Educator How-To: Cross-curricular Education Gets Cheesy

As educators, we all want students to understand the world holistically, but we still tend to teach each subject independent from all other subjects. Food is an effective way to capture the attention of students and provide a useful tool for creating a more global and cross-curricular learning environment. This global approach to learning has been shown to produce deeper understanding of the concepts being taught.

Making cheese, which seems on its face to be a fun break or a supplemental activity, can be used to discover important concepts and ideas that span an entire range of subjects.  These subjects include, but are not limited to, chemistry, history, and geography. Hands-on learning activities help to create interest and to create better retention of learned material.cheese meme

In that spirit, try one of my favorite activities. I use this activity at the Houston Museum of Natural Science to make learning and discovery memorable. It is a culminating activity for my Iron Age lab. It’s simple, affordable, and the kids love it! Why not give it a try?

A Little Bite of Cheesy History

Milk has been a major source of nutrition from the earliest of times. Milk is full of protein, fat, calcium and other important vitamins and minerals. It just so happens that it’s also full of water and sugars, which have no real nutritional value and cause the milk to spoil quickly without refrigeration. With the invention of cheese, man found an ingenious way to prolong the shelf-life of milk.

Because bacteria love a moist and nutrient-rich environment, milk spoils easily. In antiquity, there was no refrigeration, so unless it was cold outside, fresh milk could not be saved from day to day. No one knows how, but our ancestors figured out the trick to preserving milk. They discovered that calves have a substance called rennet in their stomachs that separates the milk solids and fats from the water in the milk they suckle from their mothers. We know that animal stomachs were used to transport and hold liquid, so it’s possible the milk turning to curds and whey was a fortuitous accidental discovery.

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Goat stomach still used to make cheese in Sardinia. Photo by Ivano Atzori.

The first cheesemakers found that if they added some rennet to fresh milk, it would soon separate into two separate parts. We call these two parts the curds (where the good stuff is) and whey (mostly made up of water and some sugars). They learned that they could extract even more moisture from the curds if they cut them up and added salt to them, which also had the benefit of adding flavor to the cheese. Heating and pressing were also used to expel additional liquid from the curds. If left to age, molds and bacteria colonized the cheese, making it even more tasty! Thus was born an easy-to-make, non-perishable, transportable food for everyone!

Tasty Science: Make Your Own Ricotta!

Let’s get started! Here’s what you need:

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Pots
  • Hot plates (or a stove)
  • Mixing spoons
  • Large bowls
  • Sieves
  • Cheesecloth
  • Water
  • Paper towels

First, set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen two layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth. Next, pour the milk and cream into a pot and stir in the salt.

Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Then, turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for one minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

Pour the mixture of curds and whey into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta.

Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for four to five days.

This is a basic but tasty cheese and anyone can be successful in making it. If you decide to incorporate this activity into your classroom, please share your “cheesy” pictures with HMNS on Facebook or Instagram under the hashtag #HMNS. 

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Amid King Tut Tumult, Hardwick Re-Caps What We Really Know About this Famous Pharaoh

Over the weekend in Cairo, conflict broke out in the archaeology community. Ground-penetrating radar has revealed peculiar results that some believe indicate additional rooms behind a solid wall in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Others reject this new theory.

British Egyptologist Nicolas Reeves offered up this theory last year following scanning results that he says suggest two open spaces filled with metal and organic matter. Zahi Hawass, famous Egyptologist and former Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, remains dubious.

Those backing Reeves are pushing to excavate, but to the naysayers, causing damage to the ancient burial chambers to follow a hunch is something antiquities of this magnitude can ill-afford. But one thing’s for certain in this battle of the minds — the issue has renewed interest in the exploration of these chambers that once housed one of pharaonic Egypt’s most iconic figures, a boy-king buried behind a magnificent golden mask.

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Burial Chamber. North wall of the burial chamber of Tutankhamun, Valley of the Kings. Some archaeologists believe an additional space exists behind this ancient artwork.

As the world of archaeology continues to bring to light new information on the issue, Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Consulting Curator of Egyptology Tom Hardwick is keeping his eye on the ball. No matter what news should erupt from Egypt in the next few weeks, he believes a return to the science of King Tut is of greater importance.

“In point of fact, we still know relatively little about him, and yet we try to read our own interests and preoccupations into the evidence,” Hardwick said. “The facts we in the 21st century want to know about people, who their parents were, what they thought, is information which the evidence from an Egyptian burial context doesn’t give you.”

Tut’s character as a “poor, sweet little boy” are fabrications of our own culture, Hardwick said, a kind of ontology that requires as much the injection of our society’s values into ancient history as the discoveries we’ve made from exploration, interpretation and scientific testing. And the marriage of the two is a big problem.

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King Tutanhkamun’s famous death mask.

 

“It’s a matter of conjecture and filling in the gaps, and what we use to fill in the gaps tells us far more about us than what it tells about Tut and his family,” Hardwick said. “You’re trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, but the way in which you do it is invariably influenced by who you are and your own preoccupations.”

From evidence unearthed from the tomb of a single pharaoh like Tutankhamun, we can learn more about the society and culture of entire Egyptian states in 1300 B.C. than we can about the pharaoh’s life. Hardwick will explore this thesis in an HMNS Distinguished Lecture Wednesday night. His presentation will compare the solid facts the archaeological community has accumulated over time with the stories we’ve invented to enrich the science with narrative.

“It’s interesting how things change over time,” Hardwick said. “It’s like a game of telephone. Conjectures get solidified into facts, then used as the base for further conjectures.”

Tom Hardwick

Egyptologist Tom Hardwick.

The story of the original discovery of King Tut’s tomb highlights another central issue involving the international trade of Egyptian antiquities — where do these finds belong? In the countries of the archaeologists who discovered them or the nations in which they were discovered? In Hardwick’s words, King Tut was “a wind-vane of our own preoccupations” at the time of his discovery.

When British archaeologist Howard Carter found Tutankhamun’s tomb in the 1920s through painstaking research and excavation in the Valley of the Kings, the several thousand exquisite objects inside became the subject of great contention between Egypt and Great Britain. In the years following, the tug-of-war elevated King Tut to an iconic status as a symbol of the struggle of two governments to come to a mutual resolution in the interest of human history.

Visit HMNS Wednesday night to hear these stories and more as news develops in Cairo. To see our own collection of historical treasures, explore the Hall of Ancient Egypt.

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Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 5/9-5/15

Last week’s featured #HMNSBlockParty creation is by Charlie Bartley (age 8): 

block party 21

Want to get your engineering handwork featured? Drop by our Block Party interactive play area and try your own hand building a gravity-defying masterpiece. Tag your photos with #HMNSBlockParty.

Lecture – Historical View of Guadalupan Faith, Origin and Development by Ana Rita Valero
Tuesday, May 10
6:30 p.m.
The apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe took place in the vicinity of the Sierra de Guadalupe during December 1531. Anthropologist Dr. Ana Rita Valero de Garcia Lascurain will describe the political, economic and social environment before the Spanish conquest and the historical elements which incited the miracle of the 16th century. Valero will also trace the development and expansion of the Guadalupe fervor.

Class – Constructing the Home Vegetable Garden
Wednesday, May 11, at 10:00 a.m. & Saturday, May 14, at 9:30 a.m.
This class is for anyone who wants to build a vegetable or fruit garden at their home. Each step of the process will be presented, covering key components such as choosing a site, choosing soil, an irrigation system, building materials and tools. Also troubleshooting tips are offered of what to watch out for in order to create a successful garden build.
Sponsored by Urban Harvest.

Lecture – Tutankhamun: the Life, Death and Strange Afterlife of an Egyptian King
Wednesday, May 11
6:30 p.m.
Tutankhamun is probably the best-known of Egyptian rulers today; yet he was almost totally forgotten in Egypt within a couple of generations of his death. In this entertaining lecture, HMNS curator Tom Hardwick will place Tutankhamun in the context of his time, and looks at how-and why-the boy king’s legacy has been publicized and exploited. Hardwick will also incorporate the latest news on the possible existence of further, undiscovered chambers in his tomb.

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On Display in the Museum Store from Los Matachines De Durango

by Marina Torres

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With the opening of the Virgen de Guadalupe exhibit in December 2015, it was important to create a display to reflect the religious figure and the culture. Unfortunately for my oldest sister, she had to undergo knee surgery and would not be able to participate in the Virgen de Guadalupe festivities. However, this led her into letting us borrow and showcase the Matachine skirt she wears for the ritual dance in honor of the Virgen de Guadalupe.

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Catrina Display located in the Museum Store.

Los Matachines de Durango is a group of danzantes, line dancers sometimes called soldiers. A group of approximately 25 to 30 people perform for the Virgen De Guadalupe each year on Dec. 12, her birthday along with multiple dates around Christmas time. They practice throughout the year to make up new steps for the dance and to teach new dancers who join the group.

Matachines De Durango.

Matachines De Durango.

Key elements of the costume consists of the Naguilla, the skirt with the image of “La Virgen de Guadalupe” emblazoned on it, with carrisos, small flutes that create noise while the group dances. The Guaje, similar to a maraca, is carried with the left hand of the danzante and used as a percussive musical instrument to mark time during the dance. The Jara, similar to a wooden bow, is used in the choreography as the instrument that signals the dancers to start dancing or when the Monarca will change a step. Lastly, a red bandana symbolizes a crown.

Naguilla.

Naguilla.

Guaje and Jara used in the choreography.

Guaje and Jara used in the choreography.

The ritual dance is led by the Monarcas, the captains which consist of three danzantes who stand at the head of the files and coordinate during the dance. El Viejo, the Grandfather, is the dance character who provides order and sometimes comedy in the group, and the dancers look to El Tamborero, the person who plays the large drum and makes up the main dance music for the matachines, to know when to start.

Monaracas.

Monaracas.

El Viejo.

El Viejo.

El Tamborero.

El Tamborero.

Danzante honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Danzante honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Guests adoring the Virgen de Guadalupe shrine.

Guests adoring the Virgen de Guadalupe shrine.

Choreography.

Choreography.

Danzantes lined up.

Danzantes lined up.

The Monarca leads and signals the dancers when to start and they all start with honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe. Once the dancers greet and honor La Virgen, the Monarca signals the guests to pass through the lines to also honor and greet her. Once everyone greets La Virgen de Guadalupe, the Monarca signals the danzantes to begin their performance. Each choreographed dance takes between two and four minutes and each one represents a prayer. Each full performance may last from 30 to 60 minutes. This depends on the hostess who requested the Matachines to dance and how much time they want the performance done. During the performance, El Viejo will do his part in keeping the guests entertained with some dance jokes. After the hostess informs the Monarca that the celebration is at an end, the Monarca signals the danzantes to do the last honoring of La Virgen de Guadalupe in order to say goodbye for now and to keep watching over everyone who was there for the celebration.

Come watch the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Association perform a special Mother’s Day procession in honor of the Holy Mother with music, dancing, elaborate costumes and Aztec feather headdresses this evening at 6:30 p.m.

Editor’s Note: Marina is the Visual Manager for the Houston Museum of Natural Science Museum Store.

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