Report from Northfield, MN – the founding Young Chefs chapter

Graduating Carleton College senior Kharmen Bharucha elegantly recounts her experiences during her last semester leading the Young Chefs program at the local middle school in Northfield, MN.

Last term at Northfield Middle School, instead of using lesson plans that covered different science topics every week, we decided to teach a series of protein-themed lesson plans. These included: Puffy Pancakes: The Science of Foams; Caramelizing Catalysts: Exploring Catalysts Through Caramelized Onions; Do Curds Just Want to Be Cheese? No Whey! Exploring Enzymes Through Homemade Burrata Cheese; and What’s the Deal with Eggs?: Demystifying Heating and Whisking Eggs.

After four weeks, the Young Chefs were familiar with protein structure, amino acids, foams, denaturation, enzymes, and catalysts! These are complex topics that merit months and months of study. The repetition seemed to help the students be more comfortable learning new science concepts. Furthermore, the spacing effect stipulates that learning is greater when studying is spread out over time. We saw this in action! The students seemed to remember more and more after each week. For example, during our first introduction to proteins, students knew that muscles were made of protein. We discussed that proteins are made of amino acids. During week 2, during a recap of the material we had covered last week, we asked students what proteins are made of. Some, but not all, students remembered that proteins are made of amino acids. During week 3, most students were able to remember that proteins are made of amino acids. We think that spacing out the information helped reinforce the concepts with the students. However, since each lesson plan addressed a different aspect of protein science, the students did not seem to be bored by the material. It is really important to us that our students are engaged while learning science and have positive associations of it. Having a lesson plan theme helps us accomplish our goals of teaching students science and making it fun!

If you are interested in leading a series of lessons with a scientific theme, view the “Curriculum Overview: Standards, Skills, and Connectivity” document at https://youngchefsprogram.org/educators/teaching/ and consult the Lesson Plan Grid: Culinary and Scientific Concepts. This is an excellent resource that displays which lesson plans address the same scientific concepts. For example, you could lead a science theme of starch gelatinization (bisque, risotto, tart); pH (caning salsa, pickles, cookies); sensation, perception, and taste (umami, chilies); density and emulsions (salad dressing, smoothies); physical and chemical changes (popcorn, chocolate, ice cream, cheese, salad dressing, onions, and pancakes). Regardless of whether you lead Young Chefs with a theme, we hope you have a good time and look forward to hearing about your experiences!

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