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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Interview with Loralee Leavitt, author of Candy Experiments

APB's review of Loralee Leavitt's Candy Experiments was one of the largest draws of January.  Leavitt (website) ingeniously used candy to pull students into science, so I contacted her for an interview and she graciously consented.

What made you write Candy Experiments?
When my four-year-old daughter decided to put her Nerds in water, we started on a crazy candy experiment adventure. Science lessons weren’t at all on my mind. But as we progressed, we started seeing crazy things happen, like the little white m’s that floated off off M&M’s candy, that made my kids want to keep experimenting. Then I realized I could develop science experiments with candy, like dissolving it in hot and cold water to see which happened faster, or to learn about ingredients like sour acid. Kids love playing with candy, and parents love that the kids are learning science and destroying their candy in the process.
Why candy? Why experiments?
Why use candy? Because when we did our experiments, we saw so many interesting things that we wanted to keep exploring candy science. We ended up with a whole collection of really fun things we can do with candy, as well as some fun new ways to teach standard science topics like density.
What made you want to explore more than just the primary experiment, such as why not just stop at finding acid in candy?
As we destroyed candy in different ways, we learned a lot of lessons specific to candy, such as the way you can melt or dissolve candy to separate out the oil, or the way you can make chocolate bloom by heating it, or the way gummi worms absorb so much water because they contain gelatin. Many of our experiments evolved from the ways we tested our candy, instead of being developed to teach specific lessons.
What is your background in the sciences?
In school, I took several college-level chemistry classes, including organic chemistry, and also minored in physics, which gave me a good foundation for this project. After I graduated I became a technical writer, where I spent my time speaking to technical experts and writing up the material in readable English. I continued to use that skill as I interviewed PhD chemists to check the science for some of the trickier candy experiments.
Where would you like to see science education to head?
I hope that our science teachers can find ways to interest all of their students. I love watching kids’ eyes light up when I demonstrate experiments about nutrition, chromatography, acid, and density. If we can kindle that interest in each child, our students will be more eager to learn about the world around them.
When did you first start writing?
I’ve been writing all my life. When I was in elementary school, I once won five dollars in a bookstore poetry contest. In high school and college, I split my time between science and writing, since I loved both.
What's your next book?
I just finished an ebook on car trips for, because every time I tell people we’ve taken our kids on another 3000-mile car trip,they ask how we could possibly manage it. I’m also gathering ideas for another collection of science experiments with candy and other sweets, and I’m going to finish my historical novel about a Depression-era girl whose love for math upsets her strict guardians.

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