Hilliard Northwest News

Darby teacher uses hands-on experiments of a different flavor

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Freshmen Annie Nelson, right, and Hailey Merendo, center, count M&M's as part of a science experiment to demonstrate the principle of half-life carbon 14 dating Jan. 13 at Hilliard Darby High School.

A Hilliard Darby High School science teacher recently turned to candy to help her students understand complex principles.

Amy Ebenezer's students used M&M's Jan. 13 to illustrate radioactive decay and the half-life of carbon 14.

"I sometimes get bored reading a textbook. I think I learn better when I can see what it is we're learning," said Hailey Merendo, a freshman at Darby.

The experiment required two pairs of students to drop 50 M&M candies on the countertop.

"I try to use experiments whenever possible to show students the material," Ebenezer said.

Students then counted how many showed the iconic "M" and removed those from the tabletop. The candies that were removed illustrated decayed carbon 14.

Those that landed letter-side down were placed back inside the cup, representing carbon 14 that remained, and the procedure was repeated with letter-side-up candies being removed each time, until 10 turns were finished.

Although there was some variation, in many instances it took precisely 10 turns to remove all 50 candies, Ebenezer said.

The students then graphed the results and extrapolated them to the known half-life of carbon 14, which is about 5,730 years.

Students then answered a series of questions through which they discovered, among other facts, the limits of using carbon 14 dating to determine the age of matter.

For instance, the age of a fossil thought to be in excess of 1 million years old cannot be measured using carbon 14 because too much of the isotope has decayed, and therefore alternative means are required, Ebenezer said.

Merendo said she enjoys the hands-on experiments.

"It's one of my favorite classes," Merendo said. "Being able to do experiments like these makes it connect more, and makes it more fun."

Freshman Annie Nelson concurred. She said she enjoys experiments in the science class to augment the textbooks and lectures concerning the material.

Students were not, however, permitted to consume the remains of the experiment, as the M&M's were used many times by classes throughout the day.

"But we had to replace a lot of ones that split in half," Ebenezer said.