Polk Middle STEM classes study chocolate, household substances

Students in Leslie Rhinehart’s eighth grade Exploratory STEM classes at Polk County Middle School got to experience cacao pods from the Caribbean as part of their six-week exploration into the “Chemistry of Chocolate.”

During the first week of classes, students watched a video on the production of chocolate from “Tree to Bar” and knew what a ripe cacao pod should look and sound like

“I warned the students that the outside flesh on the beans was quite tasty but slimy, and if they bit into the seed it would be very bitter,” Rhinehart said. “Of course, some had to bite into the beans to find the inside to be bitter and surprisingly a purple hue to the bean.”

Rhinehart’s eighth grade students will continue to learn about the different types of chocolates via tastings and some experimentation – such as melting point ranges and densities. They will also get to formulate their own chocolate bar from scratch.

Seventh grade Exploratory STEM classes have been evaluating the pH of household substances with litmus paper, universal pH paper and Vernier pH probes.  This succession of simple classification of an acid or a base to a deeper evaluation with numbers helps the students compare qualitative and quantitative investigations.

“Students learn the best when they can do hands-on explorations,” Rhinehart said. “Polk County established this STEM program to give students a chance to explore science and engineering and give them a legup for their future classes and careers.

“The students are fortunate to have a school system that funds elective classes of this caliber for students to experience. I love for the students to get messy with science, technology, engineering, art and math and learn from the mistakes as much as their successes. It is managed chaos most days, at best.”

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