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American Academy STEM unit takes the cake

Pam Randall and American Academy first-graders enjoy a sweet partnership, combining cooking and chemistry.

Information and photos courtesy of American Academy

American Academy (AA) first-graders completed an especially sweet science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) unit in partnership with Pam Randall, owner of The Bundt Shoppe in Castle Pines. STEM instructor Chris Todd searched for a new way to deliver the required chemical engineering and product research curriculum. Inspired by the idea of chemical engineering as a creative science, where food scientists have combined raw materials to make something new such as candy, Todd looked for a way to combine these raw materials in a meaningful, age-appropriate food design and product research process.

Todd’s search brought him to the popular cake shop. Randall’s involvement became an integral part in the unit at all three American Academy campuses. Randall was excited to present her business as a familiar and practical application to the students’ STEM unit. She added, “It was such an important step to connect the dots required for strong critical thinkers and future innovators.”

The project evolved around teaching students the five steps of the engineering design process (EDP): ask, imagine, plan, create/test and improve. The goal of the unit was for students to learn about the EDP while they produced a high-quality cake that appealed to consumers using the metrics of taste, color and texture, and only limited ingredients.

The students asked themselves questions about their consumers, ingredients and limitations. Then imagined combinations of ingredients and how these would behave together. Students planned by writing their recipes. They created and tested by baking small versions of their cakes in class and used fellow classmates for testing. The cakes had to achieve a numerical test score using the taste, texture, and color metrics or the cake team went back to the beginning of the process to improve.

Students made real-world connections and were taught true aha moments. “It’s the holy grail for teachers,” said Todd. Collaboration with The Bundt Shoppe gave the students the opportunity to see the EDP in action outside the classroom in a familiar profession within the community. Students were surprised to learn that Randall’s cake baking job involved all of the steps of the EDP. Randall even brought in her own cake mistake, which showed students how failure in the creative process can be the best instructor. This gave the process more relevance and encouraged the students to see it as a tool they could use to solve any problem.

As they sampled the bundt flavors, AA first-graders evaluate each based on taste, texture and color.

The connection with the Castle Pines community was really important. Katie Dutton, AA’s STEM director, said she has heard back from parents whose students have taken them to visit The Bundt Shoppe to show off “their” cake. She added, “Students were so proud and felt they had been part of solving a valuable question for a very real set of consumers, their community and neighbors. That made this unit especially fun to teach and for students to learn in Castle Pines.”

At the end of the unit, the students worked together and voted on a winning flavor and name a new specialty bundtie. Students were asked to conduct product research for this special cake and were presented with three new cake flavors to sample and test. Randall said she loved the direct interaction with the children – to see the joy as they learned and burst into excitement the day they got to choose their favorite flavor.

AA cake winner “The Little Pink Lemon Munchkin Surprise” is currently available at The Bundt Shoppe in Castle Pines through March 9.

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