Delicious Experiments: Science in the Kitchen

Elizabeth, Nora, Charlotte, and Lexi crowded around the stove, peering into a pan where a pancake slowly browned. Like scientists conferring over an important experiment, the girls observed and made predictions.

But, in this science lab, lab coats are replaced with personalized aprons, bunson burners become stove tops, and lab reports double as recipe books.

Today’s edible experiment involved pancakes. Grady reviewed the groups’ task: “We can make them fluffy, crispy, or thin, and we can add chocolate chips or blueberries or other stuff to it.” His group decided to start with a thick, soft, fluffy version.

Kate recorded the group’s process in her recipe book/lab report. “I’m writing what we did – the hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion,” she said. “We wanted it to be fluffy, so we sifted the flour and didn’t push it down” while it cooked.

“I’m pretty sure it worked because the pancakes were fluffy,” Kate concluded.

Nora’s group started their experiment by following the basic recipe, then methodically added new ingredients. “First we made two regular pancakes,” she said.

“Then we altered the recipe by adding cinnamon,” Elizabeth added, pointing to the tiny speckled pancake still cooking.

“This pancake is to test if we have enough cinnamon,” said Nora. “Once we have the right quantity of cinnamon, we’re going to add chocolate chips.”

Elizabeth plated the perfectly browned pancake and held it out toward me. “Finished product!”

The lab technicians, errr, chefs, then sampled the product. “The smell is very vibrant, but you can’t really taste the cinnamon,” Nora concluded.

“So, we’re adding another half teaspoon,” Elizabeth said as she measured cinnamon into the batter.

At another kitchen station, Grace, Anna, Addie, and Eric taste-tested their third variation, “a marbled Nutella pancake,” said Grace.

Their first involved a regular pancake with butter and blueberry sauce the students had also made from scratch. That was followed by a chocolate chip batch, and the Nutella swirl. The next experiment would involve cinnamon and vanilla.

Grinning with pride, Eric spread apart a cooked piece of the marbled batch to reveal an ooey, gooey pocket of molten Nutella. It’s perfect, “thanks to our fryman, here,” said Addie, patting Eric on the head.

They all agreed that the chocolate chip pancakes were the most successful. “It’s just not as complex,” said Anna.

Familiarity also contributed to the chocolate pancakes being a favorite. “We grew up with it!” added Addie.

Addie brought a sample of their cinnamon chocolate pancakes to teacher, Jakky Flanagan.

“Oooooh, I taste the warmth of the cinnamon,” Jakky said, savoring her mouthful, “and the richness of the semi-sweet chocolate pieces.” She held up her arm. “Teacher goosebumps!” she delighted.

In the name of journalistic integrity, Erinn and I also had to experience the fluffy, blueberry, goosebump-inspiring concoctions. Our official lab report: Delicious!

Curious Chemicals and Creepy Creatures: Cool Caves

Scientists engage in making lots of predictions during the course of their day.

To inspire their young scientists to make thoughtful inquiries and predictions, the teachers of Cool Caves intentionally didn’t tell them what to expect from an experiment.

“I think we’re maybe making borax crystals?” said Wyatt after learning that one of the ingredients was borax.

Alyssa thought it might be all about watching a process, not creating a product.

“I’m thinking we might be trying to make something like rocks,” predicted Garrett. “We’re trying to make a chemical reaction that can make something, like a rock.”

The chemical reaction involved mixing together sodium borate (Borax) , alum, and water. Teacher Jeff Lynum cautioned the students that they would witness a chemical reaction in slow motion. “It’s kind of like watching paint dry,” he told the students.

After securing their supplies and ingredients, Aiden began stirring the mixture in a large glass jar. “Oh, this smells good!” commented Garrett.

The boys placed a cone of paper towels into the mouth of the jar. “The water is crawling up the paper towel!” Aiden observed. “But nothing much is happening yet.”

“This is so boring!” Garrett lamented at one point.

“Remember, it’s slow motion,” reminded Aiden.

Despite his momentary impatience, Garrett said the Cool Caves class was “super fun.”

“I really love caves. I’ve been to some in Virginia. I just knew it’d be fun to do and that I’d make a lot of friends,” he said. “It’s fun to explore the caves and to learn about caves so I can do all these things on my own.”

Sophia reminded her group to be careful around their jar. “Now nobody touch the desk because it could mess up the project,” she warned her partners. Sophia said she thought the paper towel might suck up the borax. “I think it’s going to be a hanging rock.”

After the class came back from break, Evelyn said the chemical reaction had done its magic. “It looked like there was stalactites hanging down from the paper towel,” she said. “And some were connected to the bottom. There were also some columns.”

Evelyn said she thought the experiment was “cool”.

“I want to be a caver when I grown up because I’m into this sort of stuff.”

After experimenting with cave formations, students learned about the creatures that live in unique cave habitats.

“Today we’re making imaginary bugs,” Evelyn explained. “They have to live in the dark zones of the caves.”

The creatures are based on real cave dwellers, like salamanders and scorpions. Evelyn’s “scorpialamander” combines those two animals into one creature, called Scorpi, for short.

Rhett made a snail-moth combination. “It looks like a snail, but it can fly,” he said. “It’s only 2 millimeters big.” Rhett constructed his flying snail out of Model Magic. When it’s dry, he plans to paint the wings pink and the shell brown.

My guess is that these cave dwelling creatures will end up inside the students’ final projects – fully decked out caves with hanging rocks, formations, and creepy creatures lurking in dark corners. Make sure to check out the caves in the elementary cafeteria during Open House!