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Let’s Design Pancakes!

Design Pancakes. Really? I know. If you are a regular reader on this website you know that I create some wonky things for kids to experiment with or build.

But, pancakes?

Yes! Let me just tell you one thing about this challenge. It is highly engaging. The first time students saw this one on our agenda board they all raised an eyebrow at me- they never believed I meant real pancakes.

Oh, but I did!

Let’s Break Designing Pancakes Down into Manageable Steps…

  • Griddles
  • Measuring
  • Testing
  • Bite-size Pieces
  • Design the Ultimate Pancake
  • Clean-Up Time

Seriously, tackle each step with intention and high expectations, sprinkle in a few strict rules, and be ready for the unexpected. You will love it. The students will love it.


Let’s talk about griddles. The first time I tried this challenge I had two griddles. That was not enough.

You can tell in the photo above what happened. That’s four griddles. Why do we need so many?

Well, the premise of this challenge is that students experiment with the pancake ingredients. They test the amount of baking powder in 4 different measurements – trying to find the best amount. They mix up a batch of batter and pour up a tiny pancake. They taste it and rate it. Then they do it again- four times.

So, we need enough griddles to have these batches cooking with 6-7 teams of students. There is another reason we need more griddles but I will tell you more about that later.

First, a funny story….. look back at that photo of 4 griddles. I thought I was being really clever by placing them all in a line like that. Nope. They all got hot and we started the batches cooking. Then they all started cooling off. We blew the circuit breaker!

The only way I could get all four going at the same time was to spread them apart on different walls in the lab. Which meant I had a high step count that day…


So, on to the next funny story about pancakes. I really thought students could measure ingredients. Uh, no. Most of them had never measured anything. So we had to start with quick lessons about leveling off measuring cups. I also placed the baking powder in a large tub and left only the teaspoon measure needed at that station. I left a tablespoon with the oil and water. What could go wrong?

Well, three hours later they were still measuring.

Okay, maybe it didn’t take three hours but it took way longer than we had to spare. They were so careful about measuring and pouring. It was fun to watch, but I was also watching the clock.

So, the best remedy for this dilemma was with me being the measurement person. I pre-measured the ingredients (except the baking powder) into 3-ounce cups. All the students had to do was pick up a cup and dump it in their mixing bowls.

By the way, we used a large measuring cup with a handle as our mixing bowls. It was the perfect size for our small batches and washed up easily between batches. (More about cleaning up later.)


On to the cooking part, the best part, the aha moment part!

Students brought their mixing bowl to the cooking station and I poured the entire contents on the griddle. We could fit 5-6 tiny pancakes on each griddle. One tiny pancake for each team. These were small!

Design a pancake by testing ingredients in STEM class!

Two things are going on in the photos to the left. On the top, you can see tiny pancakes beginning to cook. This is the first test batch. Nothing much happening with that batch.

Look at the second photo (above) and notice the bubbles. This was our first ‘aha’ moment. Students began to see those bubbles and started putting it together. The baking powder amount really does matter.

Which batch do you think tasted best?

To the left, you can see tiny pancakes turning a beautiful brown color. Can you see the holes in them? Those were the ones with the bubbles! Almost time to eat!

Bite-Sized Pieces

With the test pancakes each student was only able to have a taste. In the photo below you can see a team member cutting pancake into bite-sized pieces. 

Each team member had 1-2 pieces and the team gave the pancake a score. The scores were based on thickness, taste, and overall appearance.

By the way, we did not put syrup on the test pancakes. The syrup makes anything taste better!

Design the Ultimate Pancake

Now, let’s analyze the results. Teams looked at the scores for each pancake trial. Each trial used a different amount of baking powder.

The score from each batch helped the team decide the best amount of baking powder to use in the design recipe.

Are you ready for the best part of this challenge? (And it is not the eating part!) The recipe I used had to have the ingredients increased. Every ingredient had to be multiplied by 8! Students had to do this math- and this included multiplying fractions! Oh my, how fun was this!

We scheduled the final cooking day and each team brought in special toppings for their ultimate pancakes. We had chocolate chips, syrup, whipped cream, strawberries, butter, and more.

Each team used its design recipe and mixed up a large amount of batter. The batter was enough to make a plate-sized pancake for each team member.

This is the real reason we needed so many griddles. Each griddle could only hold 2 pancakes. It took a lot of griddles to cook 24-26 pancakes! I cooked and filled their plates. They took the pancakes back to their work tables and covered them with all those toppings and they ate until time to clean up!

Clean-Up Time

Now, clean up time was every week, not just on the last day. This is a multi-day challenge- usually three class sessions.

For the session in which we tested pancakes, every mixing bowl had to be washed between tests. So, within a team students had mixers, cookers, and cleaners.

The mixers took the empty mixing bowl to the ingredient stations and filled the bowls. Then they stirred them until well mixed. The cookers brought the bowl to the griddles for me to cook. The cookers stayed with me and watched the pancakes and then plated them. The cleaners took the empty mixing bowls to the sinks to be washed (with soap) and dried.  Teams traded jobs after each test.

We repeated this procedure four times. Was it messy? Yes! Did they love it? Yes! It is an annual fifth-grade challenge now because we learned so much!

Where do we get those supplies?

  • Griddles – our lab has two and I borrowed two more.
  • Ingredients- I asked for these through our school weekly newsletter. I had flour, oil, sugar, and baking powder sent in. Parents also sent in paper plates and plastic forks.
  • Milk- This came from our cafeteria. Students that eat breakfast or lunch are required to get milk. The cartons that are not consumed can’t be returned to the cooler. Students place their unused cartons on a central table and students that need more than one milk can get an extra. Our pancake milk came from that supply.
  • Syrup- I bought syrup for the final day. Students brought all the extra toppings.


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