Goody Goody Gumdrops


 Jeff Wuebber
New Rochelle High School, Westchester

Summer Research Program
for Science Teachers
August 2012



Subject: Earth Science

Grade Levels:  9-12

Time: Two full periods (preferably back-to-back) will be utilized.






Teacher Notes & Instructions

It is assumed that before this activity begins, students have a background on minerals sufficient enough to understand the differences between graphite and diamond.  Students should have already seen the molecular models of graphite and diamond.

The goal of this lesson is for students to see that by rearranging their toothpicks and gumdrops, they can produce a structure with different properties – just like the internal arrangement of atoms determines a mineral’s physical properties.

Distribute the Lab Report Worksheet. Have a student volunteer to count out exactly the correct amount of gumdrops and toothpicks to use: for the cube subunit, 12 gumdrops & 20 toothpicks and for the tetrahedron subunit, 14 gumdrops & 30 toothpicks.  For an extra challenge, give the students just the 14/30 combination, and have the groups disassemble their cube subunits in order to construct their tetrahedron.  For the “create your own subunit” challenge, generally 16 gumdrops and 40 toothpicks keeps it interesting.

After the construction of each subunit, the groups come up one by one and stack as many paperback dictionaries on top of their subunit until the teacher determines that it has been structurally compromised, the stack falls over, or one minute has elapsed (it does not matter what is stacked on top – use whatever stackable item is easily available in the classroom).  The class records the results of their tests (and perhaps also the class’ data can appear on the SMART Board) on their lab sheet.  This then repeats for the tetrahedron, and the “create your own subunit” on the back of the worksheet.

In the discussion of the concluding questions, make sure that the students understand that the cube and tetrahedron had almost the same number of gumdrops, yet the number of dictionaries held should be quite different.


New York State Earth Science Core Curriculum Alignment

STANDARD 1 – Analysis, Inquiry, and Design


Key Idea 1:

The central purpose of scientific inquiry is to develop explanations of natural phenomena in a continuing, creative process.

Key Idea 3:

The observations made while testing proposed explanations, when analyzed using conventional and invented methods, provide new insights into phenomena.


STANDARD 4: The Physical Setting

Key Idea 3:

Matter is made up of particles whose properties determine the observable characteristics of matter and its reactivity.

Performance Indicator 3.1:

Explain the properties of materials in terms of the arrangement and properties of the atoms that compose them.

Major Understanding 3.1a: Minerals have physical properties determined by their chemical composition and crystal structure.


STANDARD 6: – Interconnectedness: Common Themes


Key Idea 5:

Identifying patterns of change is necessary for making predictions about future behavior and conditions.