Top that! Putting STEM into Pancake Day

Each February, Christians around the world traditionally celebrate with a feast day, where they eat pancakes the day before they enter a 40-day fasting period leading up to Easter.  The symbolism behind this celebration is well documented, but have you ever stopped to think about the STEM skills you could develop when making your next batch of pancakes?

Plate of pancakes

Get whisking

An obvious starting point is to actually make pancakes. In doing so pupils will apply their mathematical skills to measure out the ingredients, use a range of cooking techniques and observe an irreversible reaction during cooking.

Try this basic recipe:

Makes 12 pancakes. 100g plain flour, 2 large eggs, 300ml milk, pinch of salt.

Method 

1)         Whisk ingredients together

2)         Heat some oil in a frying pan

3)         Add some of the mixture to the hot pan

4)         Cook the pancakes for one minute each side before serving with your favourite topping

Primary STEM pancake challenge

Eating the pancakes might be an enjoyable bonus but we need to make sure that the educational highlights are also clear, memorable and enhance pupils’ subject knowledge.

Try starting your pancake challenge by sharing some interesting facts. For example, did you know that the highest pancake toss was 9.47m high?

Pupils could measure and draw a line 9.47m long to help understand the scale of this throw. Explain that the average house is approximately 7.5m, nearly 2m shorter than the pancake toss.

The world’s largest pancake weighed 3 tonnes (3,000kg) – this is about the same as a two average sized cars – and was 2.5cm thick and 15.01m in diameter.

Why not develop your pupils’ food technology skills by preparing and evaluating different pancake recipes?  Involve families by asking them to send in their best recipes and favourite fillings.  Pupils could then compare the ingredients and trial the different recipes to identify the best pancake recipe.

Any good recipe relies on detailed instructions.  In order to create the most palatable pancakes pupils will need to be able to measure accurately. Make sure your pupils can accurately measure mass using a variety of scales.  You will also need to ask your pupils to measure liquids and identify the appropriate scale to make the measurements.  Many domestic measuring jugs have a variety of scales so give your pupils time to familiarise themselves with the equipment they will be using.

Once you’ve identified the best recipe pupils could design and create healthy fillings to complement the perfect pancake. This could also link with the Year 3 science topic ‘Animals, including humans’ where pupils are asked to identify the right types and amounts of nutrition.

The science behind pancakes

The basic pancake recipe includes flour, milk and eggs. If you spend a little time researching different recipes you will find that baking powder is often added – but why?  Begin by asking the pupils to observe the chemical reaction that takes place when baking powder is added to water.  What do the pupils notice? This irreversible chemical reaction produces a gas.  When making pancakes the gas is trapped in the mixture.  This makes the pancakes appear light and fluffy.

Pupils could then carry out a simple pattern-seeking investigation to find out what happens when you add different amounts of baking powder. Encourage pupils to plan an investigation that compares a mixture without baking powder and mixtures with varying amounts of baking powder.  What patterns do they notice?

Maybe next time you eat a pancake you won’t just be thinking about what to put on it!

Tanya Shields is primary STEM lead for STEM Learning

This article is taken from STEM Learning's Primary Magazine. See all our magazine content here.

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