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Teaching Kids STEM With Cooking

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There’s no better way to really learn than to use your newly-gained knowledge in a practical way. Growing up, math was never very interesting to me, in part because I had zero idea of how this information would be at all useful. Now, as an adult, I find that in everyday life, I use my math skills and science knowledge most often in a seemingly mundane task — cooking.

A couple of years ago, I was spending a weekend at my brother and sister-in-law’s house, and I volunteered to make pancakes from scratch for breakfast — something I do at home all the time. We were a big crew, so, though I had the written recipe, I needed to double it to make a sufficient quantity.

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My niece was helping me out, so we spent time figuring things out in our heads. So, when the recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of flour, we doubled it to 3 cups. But, let’s say we didn’t have a cup measure or even a half-cup measure. Then we had to figure out how to get 3 cups of flour using, say, a 1/3 cup measure. How many scoops would you need to use? Before you know it, you’re doing math.

Here are a few of the questions you can tackle:

  1. Look at all of the quantities for dry ingredients and determine the fewest number of measuring cups you could use to do all of the measuring. (Washing them out between items as needed.) (Math)
  2. Why do you use different measuring cups for dry ingredients and liquid ingredients? (Physical Science)
  3. When putting together an elaborate spread like for Thanksgiving, figure out how best to utilize oven and stove space. (Math)
  4. Determine a way to ensure everything finishes cooking at the same time (making some things ahead and warming them at the last minute, as needed).
  5. Why must your mixer be completely clean before attempting to beat egg whites into soft or stiff peaks? (Chemistry)
  6. Why is it best to do your mixing in a copper bowl, if you have one? (Chemistry)
  7. How does the age of an egg affect its suitability for hard boiling? (Biology)

A great resource for the scientific underpinnings of cooking is Harold McGee’s On Food And Cooking – The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.

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It’s not quite Lego Robotics or Python programming on a Raspberry Pi, but it’s something that’s done every day and it’s a great opportunity to put some fairly abstract concepts into a concrete form.

And who says you can’t combine these more techie activities with cooking? I’ve seen projects that use a Raspberry Pi  to create a sous vide cooker. And the science of how sous vide works is pretty fascinating, too. And, hey, it doesn’t hurt that you can end up with some pretty delicious results of your experiments.

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