Mining for Chocoate Chips: A Model for STEM Integration

Third graders hovered over their chocolate chip cookies, paperclips, toothpicks, craft sticks in hand. I counted down, “three… two… one… GO” but not a single child grabbed their cookie. Instead they began to furiously pick, prod, and poke with their tools, transforming otherwise mundane school supplies into mining technology.

Mining for chocolate chips. No hands allowed!

I first discovered the “Cookie Mining Project” on the E is for Explore website, who had kindly referenced the full activity to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry online science database. With a charge to begin identifying activities that aligned with both current and Next Generation Science Standards as well as those that could cross curriculum by connecting with math and ELA goals, I decided it was time to give this lesson a try and inject it into our third grade rocks and minerals unit.

Students must balance between the cost and benefit of the tools and mine they select.

The lesson did not disappoint. Our hour-long cookie mining activity gave an introductory glimpse to students of how mining pulls resources from the earth that are vital to fuel human thirst for energy and other needs (ESS3.A). It also introduced how human activity can impact the Earth and the importance of preserving and cleaning up where we exploit our earth’s minerals (ESS3.C). With the inclusion of mining profits, cost, and the manipulation of currency documented on a simplified financial ledger mathematics also received a great deal of attention including the multiplication of whole digit numbers and the need to practice fluent addition and subtraction between 1-1000. (CCSS.Math.Content.3.NBT.A.2 and 3).

I started the lesson with a brief presentation combined with a few “turn and talks” where kids were able to share what they knew about mining and the resources we pull from the ground. The embedded presentation is available for download via the link above, though the two short clips on gold mining and mining’s environmental impact are only available through the Discovery Education subscription service.

After the priming was complete the mining could finally begin! Students were handed out $20 in paper money meant to be cashed in for a mine of their choosing and the necessary tools to get the job done. Cookies with bigger, more plentiful chunks were priced much more than the generic brand. More durable tools demanded a premium price as well. Maybe students elected to purchase the expensive cookie mine, but buy the cheaper tools… a decision that cost them precious time later on when the toothpicks broke inside their cookies!

Picking out the chips takes time if you don’t want to leave an environmental mess behind!

Students were given just five minute to mine their cookies. So much buildup for such little time! Even with the short window of opportunity, students were reminded how important it would be to cleanup their site before time ran out. Non-chocolate chip cookie crumbs would need to be swept back into a traced cookie outline to avoid a steep environmental fine!

Tallying the chips takes quick mental arithmetic!

When all was said and done students carefully tallied the initial start-up costs of the mine, the profit gleaned from excavated chips ($2 per chip) and the additional labor costs ($1 per minute) and environmental cleanup fees. When all was said and done, roughly one-quarter of the class turned a profit with their cookies, providing an opportunity for the lead teacher to provide reflection writing time later in the day for students to think critically about how they would improve their own mining process and what they learned about mining as a whole from the activity.

The lead teacher, Lisa Goguen marveled at the engagement and rich learning experience the students shared through this activity, leaving me with assurances that she “would definitely do this activity again next year.” I hoped that she would also spread the word to her grade three colleagues so that I might be able to tweak the activity and try it again with another room. In the meantime I’ve wrapped up the cookie boxes and stashed them away in hopes they won’t get too stale before next time!


About Sean Musselman

Teacher Dad and Burlington MA Schools K-5 Science and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. NSTA Professional Development facilitator and author of "Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate" NSTA Kids ebook.
This entry was posted in 3-5, Classroom Activities. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s