Making science concepts real with cooking and school gardens

School gardens or cooking can be a great way to show students real world application of science skills.

American students have fallen behind other countries in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Different studies indicate that these low STEM scores may be because students lack the ability to put STEM concepts into context and apply their knowledge to everyday life. Cooking classes can assist students in making those crucial connections between STEM concepts and the everyday processes of cooking and eating.

Classroom cooking classes have the potential to extend the school garden learning experiences into the winter months. Cooking classes bring the school garden full circle as the students will realize the true value of the school garden when they cook and enjoy what they have grown.

At the same time, teachers can utilize cooking in their classroom with the products of the garden to illuminate a variety of math and science concepts, such as the properties of matter and the role of temperature, emulsions, chemical reactions, measurements and volume. Nutrition education, improved food choices and enhancing the local school food system are valuable side benefits of combining cooking lessons with the school garden.

The FoodMASTER (Food, Math and Science Teaching Enhancement Resource) program is a cooking curriculum with lesson plans for students in grades 3-8 and for higher education levels. The Science Education Partnership Award supported by the National Institutes of Health sponsored the program. This is a highly useful tool for teachers as the lesson plans are designed to be kid friendly and easy for both teachers and students to follow. Each topic area has hands-on and computer based lessons to take students on an exciting exploration of food, math, and science. The FoodMASTER program also includes equipment and supply lists by each chapter. The 3rd-5th grade program includes math supplements for each chapter, “Take Home Activities”, and small grant sample letter and guidelines. The 6th-8th grade programs include Common Core State and Next Generation Science Standard Alignment.

Michigan State University Extension and the staff in the Community Food Systems Workgroup support Farm to School activities including school gardens. For more information, visit the Extension website. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit To contact an expert in your area, visit

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