STREAM Activity: Ice Cream in a Bag

Celebrate the STEM contributions of inventor Nancy Johnson!

Activity best for children ages 2 and up

It’s a new month and guess what? March is a special month because it’s Women’s History Month! To celebrate the amazing women that have helped change the world and all their inspirational contributions to STEM, we are honoring the legacy of Nancy Johnson, the creator of the ice cream machine!

In the early 1800s, ice cream had to be made by hand. This means that there were no machines to make ice cream for us and people needed to make the ice cream using only their hands and a few tools. This would not only take longer to make but it also required a lot of energy to make by hand.

During this time in history, it was uncommon for women to work or have jobs. Although Nancy was a housewife she wanted to help make ice cream–something she and her family enjoyed making together–more affordable and accessible for many other people. Her invention required less salt and ice to make ice cream and was a device that was very simple and easy to use but could make ice cream much quicker than by hand.

She had amazing ideas and showed the world that women can be innovative and change the world too. She wanted to empower other women to never give up and work hard to make your dreams come true. To honor Nancy, an amazing female inventor and what she has contributed our world, we are going to be making homemade Ice Cream in a Bag!

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1 tablespoon sugar

½ cup milk, cream, or half and half

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (or other flavoring)

6 tablespoons salt

2 resealable bags (ideally one larger than the other)

Enough ice to fill the larger resealable bag halfway

Guiding Questions:

What do you think will happen when you mix these materials together?

What happens when you mix the items together?

Why do you think this change happened?


Step 1

Place sugar, milk (can be substituted for cream or half & half), and vanilla into the smaller resealable bag. Seal the bag.

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Step 2

Place the ice and salt into the larger bag.

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Step 3

Then place the small bag with all the other ingredients into the bag with the ice.

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Step 4

Shake your bag for about 5 minutes. (Put on some tunes and have a dance party!)

Step 5

Take out the smaller bag and—voilà! Enjoy your ice cream!

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Grown Ups-Are you looking for more ways to extend your child’s learning? Check out these extension activities to build upon today’s STREAM activity!

Reading Connections

Biggest Ideas: Nancy Johnson the Inventor of the Ice Cream Maker by Yoto

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Science Connections

We have the ability to take certain ingredients and transform it into something delicious. We see our grown-ups do this every day when they cook us delicious meals to eat. But there are many things we can make without cooking and it is all thanks to science! When making our ice cream in a bag, we are exploring the concept of exothermic reactions, which is a chemical reaction that releases heat, which is what freezes the milk into ice cream!