from the fundamental concept of solid, liquid and gas to the reasoning for why the states exist under given conditions.

The Heat Is On
In this resource students discover how heat is transferred by conduction through matter by watching interactive video segments.

Turkeys and Genetics
The turkeys served on Thanksgiving Day are dramatically different from the ones served many years ago. To meet the demand for birds with more white meat, turkeys have been selectively bred and fed special diets designed to result in birds with larger breasts. Consider engaging students in a discussion of this somewhat controversial practice as a way to introduce genetics.

Modeling Mendel’s Pea Experiment
This modeling activity allows students to discover for themselves what Mendel uncovered in his famous pea experiments. It is an excellent introduction to Mendelian genetics which generates discussion and stimulates interest in Mendel’s principles. Students are encouraged to use the same observation and critical thinking skills that Mendel used.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at Post updated 4/09/2012.

Tracking Nutrition and Fitness Goals

Developing sound nutritional and exercise habits early in life will help children become healthy adults. This is one of the most important life skills that we can teach our middle school students. But, just how can we help students in our science classes understand exactly what we mean when we say “take care” of their bodies?

Here’s an idea: Start out by having your classes test their knowledge about their food choices for each meal and then create a daily food record. After a short quiz on matching food products to ingredients, have students answer questions about what the nutritional values in foods mean. Next, have students calculate calories and protein in their diets and compare daily totals with the suggested minimum requirements for their age groups. This is often an eye-opening activity, even for adults!

It is possible that this exercise may open up discussion on how teens’ perception of body image can lead to eating disorders. Finally, encourage your students to keep food and exercise logs over a period of time to see their new habits become part of a healthy lifestyle.

The following resources help students keep track of their health, fitness, and nutrition goals. Some of these web sites are set up to help users research proper nutrition and healthy lifestyles.

Healthy Body Calculator
A feature of the Ask the Dietitian web site, this calculator requires an individual’s age, gender, weight, height, level of activity, and hours of sleep to generate a health profile. An explanation is provided for each evaluation along with the number of calories and nutrients needed each day for good health.

Calorie Control Council
This site has a lot of basic information related to health and nutrition. In addition to articles there are several calculators with which users can measure calorie intake, body mass index, and calories used in activities. All are set up to give immediate feedback and analysis. Middle and high school health classes will find information on cutting calories and fat in the diet, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and determining the nutritional content of low-calorie, reduced-fat foods and beverages.

Downloadable Nutrition and Fitness Log
This log is suitable for downloading and printing for classroom or home use. It comes in several formats that students will find easy to use to monitor their exercise and food intake.

Most kids in middle school do not realize that their mental health needs as much nourishment as their physical health. Stressful situations can affect performance at school, relationships with others, and success in sports. Students can check their stress levels with the brief quiz called the Stress-O-Meter.

We Need Your Help

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. You can also request email notification when new content is posted (see right navigation bar).

Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School Portal science publications. Email us at