Balancing Calories

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Balancing Calories[edit | edit source]

Grade Level: 8th Grade
Subject: Algebra I
Sub-Subject: An investigation into the balance of caloric intake and physical activity
Length/Duration: 7 - 10 days
Technologies Used:

You Tube - songs and video introducing fast foods and healthy foods

Second Life - students explore foods and exercising by visiting a grocery store and gym

MyPyramid website - students track their daily calorie intake and physical activity level

kidshealth website - students calculate their BMI

Learning Goals[edit | edit source]

Lesson / Content Skills

Students develop the capacity for logical thought and the ability to formulate and solve mathematical problems. Specifically students explore math connections to the real world by examining their caloric intake and physical activity level. This lesson combines content standards from Algebra I and 8th grade Health Education.

Specifically students:

  1. Calculate and examine their BMI.
  2. Monitor their daily caloric intake and physical activity level to calculate and assess their health.
  3. Learn how to identify heathy food and use exercise equipment in the virtual world of Second Life.
  4. Analyze and reflect on their results and what it means to their health in the future.
  5. Develop a math/health video to share learnings with other students.

Knowledge & Skills

During this lesson, students will develop the following knowledge & skills:

  • Model and solve real world problems.
  • Check the sensibility of an answer.
  • Translate language into algebraic equations.
  • Develop an appreciation for how math is used in everyday life.
  • Conceptual Understanding: Comprehension of mathematical concepts, operations, and relations.
  • Procedural Fluency: Skill in carrying out procedures flexibly, accurately, efficiently, and appropriately.
  • Strategic Competence: Ability to formulate, represent, and solve mathematical problems.
  • Adaptive Reasoning: Capacity for logical thought, reflection, explanation, and justification.
  • Productive Disposition: Habitual inclination to see mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile, coupled with a belief in diligence and one's own efficacy.
  • Critical thinking and problem solving skills.
  • Communication and collaboration skills.
  • An appreciation for the factors that are key to a healthy lifestyle.


CA Content Standards[edit | edit source]

The lesson addresses California content standards for Algebra I and Health Education

Algebra I (for 8th - 12th grade)

5.0 - Students solve multistep problems, including word problems, involving linear equations and linear inequalities in one variable and provide justification for each step

Health Education (8th grade)

Standard 1: Essential Concepts

1,1N - Describe the short and long term impact of nutritional choices on health.

1.6N - Analyze the caloric and nutritional value of foods and beverages.

1.14N - Identify ways to increase daily physical activity

Standard 5: Decision Making

5.1N - Use a decision-making process to evaluate daily intake for nutritional requirements.

5.2N - Identify recreational activities that increase physical activity.

Standard 6: Goal Setting

6.1N - Make a personal plan for improving one's nutrition and incorporating physical activity into daily routine.

6.2N - Set a goal to increase daily physical activity.

Science (8th grade)

Investigation and Experimentation

Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:

  • Evaluate the accuracy and reproducibility of data
  • Construct appropriate graphs from data and develop quantitative statements about the relationship between variables
  • Apply simple mathematic relationships to determine a missing quantity in a mathematic expression, given the two remaining terms
  • Distinguish between linear and nonlinear relationships on a graph of data

Lesson Flow[edit | edit source]


The balancing calories project can be introduced to students using videos from youtube or a video/method of your choice. Two groups of two videos are provided. The first group has videos that sing a song about how good fast food tastes. The second group uses Disney and Sesame Street characters singing about healthy food. You might want to show one video from each group, providing different perspectives, and allow students to consider different aspects of healthy and unhealthy foods and which do they prefer. Include in this discussion the importance of physical activity as part of the balance to a healthy lifestyle.

Group 1 Videos:

Fast Food Rockers:

Fast Food Spongebob:

Group 2 Videos:

Healthy Food, Disney Style:

Sesame Street - Healthy Food:


The instruction of math and health is divided into 6 parts:

Part I - Student Profile

Part II - Registration

Part III - Daily Caloric Intake and Physical Activity

Part IV - Virtual World in Second Life

Part V - Analysis & Reflection

Part VI - Optional Extended Activity

Part VII - Assessment

Part VIII - Optional Assessment Strategy

During this entire lesson, students will record requested data in a lab notebook to be analyzed and reflected on throughout the week.

PART I - Student Profile

  1. Using a scale that measures weight and height, the teacher works with each student to assess their values. Students should record in their lab notebook, their measured height and weight along with their age, gender, and the date of these recordings. NOTE: Because of the way BMI is calculated, a small mistake in height or weight measurement can result in a large mistake in the students BMI results. If possible recruit the school nurse to take the measurements or recruit a medical professional to volunteer to come to the class.
  2. Have the students calculate their BMI. Have Students assess their BMI two ways: first, by calculating BMI using the equation provided and second, visiting a website that calculates BMI and shows the students where they fall with respect to being healthy.
  3. Students should determine how many calories they should consume per day based on their age, gender, and activity level by visiting a provided website.

Body Mass Index

NOTE: Prior to having the students assess their BMI explain what this calculation means and represents. The following is a description you can share with the students, or you can use your own.

Body mass index (BMI) is a calculation that uses height, age, and weight to estimate how much body fat a person has. Health professionals use BMI to determine how appropriate a child's weight is for a certain height.

BMI Equation: BMI = weight (lbs) x 703 / (height inches)2

  • Students should show all work and calculations in their lab notebook.

BMI Website:

  • Students enter their weight and age to calculate BMI. The value should match their initial calculation.
  • Have the students print out the chart of their results and tape into their lab notebook.
  • Have students reflect on their BMI and what it means in regards to their health.

Students should explore the site to learn more about BMI and consider the following prompts (enter in lab notebook):

  • What is a percentile?
  • Where can BMI fall short?

Calorie Level

  • Have students print out this table and tape in their lab notebook. Students should highlight the calories that they should be consuming each day.

You might want to have the students consider the following prompts:

  • Why are boys and girls different in required calories?
  • Do you think this calorie value is accurate? Why?
  • What might cause your required calorie intake to increase or decrease?
  • 1 lb of body weight = ~3500 calories

PART II - Registration

Before starting this lesson, each student needs to register for MyPyramid Tracker.

Registration for MyPyramid Tracker involves establishing a User ID, Password, email address, and zip code. Once initial registration is complete, students will be asked to enter their age, gender, weight, and height. This information is used to provide the students accurrate results about their diet and physical activity.

Reminder: Make sure students record their User ID's and Passwords for My Pyramid Tracker in their journal.

After the students have registered for the website, you might want to demonstrate to the students how to use and maximize the benefit of this site, since they will need to do this as part of the lesson.

Registration for Second Life would be easiest if prior to this activity, you load the software on each computer that will be used. Membership is free and it is easy to download the program to each computer. In addition save the two sites the students will visit in the inventory section of the program. This way you can control how the students use this program.

It would be optimal if there was at least one computer for a group of two students to complete the Second Life activity. However, if you have only one computer or just a few, you can lead the class thru the virtual world or you can have students take turns each day.

PART III - Daily Caloric Intake & Physical Activity

Each day students will record in their lab notebook and on the MyPyramid Tracker website their caloric intake and their physical activity level. All foods, including fast food, is listed for the students to select from. It is important that students not only keep track of what they eat, but also the serving size and number of servings. Numerous physical activities are listed, including sitting and sleeping. Students should list their activities throughout the day along with the length of time. To make it easier and clear for the students, it might be helpful to provide the students with tables to record their food intake and physical activities. Examples are provided in the Appendix.

Assess Your Food Intake

The online dietary assessment provides information on students diet quality, related nutrition messages, and links to nutrient information. After providing a day's worth of dietary information, students will receive an overall evaluation by comparing the amounts of food they ate to the current nutritional guidance. Students should print out their daily summaries and tape into their lab notebook for analysis after the 5th day.

Assess Your Physical Activity

The physical activity assessment evaluates the students physical activity status and provides related energy expenditure information and educational messages. After providing a day's worth of physical activity information, students will receive an overall "score" for their physical activities that looks at the types and duration of each physical activity they did and then compares this score to the physical activity recommendation for health. Students should print out their daily summaries and tape into their lab notebook for analysis after the 5th day.

Part IV - Virtual World in Second Life

Students will immerse themselves in the virtual world of Second Life to workout in a gym and shop at a local market. This activity can be done as a class, small group, or individually. It depends on the number of computers in the classroom and the type of social interaction/engagement you desire for the students.

The students will visit two sites; a local market and a gym with fitness equipment. Order of visitation does not matter.

Local Market: Grocery Store, Endless Desire (195, 240, 22)

The students task at the market is to select what groceries they want to buy for their breakfast, lunch, and dinner for that day. Have the students record in their lab notebook the food they purchase. Students should also consider the following prompts (and record in their lab notebook):

  • How did you decide what to purchase for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
  • Why did you select the foods you did?
  • Do you think your food selections are healthy? Why?
  • Calculate the number of calories you fictitiously consumed?
  • How did this calorie total compare to the calories you should be consuming based on the table from earlier?
  • What factors make food enjoyable for you?

Gym: Body By Chase Featuring exercise equipment (41,163,451)

The students will learn how to use the different types of equipment at the gym. Have the students record answers to the following prompts in their lab notebook:

  • Explain how two weight lifting pieces of equipment work.
  • What key muscle groups are being exercised and which muscles are working in parallel?
  • Explain how two aerobic pieces of equipment work.
  • What key muscle groups are being exercised and which muscles are working in parallel?
  • Explain one stretching and one strengthening exercise completed on the floor mats.
  • What key muscles are being stretched and strengthened?
  • Assuming you have one hour to exercise at this gym, what exercises would you choose and approximately how many calories would you burn?
  • If you want to burn 500 calories exercising, design a workout that considers type of activity(s) and time spent.
  • How many calories do you typically burn in your P.E. class at school?
  • What type of physical activity do you like to do? Why?

After the students visit the market and gym, have them pair share their experiences and also discuss as a class. It is important to understand the students thought process on food selection and what types of activities they like.

PART V - Analyzing and Reflecting on Results

At this point the students should have five days worth of caloric intake and physical activity level data in their lab notebook for analysis. There are many ways the teacher can have the students analyze and reflect on the data. One possible idea is listed below. All of the calculations and reflections should be completed in their lab notebook.

Have the students calculate/compare the following for calories:

  • The difference between the Food Energy Intake (calories) and the Estimated Energy Requirements (calories), for each day.
  • The total difference for the five days combined.
  • Based on the above calculation, are you on track to lose or gain weight, or maintain current weight?
  • If you are taking in more calories then you are expending, how long will it take you to gain 1 pound? In one year, how much weight would you gain?
  • If you are burning more calories than taking in, how long will it take you to lose 1 pound? In one year, how much weight will you lose?
  • Generate a graph that best represents the data you collected and calculated.
  • How would you describe the shape of your points (ie. linear, parabolic, scattered....)?

Have the students calculate/compare the following for protein, carbohydrates, and fat:

  • The difference between their intake and recommended for each day.
  • The total difference for the five days combined.
  • What percentage of your diet is protein, carbohydrate and fat (each day and five day total)?
  • How does this compare to the recommended percentages?
  • Graph daily percentages for each.

At the start of the lesson, students established their health profiles based on their height and weight. In addition, they used a pre-defined chart to estimate how many calories they should be consuming each day to maintain current weight. Have the students compare this estimated value with how many calories they could eat based on calories burned due to physical activity. Students should consider the following prompts:

  • How close was your estimated caloric consumption to the actual number of calories you burned? Look at each day and summarize the five day total.
  • Explain why you think the estimated and actual were similar or different.
  • What factors are considered in the actual that are not considered in the estimated values?
  • Is it reasonable, for ease and consistency to use the estimated value?

Have the students reflect on the following prompts:

  • Do you think you are eating healthy? Why?
  • What changes might you or should you make to your diet? Why?
  • Do you think you are getting enough physical activity? Why?
  • If not, how might you increase your activity level?
  • Do you think physical activity helps your academic performance?
  • Do you think this math activity was worthwhile to do? Why?
  • What did you enjoy and what do you think could be better?

Applying the learnings of this lesson, have the students design their own eating and exercise plan that they can follow each day. The students should outline this plan in their lab notebook and provide explanation(s) as to why they designed the plan as they did.

Part VI - Optional Extended Activity

The following is an optional extension activity of the Balancing Calories lesson. It considers global /cross-cultural and distance education. Choose a country of interest and connect with an 8th grade teacher/class. Using a Web 2.0 environment, have students from each school socially network with each other, sharing their eating and physical activity habits and their lifestyle. The objective for both countries is to share and learn about the similarities and dissimilarities of their lifestyle.

Potential prompts to consider:

  • How similar or dissimilar are the diets in the two countries?
  • Is one diet healthier than the other, why?
  • Could students in the United States change their diet to reflect their counterparts and vise versa? Why?
  • Is food purchased at grocery stores or markets or ....?
  • What are the students favorite food?
  • Do they eat and like fast food? If so. what type?
  • What is the typical height and weight of students in the 8th grade?
  • What type of physical activity occurs in each country?
  • What is the preferred mode of transportation in each country?

Part VII - Assessment Strategy

Two different assessments could be used to measure the learning of the students.

The first is evaluating their lab notebooks using a Rubric that you define and share with the students at the start of the lesson. This Rubric should emphasize the key learning objectives of this lesson that were noted at the beginning.

The second will allow the students to demonstrate and share their knowledge of health education and math with other students. Studies have shown that one of the most effective ways for students to learn and for teachers to assess if students understood the material covered is to have students explain the concepts to other students. In this assessment the students, in groups of 3-4, generate a video or podcast explaining the concepts of caloric intake, physical activity and its relationship to mathematics. It is up to the students to determine how they want to explain these concepts. The students will show their video or podcast to the class for feedback and then, with teacher assistance, place on the school website, youtube, teacher tube, or TBD location. The intent is to place the videos in a location such that students from the school and outside of the school can view when they want to learn more about a healthy lifestyle.

Part VIII - Optional Assessment Strategy

Michelle Obama has made it her mission to improve the eating and lifestyles of children and is using schools as the forum to educate. Instead of having small groups make a video or podcast have the entire class work together to design and produce a video on healthy eating and lifestyles that they can send to Michelle Obama.


The following materials will be used during the lesson:

  1. YouTube Videos
  2. Lab Notebook for each student
  3. Virtual World - Second Life
  4. Health Analysis Websites
  5. Scale to measure weight
  6. Means to measure height
  7. Computers

Related Articles[edit | edit source]

Dewey, J. (1916). "Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education" (pp. 243 - 255). New York, NY: The Macmillan Company.

"Nothing is more striking than the difference between an activity as merely physical and the wealth of meanings which the same activity may assume." Too often math is taught isolated from other subjects or ideas, focus is on memorization and procedures. Few students enjoy math and it is common to hear the comment; "why do I have to learn this, I will never use it." With this lesson the intent is to focus less on math procedures, but rather extend math to another class and more importantly to a tangible aspect of the students life, their health. Dewey notes when information is taught in chunks, simply as information to be retained for its own sake, it will dominate over experience. The aim is informing. However, if you can bring everyday experiences into the classroom, the content being taught becomes more tangible and meaningful. This lesson brings the students health and fitness into math.

Sigler, J.W., & Hiebert, J. (2009). The teaching gap: Best ideas from the world's teachers for improving education in the classroom (pp. 149 - 168). New York, NY: Free Press.

The authors of this book emphasize the importance of teachers developing lesson studies that motivate and meet their needs. They also note a lesson study must fit within the current political and policy contexts that surround education. Teachers are asked to teach in a more adventurous, ambitious way. Michelle Obama is currently advocating the need of stronger education of healthy eating and physical activity in our schools to combat child obesity. This lesson addresses Health and Fitness, de-emphasizing procedures for solving problems on worksheets, rather presenting challenging/tangible problems to students that encourage them to develop their own cognitive ideas and methods of solution.

Kim, P. Hong, J-S., Bonk, C., and Lim, G. (2009). Effects of group reflection variations in project-based learning integrated in a Web 2.0 learning space. Interactive Learning Environment, 14(3), 1-17.

This article highlights the effectiveness of employing a Web 2.0 environment to promote social networking, collective intelligence, emotional interaction, and virtual communication. The extended activity provides the class the opportunity to network with their peers from another country, discussing health and fitness. This global/cross-cultural appreciation will provide students the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of health and fitness and how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Ainsworth, S., & Th Loizou, A. The effects of self-explaining when learning with text or diagrams. Cognitive Science, 27(4), 669-681.

Researchers have shown that self-explaining is an effective metacognitive strategy that can help learners develop deeper understanding of the material they study. As this article notes, students given diagrams to go along with the text, perform better on post-tests and generate more self-explanations. In this lesson students are provided a mixture of text and graphics. MyPyramid website is both visual and textual allowing students to consider their health in both formats. Instead of using text to explain how to grocery shop and use fitness equipment, students immerse themselves in a virtual world that is all visual and then asked to self-explain their learnings. This lesson promotes learning for both visual and textual learners.

Roussos, M., Johnson, A., Moher, T., Leigh, J., Vasilakis, C., & Barnes, C. (1999). Learning and building together in an immersive virtual world. Presence: Teleoperators & Virtual ENvironments, 8(3), 247-263.

The authors in this article explored virtual reality as a learning medium. One of the conclusions drawn is that there is little reason to use VR technology for learning, if it already exists with conventional pedagogy. When using VR technology learning must be enhanced, not force fit. It is plausible when talking about healthy eating and exercising with students to embark them on a field trip to the grocery store and gym. However, that takes time and can be costly. The teacher could have the students visit the grocery store and the gym on their own, but social discussions become limited and whether the students visit these sites is left in the hands of busy parents. In this lesson, using a virtual world to explore a grocery store and a gym makes sense; it is low cost, low risk, and low time. In addition, students can collaborate on their learnings and what it means to them personally.

Bonk, C. (2006). Low,risk, low cost, low time activities and frameworks for utilizing technology [YouTube]. Retrieved from and

This video highlights how to effectively incorporate technology in the classroom. Baby steps should be taken that are low risk, low cost, and low time activities. In this lesson, technology is approached from several perspectives; the internet and the virtual world, that meet the above objectives. Bonk talks about two frameworks. The first; read, reflect, display, and do (R2D2) and the second; motivation and retention (TEC VARIETY), are significant components of this lesson. The lesson promotes reading, reflecting, feedback, curiosity, variety, autonomy, relevance, interactivity, engagement, tension, and final product. It is a lesson that offers students the opportunities to grow and develop beyond math basics to experiencing math in everyday life.

Gee, J. (2008). Games for learning institute. Retrieved from:

This video highlights how video games can organize deep conceptual understanding, as well as a variety of 21st century skills, that are rarely offered in schools today. An important concept Gee talks about is "situated meaning". Typical classrooms use verbal (words thru words), rather than the desired situated (image, action, dialogue, words) which is more suited for problem solving. The most effective way for a student to learn is thru action and experience and then read the text (instructions). Providing students with equations without mental images of what they represent is an ineffective way of learning. It is preferable to provide the student with a situated meaning and then provide the equations that describe that situation. In this lesson, the students are provided the opportunity to grocery shop and exercise in a gym thru a virtual world. Students now have a mental model of how to shop healthy at a grocery store and how to use exercise equipment at a gym that promotes a healthy lifestyle.

Chi, M.T.H., De Leeuw, N., Chiu, M.-H., & Lavancher, C. Eliziting self-explanation improves understanding. Cognitive Science, 18(3), 439-477.

Chi talks about the importance of self-explanation in promoting student learning. The article discusses prompts that the students considered while reading about a subject matter. This philosophy was used in this lesson by having the teacher provide prompts for the students to consider at the start of the instructional activities, along with the middle and the end. It is the hopes that these prompts promote student thinking on a deeper level and not just memorizing a formula. In addition, these prompts should provide connection a theme throughout the lesson.

Answers to the three main questions of the course:

How does learning occur?

Leaning occurs thru the use of computer interactive tools, the virtual world of Second Life and the social engagement of inquiring prompts.

In what environment can technology promote learning?

Technology is being used in the classroom as the students engage in interactive websites on health and learn about grocery shopping and exercise in Second Life. The students can work alone or in groups.

What is the process by which technology enhances learning?

In this lesson students can develop a better understanding of what it means to live a healthy lifestyle and how math plays a role. The interactive websites allow the students to monitor their caloric intake and physical activity level and analyze the data. In addition, they gain experience grocery shopping and exercising without ever leaving the classroom.


Educational Technologies:

Distance Education Lesson Plans:

Appendix - Example of Food and Activity Record Keeping[edit | edit source]

Food Consumed

Food / Serving Size / Number of Servings

Milk, nonfat / 1 cup / 1.5

Toast / 1 regular slice / 2

Jam / 1 Tbsp / 3

banana / 1 medium / 1

Big Mac / 1 / 1

coke / 12 ounces / 3

Physical Activity

Activity Performed / Duration (minutes)

showering / 10 minutes

sitting / 60 minutes

walking / 30 minutes

soccer / 60 minutes

homework / 60 minutes