The Science of Making Ice Cream

Jennifer Sandidge is a Volunteer Citizen Teacher from Merck & Co., Inc. In President Obama's 2011 State of the Union address, he challenged young people who were contemplating the direction of their career by saying, "If you want to make a difference in the life of a nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child - become a teacher."  Although I am not the target demographic for President Obama's challenge, I was moved by his words.  Making a difference in a child's life has always been a goal I hoped to accomplish.  I just needed to figure out how I would achieve that goal.  I didn't want to make a career change - after all, I like being a scientist at a pharmaceutical company - but I did want to make a difference.  When the opportunity to enter the classroom without leaving my profession by becoming a Citizen Teacher presented itself, I jumped at the chance.

The Citizen Schools staff helped me to select an apprenticeship from their curriculum catalog that I felt comfortable and excited to teach.  The apprenticeship I chose was called Ice Cream, You Scream.  Each week, Denarra, my co-teacher, and I would teach the students concepts related to food science and ultimately how to make ice cream.

At first, the students weren't interested in making  hypotheses and did not want write their observations.  Most students only wanted to know when we were making ice cream.  Yet, as the semester went on, the students became more and more excited about what might happen in their experiments.  The number of hands raised when we asked questions regarding the experiments steadily increased over the weeks.  Students exhibited a level of confidence in science that they didn't have when I first introduced myself to them.

Most of the students in our apprenticeship willingly participated and answered the questions that we posed to them.  One student stood out to me; we called him "J". At first, he struggled with our challenges and inquiries.  However, as the apprenticeship progressed he was able to demonstrate more confidence when faced with a challenging question.  He would step up to share hypotheses, observations, and conclusions.  Moreover, J started to apply the concepts we learned in class to his everyday life.

For example, when we taught a lesson about viscosity, we presented the students with several different liquids on a tray and asked them which liquid would travel down the tray faster.  The students compared the liquids based on their properties and determined that the more viscous a liquid was, the longer it would take to travel down the tray.  After the experiment was over, J was using some hand sanitizer.  I asked him about the viscosity of that substance.  He explained that the hand sanitizer was more viscous than water since a few drops didn't move as quickly in his hands as water would.  But, the hand sanitizer was less viscous than honey or ketchup because it did move easily.  This showed me that he was not only paying attention to our experiment, but even understood the results and real-life implications.

At the start of our apprenticeship, a majority of students had never made ice cream.  Even if they had, they did not know that making ice cream is the embodiment of an experiment.  By the end of our apprenticeship, the students had conducted multiple experiments and were thinking critically about the potential outcomes.  They recognized what they could change if a different outcome was desired.  At the WOW!, students from our apprenticeship were able to tell their friends and family all about making ice cream and the experiments we conducted in the classroom.  I'm happy to have helped my students increase their understanding of scientific concepts and shape the way they think about problem solving.  Volunteering as a Citizen teacher has been a rewarding experience for many reasons, but the one reason that stands out is that I made a difference in the life of J and many children like him.