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Science After School (SAS) Consumers Guide  

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GEMS Paper Towel Testing

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Review Synopsis: by afterschool program expert Mia Feldbaum

The Paper Towel Testing Teacher's Guide provides instructions for 4, 30 – 45 minute sessions. Students review advertising claims for paper towels and then design their own experiments to test four different paper towel brands for wet strength and absorbency. The curriculum is well designed and the teachers guide is elegantly appealing and clear, with concise instructions that instructors can use easily. The guide even provides numerous, useful tips that will make implementing the ideas easy and successful regardless of the instructor's scientific content background. The activities are all inquiry-based and the students must work together in small groups to develop and perform all of the experiments. Designing the experiments fosters critical thinking skills and promotes familiarity with the scientific method. Students analyze their data to create follow up experiments and ultimately form a conclusion.
Full Review:
The Paper Towel Testing Teacher's Guide is a high quality set of activities that I recommend for after school programs. It provides clear instructions for 4 sessions, each 30 – 45 minutes long. Students review advertising claims for paper towels and then work in groups to design their own experiments to test four different paper towel brands for wet strength and absorbency. After discussing their results, students develop follow up experiments and then determine the best buy based on quality of the paper towels and cost per sheet.

These materials are very well designed and the information in the instructor's guide offers clear instructions and includes a number of useful tips. The timing of the activities is flexible and it would be relatively easy to fit them into a variety of after school schedules. It would work best if program participants attend on a fairly regular basis since each session builds upon the previous one. Also of interest to an instructor contemplating use of this set of materials is that the activities require water. Though they use water responsibly, an instructor must whether using water with his or her students in the space available for your program is a good idea.

Instructors do not need to have any scientific background to teach Paper Towel Testing. The guidebook does include a few guided discussions regarding critical consumerism, fair experiment design, and data analysis that contribute to the strength of the curriculum. To get the most out of the activities, it would be beneficial for the instructor to be skilled at guiding discussions with students. The instructor preparation time is minimal, the guide estimates 50 minutes, though the only preparation needed is to read the guide, to gather and organize supplies, and to draw a large data display chart on butcher paper or a chalkboard. The activities are a little supply heavy but all of the materials are relatively cheap and easily available such as: small weights, paper towels, measuring cup, teaspoon, or dropper, paper, pencils, and water. All of the activities could be completed for under $40.00 (including the cost of the guide, $10.50). Depending on what materials the site already owns or could get donated, the activities could likely be completed for under $25. Additionally, one could easily substitute paper towels with fabric towels or sponges for an eco-friendly adjustment. Worksheets for the activities are ready for easy copying in the teacher's guide and Spanish translations of the worksheets are available for free online at the GEMS website.

It would be too repetitive to repeat the activities with the same group of students, though one could easily replenish the supply of paper towels and use the activities again with a new group. The guide includes a few extension activities and literature connection suggestions. The idea of testing paper towels may not carry much entertainment appeal for students but the curriculum is skillfully designed to be inquiry-based, foster critical thinking skills, and promote familiarity with the scientific method. The guide stands up wonderfully on its own or it could be part of a larger consumer literacy theme. With an enthusiastic instructor this would be a solid and fun set of activities.