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.

cheese

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. 

Those who can, teach: Tracking the Painted Lady life cycle with pasta

Hey there, today marks another installment of my handy how-to’s for educators.

This particular activity is awesome when paired with observing Painted Lady butterflies grow and change in your classroom.  It’s a visually appealing model that represents a unique hands-on opportunity to record the stages in the life cycle of organisms in their natural environment — using inexpensive materials and items gathered from outdoors.

caterpillar

Photo by squeakychu

What You’ll Need:

From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman (very basic)
The Lifecycles of Butterflies by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards (more detailed)
Light blue construction paper cut into 3 x 18-inch (8 x 35-cm) strips – one strip per child
Rotini pasta – one piece per child
Bowtie pasta – one piece per child
Mini shell pasta – one piece per child
Orzo pasta (rice also works well) – one piece per child
Small twigs or brown craft stems cut into 3-inch strips – three per child
Fresh leaves or leaves cut from construction paper– two per child
Wildflower or flower sticker – one per child
Washable markers
Liquid water color paint in green and another color of your choice
Scissors
School glue

Kat-Caterpillar to Butterfly

What You Do:

1.    Cut construction paper into strips; one per child.
2.    Color rotini pasta and mini-shell pasta green by placing pasta in a baggie with green liquid water color and shaking gently.  Spread out and allow the pasta to dry.
3.    Color bowtie pasta a bright color of your choice in the same manner.

Next:

1.    Read:  From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman aloud to the class. This story is about a Painted Lady Butterfly raised in a classroom. Painted Lady Butterfly Kits are available in the Houston Museum of Natural Science Museum Store (use your educator’s discount!).  Live specimens will ship to you after you mail in the card contained in the kit — allow time for this.
2.    Take your class on a short field trip in the green areas on school grounds.
3.    Each child will collect three small sticks and two fresh leaves.  (Keep in mind that it is a good idea to check with school administrators to verify that collecting on school grounds is permissible.)
4.    Each child will fold a strip of light blue construction paper into four equal sections, creasing well.
5.    In the first section, a stick and a leaf are glued into the square, as if it were a leaf hanging from the stick.  Glue a single piece of orzo atop the leaf.  What does the orzo represent?
6.    Glue a stick and leaf in a similar way in the second square. Glue a piece of green rotini pasta to the top of the leaf.  What does this represent?
7.    In the third square, a stick should be glued with one mini-shell pasta hanging straight from the middle.  What does this represent?
8.    In the last square, a flower or flower sticker will be glued, along with the colorful piece of bowtie pasta.  What does the bowtie pasta represent?  Why do we have the flower in this square?
9.    Label each section as follows:  EGG, CATERPILLAR, CHRYSALIS, and BUTTERFLY.  They must be labeled in this order.
10.    Have children practice presenting the butterfly life cycle to one another using the project that was created.

Cockrell Butterfly Center

Questions to expand those  kiddie minds:

Why did you glue the “egg” and the “caterpillar” to the leaves?
Why did you glue the “chrysalis” to the stick?
Why was there a flower with our butterfly?
How many stages are there in the butterfly’s life cycle?
How is your life cycle similar to the life cycle of a butterfly?  How is it different?
Name other life cycles you observe around you.

Enjoy!