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The differences are caused by a microbe called yeast, pictured here. Yeast is a kind of fungus. If you open up a package of baker’s yeast bought from the supermarket and sprinkle some out, you’ll see tiny brownish grains. These are clumps of dehydrated yeast cells (dehydrated means most of the water has been removed). Let them sit there for a while and watch them and you’ll soon get bored. They don’t exactly do much, do they? But put them in bread dough and after a while you can definitely see that they must be doing something. But what exactly are they doing?
You’ll find out in this activity in which you’ll make your own bread dough. Print out these pages and follow the directions to do this activity at home. When you're done, come back to this page to test your newfound knowledge by answering the questions at the end. (No fair peeking at the answers before you do the activity!)
Note: This activity can be done within one hour, though you could stretch it over a few hours if you wish, depending on how many different sweeteners you want to try.
1. Using the ruler, measure the point 3 centimeters from one end of each straw and mark that point with a line using the permanent marker.
2. Put ¼ cup of flour into each of your bowls. Mark the first bowl as the "Control." Mark the others as 1, 2, and 3. (Just imagine that the dough in the illustration below is in four separate bowls.)
4. Pour ¼ of a package of yeast (or ¼ teaspoon) into each of the four bowls. Using the spoon, stir together the ingredients in each bowl starting with the Control bowl.5. Fill a cup with warm water from your faucet. The water should be warm, not hot and steaming. Dust your hands with a little flour. Carefully add the water to the Control bowl about a teaspoonful at a time and begin to knead the mixture. Your dough should eventually feel kind of like Play-Doh—it should be damp, not wet, it'll be sticky at first, but should eventually reach a point where it’s just damp enough that it no longer really sticks to the bowl or your hands. If it’s too sticky still, add a little bit more flour. Form the dough into a ball.
6. Repeat step 5 with each of the remaining bowls, working as quickly as you can. (If you have friends or classmates or parents helping out, each person should take a bowl and everyone should do step 5 at the same time.)
7. Working quickly, push three straws into the Control dough until the dough inside the straw reaches the 3-centimeter mark. Lay these straws by the Control bowl. Repeat this step with each of the remaining bowls. Be sure to keep the straws beside the right bowls and don’t mix them up. (Again, if you’ve got more people working with you on this activity, each person should take a ball of dough and everyone should do this step all at the same time.)
8. Now pinch the bottoms of each of your Control dough straws, pushing the dough up from the bottom enough to clip a clothespin to the end of each straw. Mark the new height of the dough on each straw. Stand the straws upright using the clothespins as bases. Do the same with the rest of the straws. Label the batches of straws as Control, 1, 2 and 3.
9. Mark the time on your clock or watch or set your timer for 10 minutes. Wait 10 minutes. Then measure and mark the heights of the dough in each straw and record these heights and the time in your notebook. Repeat this step 10 minutes later. Repeat after another 10 minutes has passed.
10. During the 10-minute intervals while waiting for the dough in the straws to do its thing, discard your first batches of dough from each bowl and wash the bowls out. Dry them thoroughly. Be sure to keep an eye on the clock while you’re doing this so that you don’t miss the 10-minute deadline to check and measure your straws.
11. Repeat the dough making process only this time use a different kind of sweetener than sugar. Repeat the steps of filling and marking the straws. Label the new batch of straws and set them away from your first batch. Repeat the process of measuring the dough height in the straws at 10-minute intervals and recording the results in your notebook. Be sure to record the heights of this new batch of straws separately from the first batch.
12. Graph your results. First, calculate the average final height for each set of three straws in your first batch. Make a bar graph showing these average heights with the number of teaspoons of sugar (0, 1, 2, 3) on the horizontal axis and the height in centimeters on the vertical axis. Make a similar bar graph for your second batch of straws. See the sample graph on the right.
13. Throw away all the straws when you’re done. You might want to save the clothespins for another project in the future. Discard the dough in the bowls and wash them out. Clean up any spilled flour, sugar or yeast.
This experiment is based on an activity developed by the National Association of Biology Teachers.