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Baking with Math: Valentine’s Day Cookies
Written by Amber Marie | February 12, 2018
I LOVE BAKING! I could bake treats all day and not get tired of it. Pies, cookies, cakes, brownies, you name it, I bake it. I have instilled this love of baking in my sons (especially my oldest) as they love to help every time I pull out the mixer. Nothing makes me more happy to see the excitement on their faces when they get to take part in one of my passions.
Baking, however, is not an activity that lacks educational potential. Math is everywhere in cooking, especially baking. Think about how many recipes call for a cup, half cup or quarter cup of one or two ingredients. This allows for a perfect opportunity to introduce fraction basics. Learning about fractions doesn’t normally start until second grade, however, kindergarten and first graders learn some very basic concepts that help build a foundation for later fraction exploration. So let’s dive in and find out how we can do this!
With younger children, you won’t be focusing so much on the names of each fraction. Instead, you will reference fractions using the words “part(s)” and “whole”. You can introduce the names, however, don’t expect them to remember what they mean at this age. To help explain fractions, and later make the recipe, you will need measuring cups. The recipe only uses a ½ cup and a 1 cup so you won’t need any others unless you wish to work in some more advanced fraction practice (if your children are older, you can touch on equivalent fractions – i.e. ½ equals 2/4). Also, you will want some sort of food that is dry and can fill the cups such as rice, dry beans, or small pasta. We’ll get into the other ingredients and tools needed later when we get to the recipe.
To better illustrate the concept of part and whole use a real-life example such as pizza. This can help children visualize this relationship. Some tools you can use are a picture of a pizza that you can cut up, toys like this one or this one, or learning tools like these magnet pizza slices. Discuss how a whole pizza is one whole, but to eat it we cut it up into smaller parts (slices). You can take it further by talking about how many pieces make up a whole pizza and test out different scenarios (1 whole pizza split into 2 parts, 1 whole pizza split into 4 parts, etc).
If the pizza concept is too confusing, you could simply use a blank sheet of paper. Explain that the sheet is a whole sheet of paper. Then fold the paper in half and unfold it so they can see the crease (you can use a pencil to trace it if it’s difficult to see). Show them how after folding the paper, you have two parts that make up the whole paper.
Now it’s time to transition to the cups. Set out your two measuring cups (½ and 1) and a bowl of whatever dry ingredient you decided to use (we chose rice). Ask your children what they notice about the two cups in front of them. Let them explore by picking up and looking at them. If they don’t respond right away with any noticings, prompt with the following types of questions. The last one may be tricky depending on their age, but if you’ve baked with them before they may remember you saying it before.
Can you tell me about the sizes of the cups? (one’s smaller ones bigger)
Do you see any numbers on the cups? (1, 2)
What do we use these cups for? (measuring ingredients)
Introduce the two cups as measuring cups and explain that one cup is a whole and one cup is a part. Explain that the cup with a 1 and 2 on it (½) is called a fraction and represents a part of a whole cup, similar to the slices (or parts) of a whole pizza or paper.
Tell them the “2” in the fraction tells them how many of that cup will make one whole cup (1 cup). To demonstrate this, let your children use the half cup to scoop rice out of the bowl and fill the one cup. Ask them to count how many small cups (½ cup) it takes to fill the big cup (1 cup). They should say it takes two small cups to fill the bigger cup. Tie this example back to parts and whole. The half cup is the part and it takes two parts to make the whole cup (1 cup).
To help them visualize further, you can use two wide-mouthed mason jars side by side along with a dry erase marker. Have your children use the one cup to fill one mason jar with water or your dry ingredient (whichever is easiest). Mark the height of the dry goods with the dry erase marker. Then have them use the half cup to fill the second mason jar, marking the jar each time you add a half cup (that way they can see both parts). Line the jars up next to each other and show your children how they are the same.
When teaching this lesson, keep your vocabulary simple (unless working with older children) and don’t try to over explain or complicate things. It may take a few times before they truly understand the concept, but that is part of the learning process. If you are more of a “follow-a-script” homeschooler, click the button at the bottom of this post to get my lesson plan with exact words to speak and directions on how to complete the lesson easy and quick. Now let’s move to the recipe.
This recipe is from Betty Crocker and has a few different ingredients and tools you’ll need to gather. While collecting everything, let your kids play with the measuring cups (add in a few more like a ¼ cup and ⅓ cup) and let them explore how many of each small cup it takes to fill the big cup.
Some of the ingredients in this recipe will be measured and added only by you, but there are a few ingredients that will use the measuring cups your children learned about today. You can also review counting with other ingredients like the eggs. If you’d like to take it further, you can introduce 1 teaspoon as a whole and ½ teaspoons as parts. These measurements are also present in the recipe and can enrich the fraction lesson. Below I will list the steps for completing the recipe on the left side of a table. On the right side, I will describe how you can further the math lesson with your children.
Measuring Cups and Spoons
Hand or Stand Mixer
In step one, you will encounter two mixed fractions. To keep it simple, split the ingredient into two groups. You can list the ingredient as 1 cup and a ½ cup.
Demonstrate this by having 1 measuring cup filled with powder sugar and a ½ measuring cup filled with powdered sugar. Set them side by side. Ask your child which cup represents the whole and which represents the part. This will help simplify the lesson to keep it focused on the basic fraction concept of part and whole. However, if working with older children (4th/5th), feel free to talk about mixed fractions in this part of the recipe.
You can reinforce this concept again with the flour. It helps if you have two 1 cup measuring cups, but if not you can explain that you will need to add another whole after adding one whole and one part to the recipe.
To review early elementary concepts such as counting, have your child(ren) count out how many eggs you need (have them read the recipe and look for the number).
You can further enrich basic fractions by showing a whole teaspoon and a half teaspoon. Demonstrate that it is similar to the 1 cup and ½ cup in that a ½ teaspoon is a part and a teaspoon is a whole. See if your children can remember how many parts (½ tsp) fills a whole (1 tsp).
One of the best parts of homeschooling is you can make learning authentic and what better way to introduce basic fractions than with shared memories of baking cookies! Stay tuned for more “Baking with Math” posts coming soon.
Want a more scripted lesson plan to introduce this concept? Do you want a picture recipe to help teach your children how to read ingredients and directions for baking? Download my lesson plan and picture recipe by clicking below!
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How have you used baking to introduce math concepts in your homeschool? Have you introduced fractions in another “real-life” way to your children? Share below in the comments!