Afterschool Cooking Course at Murray Elementary Touches the Mind and Senses


April 19, 2018

Ms. Soto-Figueroa instructs Murray students in Cooking Through Literature, Culture, And Science–a course offered in DPIE's STEAM Afterschool Program.

Ms. Soto-Figueroa, Murray Elementary School Teacher, STEAM After School Course - Cooking Through Literature, Culture, And Science.


For some young people, cooking is simply a means to an end. The ultimate payoff is food. Often what is lost, is the process and a learning opportunity. Through a unique collaboration at Murray Elementary School, DPIE has been able to offer a cooking course that includes elements of literature, culture and science. The Top Chef (instructor) of this program is Kindergarten/First Grade teacher Ms. Lauren Soto-Figueroa. Ms. Soto-Figueroa attained a B.A. in Liberal Arts from CSU Stanislaus. Subsequently, she earned several other certifications and credentials with an emphasis in specialized teaching. She has worked in the education industry for a dozen years and has taught for six years in the Dublin Unified School District. After observing her class, we sat down with Lauren to discover why she feels so passionate about this topic.

DPIE: The title of your course includes several other elements. Kindly articulate how you weave literature, culture or science in with cooking?

Soto-Figueroa: “I try to weave at least one element of literature, culture or science. Each class starts out with washing hands, gluing recipes in our journals and getting our aprons on and a mini lesson about food safety. Then we have a mini lesson with one element listed above. With culture, we have had discussions, watched videos about specific food in a culture and then made a food item in that culture (ex: Japanese fried rice; talked about Japan). With literature, we have read stories and then predicted and created recipes relate to the text (ex. Stone Soup; made our own version). With science, we have talked about how liquids change from a solid to a liquid or vice versa or how mixing ingredients and applying heat can change it completely. We read “The Butter Battle” by Dr. Seuss and then took a survey of which is the best way to eat butter and toast - upside down or right side up. Then we made color changing butter in a jar from scratch and tried it – incorporating both literature and science. I feel like not only can students learn how to cook something, but to learn educationally as well through hands-on experience and integrating subject matter.”

DPIE: Given that one hour is a concise period of time, do you use cooking methods that are “tried and true” or do you supplement to accelerate the process?

Soto-Figueroa: “It really depends on the recipes. Some we make completely from scratch. For some others, I prepare some of the steps ahead of time in an effort to help students get to complete the things we are making that day and then they can really be more involved in the process and feel successful. DPIE has extended this class to 1.5 hours to help with the time constraint. It also helps to keep students engaged and they get to make most things from start to finish as well as eat everything they have made at the end of class, which is a great motivator!”

DPIE: Please describe some of the more popular/successful recipes that you were able to execute with the class.

Soto-Figueroa: “It really depends on the group of kids. Last session, fried rice and breakfast were class favorites. This winter session, I think toaster pizzas, color changing butter and birthday cake pops were a hit! I really try to do as much as I can, to incorporate what students want to learn and how to do it. We can make most things in the classroom as we have a refrigerator, toaster oven, two hot plates, griddle, etc. - just no oven!”

DPIE: Explain why you think that it is important for young people to be exposed to cooking and the kitchen.

Soto-Figueroa: “I learned about my culture and family through cooking. Food always brought us together as a family and I believe that it is a value I want to instill in the youth today. I believe it is important for students to not only learn where they come from through cooking, but also learning how to be independent. Our young people can learn early how to eat healthy, explore new foods, food safety and grow up knowing where their food comes from. It is a great hands-on profession that can often be overlooked. It is great to be able to expose children to the kitchen early. It is also a way to allow children to explore their creative side and feel successful, thus creating positive self-esteem!”

DPIE: Anything else that you would like to add?

Soto-Figueroa: “I started in After School programming and did that for eight years. It became my passion and I was inspired to give the youths that I was working with, the opportunities to try things I never had as a child like sports, recreation, classes, support and more. When the DPIE after school was presented to me, I was so excited to be able to do this and not only share my passion but to reach the lives of students in this area as well.” The images associated with this story include some of the steps necessary to make birthday cake pops. No doubt that these students were willing to celebrate anyone’s birthday on that Friday. DPIE would like to thank Ms. Lauren Soto-Figueroa for inviting us into her kitchen/classroom.