tables, visuals, reproducibility of results, appropriate use of
mathematical and statistical methods, sufficient data which support interpretation and conclusions, creativity, oral presentation,
and organized materials.
The most popular laboratory style of instruction has been to provide “cookbook”experiments to conduct in the science classroom
(Domin, 1999). In many such activities, students are given predetermined protocols and have no opportunity to provide their own
design input or to realize the relevance of the scientific activity to
familiar experiences. Here, by contrast, an investigation was
uniquely designed and implemented by eighth-graders who
found that the motility and survival of planarians was affected
by caffeine, sucrose, and Monster Energy drink in comparison
to spring water. In addition to sugar and caffeine, the students
also talked about the panax ginseng root and yerba mate stimulants found in Monster Energy drinks; they discussed how these
stimulants could also cause a rise in motility of the planarian.
The student research experience also allowed them to gain a better understanding of the scientific process. They developed communication skills, learned how to work collaboratively, and
presented to various audiences – including a 4-H presentation,
an e-cybermission online science fair competition, as well as
school, regional, and state science fair competitions at which they
These students also learned about the similarities between
the complex human and the simple planarian nervous systems
and saw that energy drinks can be lethal to worms, especially
at high concentrations. One student said, “Planaria have a similar
nervous system as us, they react like us when we have consumed
a substance: motor skills are affected and death may occur.”
They realized that they could study and observe planarians to
also learn about how caffeine, sucrose, and Monster Energy
might affect other organisms. Another student said, “Since the
planarians react almost the same ways as humans do, we can
learn a lot . . . by watching the worms.” Finally, one student
seemed to have an “aha moment” about the adverse effects
related to the consumption of energy drinks by teens. He said,
“Sugar and caffeine are drugs that can have serious effects.
Energy drinks, containing both, should not be consumed by kids
because our brains are not fully developed yet.” This student recognized that energy drinks can be dangerous to his peers. These
students raised their awareness about the toxic effects of energy
drinks, which is an important revelation for students and middle
school science teachers alike (Visram et al., 2016). This inquiry-based laboratory activity met an NGSS standard (see Appendix C
in the Supplemental Material), and middle school students
learned about how substances can directly and negatively affect
Supplemental Material (available with
the online version of this article)
Appendix A: Planaria Model
Appendix B: Introductory Student Laboratory Investigations
Appendix C: Correlation with NGSS Standard MS-LS1-1
Appendix D: Learning Objectives & Assessment Criteria
Appendix E: Student Assessment Test Questions
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RHEA MILES is an Associate Professor at East Carolina University,
Greenville, NC 27858; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. TONYA LITTLE is Executive
STEM Director for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies, Northeast
Academy for Aerospace and Advanced Technologies, Elizabeth City,
NC 27909; e-mail: email@example.com.