The smell of cinnamon, sugar and baking dough wafted through the hallway at North Star Elementary School last week, but the aroma wasn't coming from the kitchen. Rather, it came from the school's multipurpose room, where Sherry Matson's sixth-grade class had created a cinnamon roll factory.
For three days, the students in the class -- aided by teachers and family volunteers -- became factory workers, producing more than 800 cinnamon rolls to sell to their peers and members of the community, and learning some valuable lessons along the way.
Matson has been doing the cinnamon roll factory project for about eight years. What started as a one-day fund raising project quickly grew to much more.
This year, the project lasted three days and raised enough money to send the entire class on a field trip.
Plus, it gave the students a hands-on lesson in practical math applications and work skills.
"We discuss employee responsibilities," Matson said. "The goals are to learn about the business world, review and master fractions and learn about all the things that go along with working in a factory."
The multipurpose room was set up very much like an assembly-line factory. Parent volunteers assembled stacks of necessary ingredients and materials, and students worked in groups of three or four to mix the dough and shape the rolls.
Each group member had titles and defined responsibilities, including 'go-fer,' health inspector, recipe reader, employee relations representative, measurement specialist and quality control expert.
At one table, Danielle Bower served as the go-fer and health inspector, making sure the group had all the supplies they needed and reminding her partners to wash their hands and practice good food-handling skills. Alex Ross was the recipe reader and employee relations representative, making sure any disagreements in the group were solved in a peaceful manner. Natasha Harrington made sure the group members added the right amounts of each ingredient and monitored the production of each roll.
"This is really fun, and we're learning a lot of stuff," Alex said, as he concentrated on mixing a batch of dough.
One of the key lessons, he said, was using fractions. "If you double the recipe, you have to double the ingredients," he explained.
At a nearby table, Tayler LaBarbera agreed.
"We learned about different fractions, how to tell one cup from one-eighth teaspoon," she said.
"And we learned basic cooking, like how weather can affect the bread or how if you add too much yeast, it will kill itself," added David Lettington. "I learned that when you're in a bakery, lunch sometimes depends on where you are in your bread-making. The bread says when you do stuff; you have to play your day around the bread so you make good cinnamon rolls."
And, Tayler added, the project taught the students how to work together professionally.
"It's brought everybody kind of closer," she said. "It teaches you to take it better when somebody critiques you."
The lessons weren't entirely hands-on. For example, during down time in the baking process, students worked on a series of math worksheets.
But for the most part, Matson tried to keep the experience as "real-world" as possible.
Students were selected for production jobs, like packaging and selling the rolls, based on their productivity and attitude. They also were required to fill out self-evaluations and their grades on the project will come in the form of "promotions" or "raises." As a special surprise, students also will be "paid" during class today with candy bars for their outstanding work.
The class made 864 cinnamon rolls last Wednesday through Friday and sold them all, mostly by preorder. The giant rolls sold for $1.50 each, and the class earned enough money to take a field trip to the Kachemak Bay Learning Center at Otter Cove for three days of marine science, forestry and ecology study in April.
"You guys are doing super," Matson told the class Thursday afternoon as they prepared to package a large batch of rolls. "You're doing really amazingly well. I'm so impressed. I'm speechless."
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