Thankful for Chemistry

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SWBAT identify real world applications of chemistry as they relate chemistry terms to their favorite Thanksgiving foods.

Big Idea

Need a lesson for the last day before holiday break? Use this lesson to help students understand the real world connections between the science classroom and the holiday season.


5 minutes

As the students enter the room, they begin working on a journal prompt:

Make a list of foods you enjoy eating on Thanksgiving.  

As students work, I circulate through the room reading through the students' responses.  In this student journal example, the student chose to write about all of the foods he eats on Thanksgiving day.  After a couple of minutes, I ask the students to share their responses with the class.  The students are generally very excited about sharing their responses.  Once the students share their responses, I tell them that chemistry plays a key role in the foods they enjoy eating.


15 minutes

Once we have discussed the journal responses, I have students open the Thankful for Chemistry document on their Chromebooks.  I explain again that we are going to explore some of the ways in which chemistry impacts food.  I read the directions with them and I then play the video clip The Chemistry of Pumpkin Pie.  I stop the video at different points to discuss what is being reviewed in the video, and students take notes on their Chromebooks as the video clip plays.  After the clip, we discuss the differences between eugenol and isoeugenal.  This leads to a discussion of the ways in which molecules are similar and different from one another.

From there I review a study about cranberries with the students.  I do not read the article in its entirety to the students, but highlight the key portions focusing on how chemistry terminology, especially the term compound and the way that cranberries interact with E. coli on a molecular level. The students write basic information from this overview on their documents.

Then I review an article about stuffing. In this article, I focus on the idea that the antioxidants found in the crust of bread are created through the chemical processes that occur during baking. I also include a very quick review of tryptophan, a chemical commonly (but mistakenly) believed to cause sleepiness after eating turkey.  

These examples of chemistry on an atomic level help to meet NGSS Cross Cutting Concept of Patterns as the articles detail the manner in which "macroscopic patterns are related to the nature of microscopic and atomic-level structure."


10 minutes

After modeling a few examples of how chemistry can be used to describe foods, I have the students work on the last part of the worksheet together as a small group.  The group is responsible for selecting five holiday foods.  The group may choose whichever foods they would like and since most groups contain five students, I suggest that each person select a food.  From there, the students try to determine chemistry related characteristics about the foods.  I tell them that they cannot just write physical/chemical change or list the pH of every item.  As the students work, I circulate through the room asking and answering questions.  This is an example of student work for this activity. As I moved through the room reviewing student responses, I asked the students to explain their chemistry choices.  It may be helpful to add another column to the chart in which students provide evidence for the chemistry term they selected.  In this video, I ask the students to further explain how rolls exhibit a chemical change.

One of the NGSS standards covered by this activity is MS-PS1-2 because as students are labeling the chemistry involved in their food choices, they are also "analyzing and interpreting data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred."

Wrap up

5 minutes

Near the end of class, I ask the students to share some of their findings aloud.  The students are to state the food item and then the chemistry related to the food item.  After one food is mentioned, I ask if anyone else has a different chemistry fact for that food.  Because so many different foods are selected, there are very few foods that have more than one fact.  As the students prepare to leave, I remind them bring up chemistry at the dinner table over the holiday.