Friday, April 19, 2013

Feed Your Brain: Eat Your Math! (A guest blog by Ann McCallum)

A guest post—with recipe!—by Ann McCallum, a pal of mine from the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC. Ann's latest book is Eat Your Math Homework: Recipes for Hungry Minds.

As a kid, I thought that math was bland—unappetizing worksheets and heaps of boring word problems. Those were the worst, the word problems: Disjointed scenarios that you had to sit with until you were done.

I fell in love with math after college. Not a case of love at first taste, it was more an awakening of the senses. A realization that there was pattern and meaning to all those seemingly random numbers. Like a well-made dish, the ingredients aligned so perfectly when I finally understood. The steps were meaningful, too—not a series of machinations to memorize, but a logical process of creating. With my new-found appetite for math, I knew I had to share.
Pairing food with math was a fluke, really. It started with a math project for my students (I was teaching 5th grade at the time). It was nearly winter break, and I had my students make mathematical gingerbread houses. I didn’t provide many instructions—just, you know, make one of those graham cracker houses glued together with icing and be prepared to talk about how you used math. The results were far richer than I had anticipated. Students shared innovations such as polygon windows and doors, candy tessellations, the perimeter of roofs, and the length of icing pathways. I was so excited, I went home and made multiplication meatballs! Okay, maybe not right away, but the idea was there. Food, I figured, was a perfect medium for getting kids to love math.
What followed was a series of yummy experiments: Estimation Cookies, Fibonacci Snack Sticks, Variable Pizza Pi . . . Fun, oh fun! Finally, here was a connection to some of math’s tough concepts, but with a delicious new twist. It made so much sense to learn math by using food.
Eager to share this idea beyond my students, I sent a book proposal to an editor and was accepted—but not for a math cookbook. Instead, I was engaged to write “The Secret Life of Math” which is a history/project book about math for kids (I was allowed one recipe:
Mayan Number Cookies). I went on to write two math fairy tales, but I still kept coming back to the math cookbook idea. I tried again. This time, a second editor accepted my proposal for “Eat Your Math Homework: Recipes for Hungry Minds” and I was thrilled. I went back to the kitchen to perfect my math recipes.
   One of my favorite math authors, Theoni Pappas, says it best: “The joy of mathematics is that it is everywhere.” I’ll add to that: Even in cupcakes!
Happy eating—happy math!
Recipe→ Common Denominator Cupcakes
These math goodies have a common denominator. Before baking, place an Oreo cookie in each cupcake cup, and then spoon the dough on top. Bake, bite in, and work out approximately what fraction of the cupcake is the Oreo cookie.
What you need:
½ cups butter
1  ¼ cups white sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup rainbow sprinkles
Oreos (one for every muffin cup)

What you do:
1.     Cream butter, sugar, vanilla, and eggs.
2.     Mix in flour, baking powder and baking soda, alternating with milk.
3.     Stir in the colored sprinkles.
4.     Grease a muffin tin (or use cupcake papers) and place one oreo cookie in every muffin cup. Pour dough on top so that each muffin cup is ¾ of the way full.
5.     Bake for about 30 minutes in a 350° F oven.


Jim Murphy said...

What a great post and great fun as well. Multiplication meatballs made me laugh out loud (in a nice way; I am a great meatball -- of all kinds -- fan and am constantly searching for excuses to make them). Thanks.

Vicki Cobb said...

Hi Ann:

Sounds like a lot of fun! The underlying concept is that math is everywhere and you can use food to learn it. I wrote Science Experiments You Can Eat in order to teach basic concepts of physics, chemistry and biology. Of course, some critics didn't get it and early reviews claimed that the recipes weren't very tasty. In fact, some of the activities were designed to produce flops, like leaving baking powder out of some dough. My response? I said, that this book wasn't gourmet dining but did produce food for thought!

Jenny said...

What a fun way to do your homework! I love to cook with kids, and now I have another reason to do it. Thanks for sharing!

Joan said...

What a fun and clever way to teach children Math! I wish I had this book when my children were younger. I will definitely recommend the book to my students. Looking forward to the next book too!


Lynette Christensen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynette Christensen said...

This is a great way to work with math. I, too, didn't like math until after school and now I enjoy analyzing statistics (not full-time, though!). Have you ever read the picture book by Marilyn Kaye, A Day with No Math? It's great for helping kids realize how much we do use math each day.