Data and the chocolate chip cookie challenge

At one point in my life as a mother to young teens, I decided to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie; which of course, meant locating the perfect recipe. A year-long journey began with the traditional Toll House recipe and ended with a triple vanilla delight. While my own children rolled their eyes at yet another batch, their friends eagerly asked to come visit when they knew it was cookie-baking day. I will say that this process brought me much joy and introduced me to thinking about how curious it was that the same ingredients, applied in differing amounts, could bring about such different results.

Fast forward to a recent post in a study group about data and an amazing graphic sent by Debbie Abilock of Noodle Tools, which really set the stage for looking at data in a new way:












This was a chocolate chip cookie lover’s dream challenge: 5 major ingredients, 6 recipes, and data.

It is also an excellent dream challenge for librarians and math, science, and other content area teachers: Create maker activities using this data chart to ramp up critical thinking, learn and practice research skills, ask questions, predict outcomes, and math, math, math.

First up: the chart.
A. Unpack the chart. What questions can be asked about this chart in order to understand the message?

Activity: Place a copy of the chart on top of butcher paper onto 4+ tables (depending on the size of the class). Divide students up into groups around each table. Give them a quiet moment (no talking!) to look closely at the chart on the table. When it becomes apparent that it’s time to move forward, give them the direction to write down all the questions they might ask about that chart. Refer to the Right Question Institute for in-depth directions on the Question Formulation Technique. After a few moments, call “stop” and let them rotate one desk over. Give them a few moments to read all the questions and then a few to write down any questions that these new ones sparked.

B. This write-around/QFT modification can get the dialog started by looking at the chart with new eyes. Share the questions and place them on the board in categories of similarities; for example: color, size, ingredients, shape, content. Discuss the elements of the chart: color, legend, size, shape. Answer the questions as a class to see what needs research in order to understand the chart. What data is present in this chart? Can this data help the reader decide which recipe might appeal to him/her enough to bake it? Are the recipes–all from well-known food websites–reflective of  cultural influences such as  region or  tradition?

Next: the content
Speculate: what would different cookies taste like based on the different amounts of ingredients? How is this reflected in the chart? Why do you think that so many people like different styles of chocolate chip cookies? How healthy are cookies? Using questions generated in the first activity, follow up to gather big idea research.

Follow up with: the math/science

Define ratio and then measure the differences between recipes of the different ingredients.

Speculate: which cookies would you like based only on the ratio defined in the recipes…and science? What happens if one uses too little baking power? Is salt necessary?

Research: the recipes
Locate the recipes and copy them onto large pieces of paper for hanging in the room. Under each recipe, draw the same row of ingredients and color them in the same way. Determine the ratio of ingredients to each other (e.g., 2x more flour than butter…) and place those numbers on the recipe poster. Create a list of cookie qualities from which to judge differences: cake-like, sweetness, crunchy, chocolatey…

Ask each student to write down in his/her journal or on a piece of paper which cookie he/she thinks they’d like best. State reasons for this choice. Investigate the cultural influences on taste. Locate the geography of these recipes– are they clustered within a single area? Look for other cookie recipes from the region–do they reflect a similar food sensibility?

Finally: the fun
Determine how each group will make a batch of cookies…take the recipe home? Make them in class? Using parents, your cafeteria, or both, mix each batch and bake them. Return to class and place them in a row with their recipes behind them. Discuss appearance, relate each discussion point to the recipe and the data chart row.

Slowly taste each one and rate them either as a class or individually using the qualities chart they developed above. Create a class chart that corresponds to the cookie chart. How do the two compare/contrast?

Maker science in the library or classroom allows for skill building as students investigate by examining component pieces and playing with them. Giving kids the time to do this play can lead them to push out toward larger ideas. Using this chart, librarians could easily take it into the classrooms and create a multitude of content-driven lessons that support many of the lessons of the classroom.

So how can this work in the library? Math, critical thinking, data literacy, research skills, science, and lots of fun can create maker activities that students will never forget. Ratio? Really not so hard a concept to glean when it involves amounts of sugar, chocolate, butter, and flour morphing into a tasty treat. Graph reading? With practice, one can look at this chart and ask questions of it to gain insight into what is being communicated. Transfer this skill now to a chart showing the effects of drought on the western United States or comparing population statistics over time.

I wonder: if we brought this whole thing into the library, as a lunch time or before/after school activity, we could involve students from within the whole school at some level rather than just one class. Each week bring a new batch to taste and record on the chart. Bringing serendipity into the library one cookie, or one book, or one maker activity at a time can make those connections that stick with students for a very long time.

Data is fun.

Tasha Bergson-Michelson sent this title: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking…a perfect tie-in for cookie investigations – and more!

My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe:
3 ¼ C flour
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
mix together and set aside

In a mixer or by hand mix together:
1 1/3 C. butter
1 ¼ C. sugar
1 C. brown sugar packed
2 eggs
4 tsp vanilla

chocolate chips (1/2 c – 1 c)

Blend flour mixture into the butter/sugar mixture until well blended.
Add chocolate chips.
To bake right away: 350º for 8-10 minutes

Best: freeze by spoonful and pack into freezer safe container. Pull out just the right amount to eat right then: bake at 300º for 17 minutes.

Author: Connie Williams

NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!

Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons, STEM/STEAM, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

3 replies

  1. Science of cold cookies: The chilling of cookie dough controls the spread, gives the cookie more flavor and makes them crisp.

  2. This is WONDERFUL!

  3. Connie, I like the presentation. I want to provide a slightly different take on chocolate chip cookie recipes. I managed to condense and simplify chocolate chip cookie recipe comparison. I can provide a link to the abridged version of the book:


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