Hands-on Activity: Package Those Foods!

Contributed by: Engineering K-PhD Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University

Photograph of 10 Campbells soup cans with plastic lids on a grocery store shelf.
These soup containers are engineered to be heated in the microwave.
copyright
Copyright © 2007 Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University

Summary

Student groups are challenged to create food packages for specific foods. They focus on three components in the design of their food packages; the packages must keep the food clean, protect or aid in the physical and chemical changes that can take place in the food, and present the food appealingly. They design their packaging to meet these requirements.

Engineering Connection

An entire industry is devoted to packaging engineering and this industry is expanding as more and more products are created. Packaging engineers focus on the same components as students in this design challenge, which includes research, design, production, marketing and analysis.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • New products and systems can be developed to solve problems or to help do things that could not be done without the help of technology. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Throughout history, new technologies have resulted from the demands, values, and interests of individuals, businesses, industries, and societies. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Design is a creative planning process that leads to useful products and systems. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • There is no perfect design. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Requirements for design are made up of criteria and constraints. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Brainstorming is a group problem-solving design process in which each person in the group presents his or her ideas in an open forum. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Modeling, testing, evaluating, and modifying are used to transform ideas into practical solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Specify criteria and constraints for the design. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Test and evaluate the design in relation to pre-established requirements, such as criteria and constraints, and refine as needed. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Make a product or system and document the solution. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Technological advances in agriculture directly affect the time and number of people required to produce food for a large population. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • A wide range of specialized equipment and practices is used to improve the production of food, fiber, fuel, and other useful products and in the care of animals. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Biotechnology applies the principles of biology to create commercial products or processes. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Artificial ecosystems are human-made complexes that replicate some aspects of the natural environment. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • The development of refrigeration, freezing, dehydration, preservation, and irradiation provide long-term storage of food and reduce the health risks caused by tainted food. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Explain how the properties of some materials change as a result of heating and cooling. (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Illustrate the transfer of heat energy from warmer objects to cooler ones using examples of conduction, radiation and convection and the effects that may result. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Understand characteristics of energy transfer and interactions of matter and energy. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Explain the suitability of materials for use in technological design based on a response to heat (to include conduction, expansion, and contraction) and electrical energy (conductors and insulators). (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
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Pre-Req Knowledge

Prior to this activity, students should have a basic understanding of the following:

  • Physical properties of matter: mass, volume, melting point, boiling point and texture.
  • Chemical properties of matter: combustibility, solubility, flammability.
  • Physical changes: phase change, shape change.
  • Chemical changes: oxidization, evolution of gas.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Identify three key functions of a typical food package.
  • Explain how each food package design works.
  • Identify the chemical and physical changes different types of materials prevent or facilitate.
  • Explain what a food packaging engineer does.

Materials List

Each group needs:

  • The materials that the group chooses for its project and brings from home.
  • The food assigned to the group.

To share with the entire class:

  • scissors
  • tape
  • glue
  • markers
  • string
  • stapler and staples

Introduction/Motivation

One specialty in engineering focuses on the food packaging industry. Food packaging engineers produce packages for all types of food that are both marketable and functional in selling the food.

Today, you have been contracted by the biggest food company, Food Kings, to create a package for one of their food products. However, you only get paid if you create a package that makes Food Kings lots of money. So prepare for your first task as a food package engineer!

Vocabulary/Definitions

boiling point: The temperature at which a substance changes from liquid to gas.

melting point: The temperature at which a substance changes from solid to liquid.

phase change: A transition between liquid and gas or liquid and solid.

solubility: The ability for a substance, the solute, to dissolve in a solvent.

Procedure

Background

Three important functions of food packages, as taught in the Food Packaging lesson, are:

  1. To keep the food clean.
  2. To protect the food product from unwanted physical and chemical changes (such as oxidation and destruction from insects) and to facilitate in desired physical changes (such as heating or cooling).
  3. To identify the product and provide sales appeal.

The challenge is for groups to strive to have their packages fulfill these three functions.

Students must first choose what types of materials they want to use to make their packages. They can research this through the food packaging materials worksheet as well as the Internet, based on how extensive the teacher want the research to be. The materials must correspond to the physical and chemical changes that are involved in the group's food.

In addition to choosing package materials, students must also choose the structural designs of their packages. Following are a number of structures and their characteristics and purposes:

  • Cartons are rigid and provide support for fluid foods.
  • Boxes are usually used as a secondary package to store foods that are sold in quantities larger than one, but are individually wrapped and give structure and support.
  • Bags are flexible so can be stored easily.
  • Cans hold liquids and carbonation well and can be stacked well.
  • Bottles hold liquids and carbonation well and are resealable.
  • Wrappers are light and do not take up too much space.

Before the Activity

A day or two before the activity:

  • After going through the Food Packaging lesson, divide the class into groups of two or three students each.
  • Assign each group a food to create a package for and have them brainstorm the design and types of materials they will need, with help from the Food Packaging Materials Worksheet.
  • Give the students the Food Packaging Rubric so that they know what is expected of their package.
  • Assign students to bring from home the materials that they plan to use.

The day of the activity:

  • Gather materials that you are providing (glue, tape, etc.). Make sure you have enough for every group of two to share.
  • Gather the foods that you assigned to the groups.

With the Students

  1. Give each student or group of students the food that was assigned to them along with the Food Packaging Rubric.
  2. Check to make sure each of the students/groups brought their own unique materials with them, and pass out the materials you are providing (tape, scissors, etc.)
  3. Give students 20 to 30 minutes to create their packages.
  4. Once completed, ask each group to share their package with the class as a 2-3 minute presentation to Food Kings on why their package works.

Attachments

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Food Analysis: Ask students to describe the physical properties of their foods and identify the chemical and physical changes that they need to pay attention to in the creation of their food packages.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Student Package Evaluations: Students use the attached Food Packaging Evaluation Worksheet to evaluate their food packages as well as the food packages of three other groups. Have groups each place their package on a desk with a brief description. Then, have all the students walk around individually to fill out their evaluations on different packages.

Post-Activity Assessment

Teacher Package Evaluations: Use the Food Packaging Rubric. to evaluate and grade the groups' designs.

Activity Extensions

Prior to this activity, have students create their own food that requires packaging. The creation can involve design, analysis of the nutritional content of the food, discussion of the genetic modification of foods, among other scientific aspects of food engineering.

Activity Scaling

  • For lower grades, require fewer food package functions as design requirements. For example, students could focus more on shapes and aesthetic designs of the structure than the materials used to make it.
  • For upper grades, require more food package functions be met. For example, students could engage a fourth function: for the package to be inexpensive, both in its materials and transportation. They could also look more thoroughly into the chemical changes and properties of the food and packaging materials. In some cases, they could test their designs.

References

American Management Association. Packaging Division. Packaging for Retail Impact, with Specific Applications to the Dairy, Meat, Candy and Baking Industries. New York, NY: American Management Association, 1965.
"Packaging Food in Glass." Packaging Materials for Food - Practical Answers. Published September 25, 2006. Practical Action. The Schumacher Centre for Technology & Development. Accessed April 26, 2007. https://www.teachengineering.org/collection/duk_/activities/duk_foodpackage_music_act/packaging_food_in_glass_reference.pdf

Contributors

Chloe Mawer

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2007 Duke University

Supporting Program

Engineering K-PhD Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University

Acknowledgements

This content was developed by the MUSIC (Math Understanding through Science Integrated with Curriculum) Program in the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. DGE 0338262. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

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