The scientific method is a strategy that scientists use to find answers to questions. It is the process of thinking through the possible solutions to a problem and testing each possibility for the best solution.
This straight-forward and accessible format guides scientists and students through the excitement of discovery and the experience of verification. Teachers use this method as they present their science curriculum, providing demonstrations and allowing for experimenting opportunities. It is, though, a challenge in the primary grades to teach the scientific method as an important component of what scientists do. Teachers are programmed with scheduling constraints, often making it easier in the interest of time to just show the students the "correct answer." This of course does not allow for true discovery. With food and cooking as a foundation, this unit will demonstrate the use of the scientific method, allowing the students to learn about the process as well as the product.
I am a first grade teacher in a self-contained classroom at Edgewood Magnet School in New Haven. My class consists of 26 mostly six and seven year olds with an occasional eight year old. The school has an enrollment of about 450 students with approximately 60% African-American population, 12% Hispanic population and the remaining 29% Caucasian and Asian with about half of the school qualifying for free or reduced lunch. Edgewood has a very high average daily attendance rate of 96%. Our neighborhood/ magnet setting is a rewarding environment, with kindergarten through eighth grade students coming to school from a variety of home circumstances and with differences in academic levels. As a result of these variables, the children have differing types of background knowledge and life experiences. Each classroom has a mixture of varied ethnicities, economic strata and social and emotional strengths and weaknesses. Because the curriculum in first grade focuses necessarily on literacy, it becomes a challenge for the classroom teacher to include science enrichment and experimentation.
The New Haven science department circulates kits of materials and lessons from school to school for kindergarten through sixth grade students. These kits support the curriculum designed by the district and allow for sharing of the resources as opposed to stocking and supplying each school each year. The first grade kits include Living Organisms, Sun and Shadows, and Comparing and Measuring, arriving in no prescribed order. It is as an enrichment piece to the comparing and measuring focus that I am designing this cooking curriculum unit. The lessons will align with the content and time requirements of two 45-minute science lessons per week using food and cooking as the focus to introduce the basic units of measure and also to include some additional mathematical skills and concepts such as estimation and fractions. The medium of food is a logical connection to use with young children who are curious about how things are made and where they come from. This very tangible and tasty experience will help the students learn that they can be part of the process.
Understanding the developmental levels of first grade learners must be considered when designing lessons with the intended goal of true comprehension. I want to be able to have the students experience their learning in a concrete and sensorial manner by creating the opportunity to learn through real materials and purposeful experiences. Even for adults often an abstract experience is not as memorable as it could have been if the learning environment was instead purposeful and directed. Because the six- to seven-year old has not achieved abstract thought and has not had enough relative experience at their disposal, the event or experience needs to be visual, auditory, and/or tactile to "stick."
Cooking is perfect for these young learners! For students of this age, seeing is believing and touching is knowing and understanding.