Rats and Junk Food Enrich LS Science

In Carrie Haggerty’s science class, first-graders are spending six weeks investigating the effects of a healthy diet versus a junky, sugar-based one. They’re seeing the importance of nutrition first-hand with the help of two new classmates: a pair of lively white rats named A and B.

During the first week, A and B both ate oatmeal, but A drank milk while B washed down its oats with sugar water. The students weighed both when they first arrived, and are repeating the process each week to collect data and precisely track the difference between A and B’s growth.

As Haggerty reached into the cage and scooped B up, she asked for a volunteer to help with the weighing. Liam W. gamely stood by the scale and readied himself for the rodent handoff, but offered a disclaimer first.

“I’m scared when we do this,” he said matter-of-factly. “You’ll be fine sweetie,” Haggerty assured him, and he was. Armed with new numbers, the students worked out the math on the whiteboard and discovered that B had grown 10 percent less than A because of its nutritionally empty diet.

One of the things that delights Haggerty most about the class is the way it manages to combine math, journaling, reading, and the fundamentals of nutrition and the scientific method into a single curriculum that the kids simply love.

The course was devised by the Pennsylvania Society for Biomedical Research and intended for fifth-graders, but Haggerty and Lower School Science Coordinator Laura Trout adapted the material in a way that gives first graders a similar, immersive experience.

“It’s one thing to talk about nutrition or to teach subtraction on its own, but when the kids can see the results for themselves and use math to measure that, it’s just so much more effective,” Haggerty said.

“And fun.”