BRADENTON -- With the help of her grandmother, 7-year-old Chloe Smith sometimes makes grilled cheese sandwiches at home. She knows the sandwich is ready when the slices of cheese in the middle get gooey and drip off the edges of the bread.
Until Monday, Chloe didn't fully make the connection of what she was doing while she was cooking at home: using heat to change the cheese from a solid to a -- not quite -- liquid.
Chloe and her classmates in Katie Killian's second-grade class got cooking Monday at Prine Elementary School, part of a new school district initiative rolled out through the Food and Nutrition Services Department. With the help of the district curriculum specialists, they made muffins in the school kitchen.
"It was really cool," Chloe said. "We got to see so many new things."
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Science and math lessons plans have been created for children from kindergarten up to the fifth grade that all have to do with cooking. The second-grade science lesson focuses on the phases: liquid, gas and solid, and how substances move from one phase to another. Another lesson deals with fractions, and students learn how to cut and measure in equal proportions by making oatmeal bars. Another lesson looks at measuring different liquids and solids, and students can pour little milk cartons into the big one to learn how many quarts are in a gallon.
The program piloted last year and formally began this year. The lessons were sent out to teachers, and those who wanted to get involved could set up a time with the kitchen manager. Any cost incurred is covered by food and nutrition, although most of the items are already found in the kitchen.
Vocabulary words, short quizzes, writing prompts and other assignments have been created for the teachers. The lesson plans are based on the state standards and the different benchmarks. Five or six elementary schools have participated so far, and as more teachers learn about the program, more sign up, said Jessica Anderson, the marketing and communications director for the food service department.
"This is a great opportunity for them to reinforce their lessons with everyday things you have in the kitchen," Anderson said.
With gloves, hair nets and chef hats, Killian's students were walked through the Prine kitchen -- shivering and shouting as they toured the freezer -- by Tania Vidal.
"Make sure you don't touch anything," she said. "Something could be hot, something could be sharp."
Vidal walked the students through the process of making muffins, showing them how the solid dry ingredients are turned into liquids when the water is added to the batter. Vidal also pointed out one of the key properties of a liquid: It takes the shape of whatever container it is in, as she illustrated by pouring the batter into the muffin cups. After popping the muffins in the oven, the students saw a liquid change into a gas, as Vidal boiled water so students could measure the temperature. They watched a solid turn into a liquid by warming ice cubes in their gloved hands, and before heading back to class, the students got a sneak peek as their liquid muffin batter turned into a solid by taking a quick look in the oven.
Even for 7-year-old Gage Morrell, who sometimes makes muffins at home, Monday's lesson brought out a new connection. When the students learned about the phases in class, they didn't make the connection with cooking.
"I hadn't thought about that," he said.
The completed whole-grain muffins were delivered to the students later in the afternoon.
"It's almost like a free field trip," said Skye Grundy, a dietitian in food service who helped get the program up and running. "When kids have fun doing things, it sticks."
Killian said she learned covered liquids, gases and solids a couple months ago and thought the new program would be a good refresher for the students. With science, you have to think outside the box.
"It's sometimes hard to do that in a classroom," she said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.