Chemistry is an integral part of our life from our food to our body and nature. Even though safe products are typically used with elementary students, safety should still be stressed. Projects commonly done with elementary school students include Make a Volcano, Guess the Type of Matter in the Bag, Build an Atom with Marshmallows and Toothpicks, Record Mass/Volume/Density of an Object, Case of the Disappearing Grimmies, Up Up Away, Bouncing Egg and Crystal Rock Kit.
In January 2004, Be A Food Scientist was published by Science and Children magazine (http://science.nsta.org/enewsletter/2005-08/sc0401_24.pdf). The article presents a chemistry unit for elementary students in a meaningful context, in a kitchen with food.
Included in the article are the National Science Standards. The lessons are concisely presented and with advanced preparation could be implemented in an elementary classroom. Some projects require children to taste the finished product. Before doing any of the projects below take into consideration food allergies and dietary restrictions.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES – The 14-week unit begins with inquiry lessons. Children are encouraged to disregard the old adage about playing with their food. Cooking labs are setup to accommodate the scientific method throughout the course of study. The first lesson is on weight including how to pack, level and sift ingredients as well as how to measure fat items. Students practice computing, averaging, measuring, fractions and gathering information.
RECORDING RESULTS – Students then bake chocolate chip cookies using prior knowledge to successfully complete each task including correctly measuring ingredients, accounting for all the variables in the recipe and watching the physical change take place as the cookies bake. Students record the number of tasty and tasteless outcomes.
MAKE ROCK CANDY – What better way to follow up cookies but with hard candy? Students observe how temperature affects a mixture and watch as it changes states from thread to a hard cracked piece of candy.
ACIDS AND BASES – Time for some proper nourishment with fruit follies used to explore acids and bases. Children observe apples and bananas turning brown. They compare the taste of fresh fruit with canned and frozen practicing comparative analysis.
MAKE OBSERVATIONS – Continuing with the fruit theme, apples remain. Children compare varieties, such as fresh, cooked and those used in a crisp. Students integrate data gathered through observations.
SOLUTIONS – Meeting the fruit requirements it is time to incorporate some veggies. Fresh, frozen and canned carrots are compared like in the apple activity. Then, broccoli is cooked in boiling water and varying solutions, such as baking soda and cream of tartar. Children observe and record how altering a solution can change the main ingredient, broccoli.
CHANGES OF MATTER – Which came first the chicken or the egg? It does not matter as long as you have them for this next lesson. Students record how acids and bases affect the eggs. A Venn diagram is used to show similarities and differences between real eggs and substitutes.
EXPERIMENT – Now for some consumer science lessons because we all know how consumers are swayed into buying particular products. Students create their own colas. How much sugar will it take to win over the crowd? Will a name make their cola a winner?
SCIENCE WRITING – To the sell the cola, a marketing strategy is devised. Reviewing use of language and ads in magazines, students develop packaging for their cola and either writes a jingle or commercial to promote their cola.
REVIEWING RESULTS – Moving on to a consumer product needed after drinking all that cola toothpaste. Three brands are selected and reviewed based upon foaminess, taste and cleaning ability. Now experts on toothpaste, students design their own.
MIXTURES – Combining glycerin, soap, baking soda and a flavor of choice, new toothpaste is made for all to try out. Whose toothpaste will be preferred? How about some breakfast before brushing those teeth?
HYPOTHESIZE – Cereal is the next item. Students write their own questions, predictions, experiments and analysis methods to use as a guideline for performing a proper comparison amongst cereals.
CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS – Applying critical thinking skills, students create tests to show whether or not current ads support what they claim to be true about particular products.
All these lessons prepare students for the last but not least important part of the unit, an individual project. Students select a procedure or food to further examine. Then, they peruse old cookbooks to narrow down the search to a recipe and devise a survey for classmates to take and gather more information. Finally, students take into account the purposes of ingredients generally used in baking recipes and bake a muffin.
Granted, the unit is long and requires advanced preparation as well as supplies for all students involved. However, it gets the children’s attention. Plus, it covers science and mathematics standards. Contact a culinary school or local grocer for goods and services. Recruit parents and volunteers to coordinate supplies. This beneficial unit is sure to be winner with teachers, parents and students.