Product placement in the classroom

Yesterday, I had an experience that amused me as I imagined the meltdown it would have caused an anti-adveristing-in-the-classroom advocate.

I was tagging along as the 16-year-old attended a truncated version of his class schedule — the first part of a tradition at his school called “parent’s weekend.” During his statistics class, the teacher handed each student and their parent(s) two bags of M&Ms, a paper cup and plate and instructions for an exercise that involved collecting data and charting it for analysis. Apparently, M&Ms work great for wide range of math exercises as the “M” is printed only on one side and the variation in colors of pieces in each bag. While our exercise dealt with probability, the students began discussing their theories on other M&M statistics: What percentage of each color appears in the typical bag? How many pieces per bag have no M printed on either side? What is the most popular color ordered from the website? Within seconds, the teacher was projecting on the screen the candy company’s website and a page on it that gives the percentage breakdown of colors. (Granted, it’s a rather wired and tech’d-out high school.) At the end of the class, I jokingly asked the teacher if the Mars company suggested his lesson plan. He said the exercise in fairly common in high school statistics courses these days. There are even very simple lessons using M&Ms for younger children. He said he thought teachers had come up with most of the ideas, but didn’t know the origin. He’d heard a rumor, he said, that math teachers can contact the company and receive free samples of M&Ms to be used in the classroom for such exercises.

With halloween coming up — and lots of M&Ms floating around — I thought I’d suggest any parents out there to check out this Google search: M&M math.