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Yeast + Sugar + Flour + Water = Math, Science and Community Giving

student flips pizza dough.jpg
Students defy gravity as they learn how to make pizza dough.

By Ellen Poltilove

What better way to learn about the changing states of matter than by baking bread?

Mixing water, flour, sugar and yeast, Montgomery County Public Schools fourth-graders learned about the science and math behind bread baking – and got to eat their homework.

Over the course of three days, nearly 700 MCPS students were introduced to the King Arthur Flour Bake for Good Kids: Learn Bake Share program. Students from Diamond, Daly, Wilson Wims, Goshen and Sequoyah elementary schools visited the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus for the presentation and a hands-on science exhibition. JHU and King Arthur Flour staff members visited Rock View Elementary and offered a similar presentation there.

The initiative is an effort to teach students at a young age the practical applications of what they learn in the classroom. Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus organizes this event to expose students to science at an early age and to spark an interest in careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Through a 50-minute presentation, King Arthur Flour instructor Amy Driscoll taught students that yeast is a fungus that eat sugar by absorbing it through the cell wall. She explained the meaning of the words “volume” and “estimate” and the importance of fractions in baking. Driscoll talked to the children about the role of carbon dioxide in bread baking, how gluten forms and why bakers must make sure the water temperature is just right. (If it’s too hot, the yeast will die. If it’s too cold, the yeast will take a long time to wake up.) She also made sure students understood why they shouldn’t put warm bread in a plastic bag: Condensation will form, and the bread will become soggy.

As she was teaching science and math, Driscoll and her student helpers prepared dough for bread, pretzels, pizza and cinnamon rolls.

The lessons align with the fourth-grade science curriculum on the changing states of matter, properties of matter and the differences between mixtures and new substances.

“We want students to see that science goes beyond the classroom,” said Kelly Jiron, instructional specialist, elementary integrated curriculum team for MCPS. “When students engage in activities such as the bread baking event, they are applying learned skills and concepts to real world experiences. These experiences help spark a child’s natural curiosity about science and scientific investigations. By participating in the bread baking event, they get to engage in scientific discourse through investigations, connect science to literacy and mathematics, and give back to the community through the donations of the bread.”

King Arthur Flour donated enough ingredients and supplies for each student to bake two loaves of bread at home. One loaf is to be enjoyed by the child’s family. They are to bring the second loaf back to school for donation to Interfaith Works.

“The cool thing about bread is that it is meant to be shared,” said Charlotte Garvey, communications manager of Interfaith Works. She talked with the students about the importance of helping those who are struggling in their community; Driscoll and Garvey emphasized the importance of empowering students with the knowledge and tools needed to help those in need.

"There are thousands of people in Montgomery County experiencing homelessness or struggling with poverty and food insecurity,” said Shane Rock, chief executive of Interfaith Works. “This thoughtful gift of homemade bread, made with love by young people, will deeply touch those who are struggling. Many thanks to Johns Hopkins University of Montgomery County and King Arthur Flour for making this connection possible."

The bread donation will benefit multiple programs of Interfaith Works, a nonprofit that helps more than 16,000 Montgomery County residents in need annually. These programs include the agency's residential shelters for men and women that provide shelter to those who previously have experienced homelessness, as well as families in need who shop for free clothing at the Interfaith Works Clothing Center. The bread also will go to residents of a new program: Interfaith Works Residences.

After students learned the chemistry of bread baking, they continued their hands-on science exploration. Scientists, nurses, students, teachers and others from several local companies and educational institutions led the students through activities including how to extract DNA from strawberries, how to prepare a plate of healthy food and the ins and outs of radiology and robotics, among other activities.

Adventist Healthcare Shady Grove Medical Center; Johns Hopkins Center for Biotechnology Education; MD Bio; Montgomery College; NeuroDiagnostics; Rockville Science Center; and Suburban Hospital participated.

The day was a treat for Noella Agbar, a Goshen Elementary fourth-grade student.

“It was fun. I didn’t know there was science when you were doing something fun,” Noella said. Regarding the bread donation, she said: “There’s people around the world who don’t have enough to eat. It’s generous to donate.”

Are you look forward to doing your homework?

“Yes!” she said, adding, “I thought I would never say that in my life.”

CATEGORY: Academics, K-12 Outreach