MCPS Students Learn Chemistry of Bread Baking
Recipe: Mix yeast, water and flour.
Finished product: Dough, with a side of science, math and community service.
Nearly 600 fourth-graders from eight Montgomery County elementary schools visited the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus in April to learn the chemistry of bread baking and the art of giving to the community. Paula Gray, life skills program manager for King Arthur Flour, led the students through engaging bread baking demonstrations as she explained that bakers need to understand the math and science of their recipes.
“Bread baking is really just science and math,” Gray said. “Bread baking is just a math equation. This plus this equals this. It’s the best science experiment ever: You get to eat when you are done.”
For the second consecutive year, Vermont-based King Arthur Flour brought its program to JHU MCC. Through the program, Gray travels to communities across the country to teach school children the chemistry of bread baking.
“When you are baking, you are really using your math,” Gray said. “You are also a scientist because you need to know how stuff works.”
For example, warm water is needed to awaken dormant yeast. An understanding of fractions is needed to know how to measure water. A good baker should know that yeast feeds on sugar. Yeast is a single-cell organism, Gray explained, absorbing food through its skin and giving off carbon dioxide, which makes bread rise.
Gray’s lessons are in sync with the fourth-grade science curriculum at Montgomery County Public Schools, said Amy Gensemer, supervisor of Science, Technology and Engineering for the district. In fourth grade, students learn about states of matter, properties of matter and the differences between mixtures and new substances. Seeing a demonstration lets students connect with the science curriculum, Gensemer said.
“As students watched Paula Gray and her volunteers mixing the dough batter, it was easy to hear them make observations to the changes occurring in front of their eyes,” Gensemer said. “This type of experience allows students to see the relevancy of science content and scientific skills such as observation, data collection, within everyday life, most importantly within their homes.”
Ridha Masagazi, 10, a fourth-grader at Fields Road Elementary School, didn’t realize that carbon dioxide played a role in bread baking until she helped Gray show her classmates how to make dough from scratch.
“I only find it in sodas and stuff, not in baking, because I never baked (bread) before,” Ridha said. “It was my first time to learn how to bake bread. I loved it.”
Riya Kohli, 10, a fourth-grader at Travilah Elementary, was also surprised to see how lessons she learned in school came into play when baking bread.
“I knew there was math but not science,” Riya said.
King Arthur Flour donated enough ingredients and supplies for each student to bake two loaves of bread at home. One loaf was enjoyed by the child’s family. The second loaf was donated to the Interfaith Works Food Pantry.
Students said they enjoyed giving back.
“Some people don’t have food,” said Nikos Karayianis, 10, of Darnestown Elementary School. “We will be good citizens and give them some.”
David Harris, 10, of Washington Grove Elementary said how much he appreciated the donation portion of the program.
“People who don’t have any food or money might need it,” David said. “It’s not fair if we have two loaves and we don’t give to them.”
Interfaith Works serves about 20,000 families annually. Roughly 60,000 Montgomery County residents live at or below the poverty level, said Executive Director Marie Henderson. The bread is much appreciated by the recipients, she said.
“They just really feel great that there is a community of young kids supporting them,” Henderson said.
After students learned the chemistry of bread baking, they continued their hands-on science learning. Scientists from several local companies and educational institutions taught students how to take a pulse, extract DNA from strawberries, understand how much sugar is in different beverages and more. Participants were: Suburban Hospital, Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, Johns Hopkins Center for Biotechnology Education; Johns Hopkins School of Education; Shady Grove Adventist Hospital; the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; and Montgomery College.
“The hands-on science portion of the day allows students the opportunity to interact with tools, equipment and most importantly people who work in STEM fields within the county,” Gensemer said. “We hope that this small taste of hands-on science will further fuel their passion and enthusiasm related to science, and hopefully to inspire them to pursue STEM careers.”
That is why Johns Hopkins Montgomery County organizes events such as this.
“We work hard to educate not only our current workforce through our graduate programs but the future workforce as well,” said Elaine Amir, executive director of JHU in Montgomery County. “What that means is we find ways to make science come alive for students as young as kindergarteners. I love to see their eyes open wide when they see how science works in real life. Sparks ignite in situations like this. Maybe one of these children will do something or see something that inspires a future career path.”