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The science of yogurt

Next Generation Science Standards at Springfield Public Schools
Next Generation Science Standards at Springfield Public Schools

About 650 freshman and sophomore students at Thurston and Springfield High Schools recently partook in an experiment in which they made yogurt using their knowledge of biomolecules -- organic molecules such as carbohydrates, protein, lipids and nucleic acids -- that are responsible for the survival and growth of living cells.

https://youtu.be/Q85dfsB4S9k

When you think of biology, do you think of yogurt?

Students at Thurston and Springfield high schools will likely always be reminded of biology class when they eat yogurt after a recent experiment with making it.

About 650 students at the two schools partook in the experiment, in which they made yogurt using their knowledge of biomolecules -- organic molecules such as carbohydrates, protein, lipids and nucleic acids -- that are responsible for the survival and growth of living cells. 

Thurston High biology teacher Nathan Horwood said that part of the project aimed to help students to learn about and understand microscopic scientific processes that take place at a molecular level, even if the students can’t physically see it taking place.  

The students were instructed to make either tart or sweet plain yogurt, as well as determine the thickness of their product to ultimately end up with a quality, affordable and tasty yogurt that would be able to be sold at the student store or served in the cafeteria. 

The pH, or level of acidity, played a big role in whether the yogurt was sweet or tart and the amount of time that the product spent incubating determined the viscosity, or thickness, of the yogurt. The final product was supposed to be thicker than milk, but not chunky, and not watery, either. 

Based on some of the faces and sounds that students made after tasting each group’s yogurt, they didn’t seem overly excited about serving any of them to their peers - or eating the yogurt themselves. 

Reese Wyatt, a 14-year-old freshman at Thurston said she’d do things a bit differently if she made yogurt again. 

“Ours was disgusting,” she said. “Not sweet at all.”

I think we should have put more sweet milk into it and incubated it longer,” Wyatt said. “Or maybe used more powdered milk to make it a little thicker.”

The entire experiment, in which students got to test their knowledge of a subject with an evidence-based, hands-on project is a great example of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that were recently implemented in the district. 

The science standards identify scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas in science that all K-12 students should master to prepare for success in college and 21st-century careers. Teaching based on the NGSS calls for more student-centered learning that enables students to think on their own, problem-solve, communicate, and collaborate—in addition to learning important scientific concepts.

“We get to see the things we’re learning, which makes it a lot easier to remember, and a lot more enjoyable,” Wyatt said. 

The standards also better prepare students for their next step after graduation, as more jobs now require skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) than in the past.

The NGSS provide a strong science education that equips students with the ability to think critically, analyze information, and solve complex problems — the skills needed to pursue opportunities within and beyond STEM fields.

The standards are in the process of being implemented in ninth-grade science and in biology courses. The next big task will be modifying chemistry and physics courses.