Culinary arts integration: Turning STEM into STEAM
Sarah Henderson and Doug Henderson
July 7, 2016

Finding ways to integrate the arts in science, technology, engineering and math fields -- STEM to STEAM -- can be a daunting task for many teachers; fortunately, culinary arts integration and STEM are a natural fit. Culinary arts integration is a highly flexible and engaging project-based learning activity, ideal for STEM education. The STEM goals of collaboration, inquiry and logical reasoning are easily fostered and the Next Generation Science Standards can also be targeted. 

One of the difficulties of the STEM movement is that the term itself can be vague and the definition subjective. STEM may mean something different in the mind of each teacher and administrator; some may think of robots, others engineering, and still others science applications. To complicate the issue even further, the term “STEAM” is thrown at teachers who may already be struggling with the STEM definition, leaving many at a loss as to how to incorporate the arts beyond coloring sheets.  

The good news is that the arts can be used as a vehicle for all things STEM related. As with all arts integration, student effort and research connects subject area knowledge to an art form, deepening the knowledge of both.  

In an inquiry-based lesson plan, engagement is the first step and culinary arts integration elicits a high level of engagement because, well, it’s food. For example, NGSS 2-PS1-4 states: Construct an argument with evidence that some changes caused by heating and cooling can be reversed and some cannot. Consider which would be more engaging and effective: classroom lecture or allowing students to research egg recipes and demonstrate for their classmates the different ways that eggs change irreversibly through a thermodynamic process.

The following are a few sample culinary arts integration activities and the standards addressed:

Popcorn

In this inexpensive activity, students study how the transfer of thermal energy turns corn into popcorn. They can study which types of dried corn are best for popcorn and where they are grown. They can then go on to invent new popcorn popping devices using various heat sources such as light, steam or solar power.
NGSS: 4-PS3-2, MS-PS3-3, 3-5-ETS1-1, 3-5-ETS1-2

Chemical change lab

In this activity, students study how heating and cooling can cause reversible or irreversible changes in matter. Students could create a dish and then defend to their classmates which matter changes in the dish are reversible and which are not. For examples, butter and water are materials that can demonstrate reversible changes, while the matter changes of eggs are irreversible. Alternatively, students could make and present three dishes with one food item used in three different matter states.
NGSS: 2-PS1-4, 5-PS1-4, MS-PS1-4, HS-PS1-4

Baking lab activity

Using the basic ingredients of baking (flour, sugar, salt, leavening), students alter the amounts to create bread, cake, cookies, brownies or other baked goods. Students present and share their creations with their classmates, explaining the chemical reactions of each ingredient.
NGSS: 5-PS1-4

Inventing kitchen gadgets

In this physics activity, students invent new kitchen gadgets and do a food demonstration for their classmates using their inventions. Engineering and design can be equally addressed here.
NGSS: 3-5-ETS1-3, MS-ETS1-3, HS-ETS1-3

Fraction cookies

Students follow fraction instructions or equations to make cookies. Accurate mathematical skills are a requirement to make delicious cookies. Students may also study the chemical interactions of the cookie components to defend and explain their cookie results. For example, extra baking powder may result in a softer, thicker cookie.
NGSS: 5-PS1-4    CCSS: MP.2, 5.NF.B.7

Gardens

School gardens are increasing in popularity as schools strive to encourage healthy eating; however, students could also use the food they grow to create or invent new dishes to present to their classmates. Cross-curricular opportunities with the social sciences abound here.
NGSS:  K-2-ETS1-1, 2-PS3-1, 2-LS2-1, 2-LS2-2, 5-PS3-1, 5-LS1-1, 5-LS2-1, MS-LS2-1, MS-LS2-3, HS-LS2-1, HS-LS2-3

Aquaponics systems

These systems are designed to grow plants and fish in areas where farming is not feasible. Each system is also a complete, miniature ecosystem. Students can create salads or other dishes out of the edible plants and fish grown right in their own classroom.
NGSS: K-2-ETS1-1, 2-PS3-1, 2-LS2-1, 2-LS2-2, 5-PS3-1, 5-LS1-1, 5-LS2-1, MS-LS2-1, MS-LS2-3, HS-LS2-1, HS-LS2-3

Recipes for computer coding

This engagement activity can be used at any grade level. Students follow a recipe to create a dish as an analogy for computer coding. This activity can help students learn that computer coding is, essentially, creating and following a recipe to reach a desired outcome. Variations within a recipe can cause differing results in the final product.

Of course, these are just a few ideas as culinary arts integration in the STEM fields seems limitless. For more ideas, check out the University of Georgia’s Food Science Lesson Plans or chef Alton Brown’s food science videos. We also recommend Education Closet for all things arts integration, including culinary arts integration.

Sarah Henderson is  a high-school English teacher, SmartBrief award-winning author, and recent neuro-education graduate. Sarah combines recent research from the cognitive sciences with nearly 20 years of teaching experience to offer practical insights into how the brain learns. Recent publications include Edutopia articles about humor in the classroom and culinary arts integration. Her current research involves the advantages of arts integration for struggling students. For more, see www.sarahahenderson.com.

Doug Henderson is the STEAM coordinator at Val Verde USD in Southern California. Doug has taught middle- and high-school science for nearly 20 years. He has spent the last four years presenting around the country on project-based learning, inquiry-based learning and implementing NGSS in the K-12 classroom. He also teaches an Intro to STEM Education course at the University of California, Riverside.

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