Gum and Math: Is there a connection? REALLY?

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bubble_gum_alleyLast week I was all excited about an article showing a connection between schools with playgrounds and higher math scores.  As it happens, at the very same time there was another news report about higher test scores.  This one linked them to gum.

The first article I read, from the LA Times, explained:

The study was conducted by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and was sponsored by the Wrigley Science Institute. The study included 108 students, ages 13 to 16, who were assigned either to chew sugar-free gum during math class, while doing math homework and during math tests, or to refrain from gum-chewing. After 14 weeks, the students took a math test and their grades were assessed.

The result was increased test scores for the gummy kids on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills achievement test.  The increase was small — only 3% — but the National Post says it was statistically significant.  Several articles drew the connection that chewing gum can lower stress, and that may have helped with the testing.

The National Post article turned out to be one of the more detailed ones that I ran across (explaining, for example, that the gum-chewers chewed gum 86% of the time in school and 36% of the time while doing homework) and it shared a fact that I didn’t see in many other articles:  there were TWO standardized tests given, not just one.  The other standardized test was the Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Achievement, and on this test there was no statistically significant difference in the scores of those who chewed gum and those who didn’t.

Furthermore, when I looked further, I found  this nutrition site that revealed that the course grades for both groups actually decreased over time, although the gum chewers had less of a decrease.    So all in all, it’s kind of interesting but perhaps not worth the hype of headlines like “Chewing Gum Improves Math Scores… No Lie” and “Teenage Brain Power Boosted by Chewing Gum:  Wrigley Study”.

Isn’t that a gross photo at the top?  That’s Bubblegum Alley in my hometown [photo taken by Samir and posted on wiki under Creative Commons License].  When I was about 10 a friend and I wrote “Sit on It” in gum on the wall of Bubblegum Alley.  We felt very sneaky.

4 Responses to “Gum and Math: Is there a connection? REALLY?”

  1. Barry Leiba Says:

    But… does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight? And how does that affect these results?

  2. Kevin Says:

    Have you heard of the “marshmallow test”? If not look it up, it gives one a certain sense of despair.

    Cheers,

    Kevin

  3. Ξ Says:

    Kevin, I think I’ve heard of the marshmallow test before, only it was done with cupcakes. I find it interesting in terms of different personalities, and not really at all useful in terms of predictive value. [I would totally eat the marshmallow, as would my oldest son. TwoPi and our younger son would have no problems waiting it out. But it doesn’t seem to predict much outside of, well, eating marshmallows.]

    (Isn’t there an award for the most useless research? Or am I thinking of the Ig Nobels, which are actually more creative than that?)

  4. Sharon McEachern Says:

    Hey, you get what you pay for. And that’s exactly what Wrigley Gum did. The Wrigley Science Institute (probably just a vehicle to funnel money) funded the research by Baylor University of Medicine. And surprise, surprise. They found out that kids get smarter when chewing Wrigley’s sugar-free gum. Since the teenage math students did 3 percent better on one standardized test but did not get any smarter on another standardized test, it sounds like scores depend on the test and not the gum chewing.

    Sponsored (read: paid for) studies invariably produce results favorable to the economic interests of the sponsor. Wrigley wants to sell more gum and end the days of gum being contraband in the class room.

    Ethic Soup has a good article on this at:

    http://www.ethicsoup.com/2009/05/chew-on-this-wrigley-research-claims-gum-makes-teens-smarter.html

    Should you have an opinion on this subject as a teacher, please do leave a comment on Ethic Soup blog.

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