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Gummy bear government makes lesson stick

Project includes research, history, writing, photography

East Grand Rapids – File this under unusual classroom instructions: “Don’t eat your gummy bears until you’re done with your gummy bear governments.”

The setting, room 208 at East Grand Rapids Middle School. The class, sixth-grade social studies, and the teacher giving the gummy bear instructions,  Kristine DiVita.

Properly warned, her students set about the task at hand: illustrating various forms of government – from dictatorship to direct democracy, with another six options in between – using gummy bears to do so. For each form of government, students were to add captions from the perspective of the gummy bears that would describe the form of government pictured. 

And they could indeed eat the gummy bears once they had illustrated each of the eight forms of government, taken a photo of each, loaded all the photos into a slideshow on their class’s learning management system and added the appropriate captions.

Hands-On Makes it Stick

So, properly motivated, students around the room, in pairs and on their own, began to work.

Farha Malviya and Brynn Leestma quickly teamed up and soon were debating the best ways to use gummy bears to represent direct democracy. Farha queued up a little line of gummy bear voters and took a photo, while Brynn considered what it might look like for gummy bears to be part of a monarchy and arranged them accordingly.

‘When I have that taste in my mouth, I’m going to remember gummy bear government. Even when I’m 90 years old, I’ll remember.’

 – sixth-grader Jack Dockery

Across the room Jack Dockery and Hans Cubillo were divvying up the labor, with Jack setting up the gummy bears and taking the pictures and Hans adding the photos and descriptions to the slide show the two were creating.

Nearby, Grace Vargas and Brody Leete each were working on their own, quickly assessing the various forms of government, placing gummy bears in the right spots for each, taking photos and loading the images into their slide show.

Kristine DiVita explains various forms of government and sets up the gummy bear assignment for her students

As they worked, the students reflected on the assignment. 

Fun, they all agreed, but educational too.

“I think it’s cool to use the gummy bears,” Farha said. “To show it makes it a lot easier to understand.”

Brynn, Grace and Brody agreed.

Direct democracy as envisioned by Farha Malviya and illustrated with gummy bears

“Hands-on makes it easier to remember,” Brynn said, while Grace added that “Using the gummy bears like this will make it stick, I think.” 

Said Jack: “When I have that taste in my mouth, I’m going to remember gummy bear government. Even when I’m 90 years old, I’ll remember.”

DiVita, standing nearby, laughed as she heard Jack’s assessment.

Later, she told a visitor that her students’ reactions were exactly why she created the assignment.

“I am always searching for hands-on activities for social studies,” she said. “I was able to find this idea online and tailor it to work for our government unit. Anytime the students ‘show what they know’ it helps with retention.”

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and is the lead reporter for Grand Rapids. He hails from Exeter, Ontario (but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985) and is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop. Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both journalism and public relations, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level for almost a decade. In the summer of 2019, he began his own writing and communications business, de Haan Communications. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio

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