Ann McCallum knows a lot about food for thought.
The Kensington woman just published her second cookbook for elementary students: “Eat Your Science Homework: Recipes for Inquiring Minds.”
An English for Speakers of Other Languages resource teacher at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, McCallum said she got the idea for her first book, “Eat Your Math Homework,” published in 2010, while teaching elementary school.
“I was always thinking of ways to get [student] engaged,” she said. “One year we made gingerbread houses and the students had to tell how they used math in their project. It was a humongous mess, but it was so fun, and the kids were really excited.”
The idea for math recipe book “just clicked” after that project, she said.
After the math book was completed she turned her writing and kitchen talents to science.
Cooks, young and old, can learn or reinforce science concepts they already know with recipes like Atomic Popcorn Balls, Black Hole Swallow-Ups or Invisible Snack Pockets.
“The Invisible Snack pockets are my favorite,” McCallum said. “Its a stepping stone into a really interesting science concept.”
Henry Solomon Wellcome began selling invisible ink 1869 hoping to become rich and famous. He did not become rich, but did become famous, McCallum said. His ink was actually lemon juice, which disappeared when it dried on paper but reappeared when heated.
“I was thinking, if it works on paper why wouldn’t it work on dough,” McCallum said. “So I started experimenting.”
After many tries, she came up with a combination of baking soda, sugar and water. It made for a great lesson on acids, bases and neutral liquids, she said, and an interesting way to start a dinner conversation.
Each of the book’s six recipes is preceded with a scientific explanation of the concept to be covered and followed by questions and ideas for further experimentation. All are colorfully illustrated by Leeza Hernandez, an award-winning illustrator from New Jersey.
“What I love about Ann McCallum’s work is how she manages to bring to life what might otherwise seem like a dull subject to some [students].” Hernandez wrote in an email. “Her light-hearted approach and engaging manner in which she writes hooks kids in an exciting way. It’s a fresh and clever concept—tying math and science to recipes but not in a predictable ‘measuring’ kind of way that you see in other books.”
Though many of the recipes use already prepared ingredients such as refrigerated pizza dough, bottled barbecue sauce and frozen orange juice concentrate, McCallum said they are all original, created in her kitchen.
“It’s kind of an outlet [for me],” she said. “I think it’s important. ... I think there is a gap in quality math and science books for kids.”
In all, McCallum has published six children’s books: four relating to math as well as a novel for upper elementary age boys. She also has a third recipe book in the works. For that she is leaving the math and sciences and working on United States history, she said.
McCallum said she is not making a lot of money with her books, though it would be nice.
“I’m doing it because I love it,” she said. “I think it’s just wonderful to give it as a gift to kids.”
She also extends her gift to schoolchildren through school visits.
AnnMarie Stephens, a teacher at G.C. Round Elementary School in Manassas, Va. met McCallum at a writer’s conference in New York and invited her to speak to her class. She will visit Round again this fall to present lessons from “Eat your Science Homework.”
“This time she will speak to the entire student body. Our younger students are going to love her sense of humor and hands-on tactics, while the older students will devour (pun intended!) her clever ideas. Much like a master chef, Ann McCallum has the incredible ability to combine the most challenging ingredients to whip up fabulous, appetizing main dishes ... her books,” Stephens wrote in an email.