Sunday, March 6, 2011

Learning with Chocolate

Chocolate. What wonderful visions and sensations that one word produces. And what a wonderful learning opportunity it provides.

Derived from the cacao bean of South America, and brought to Europe by the Spaniards, chocolate has ingrained itself into Western sweet-toothed culture.

Yet, how much do we really know about this ubiquitous treat?

The study of chocolate (Chocolatology? Cacahuatlology? Cacaology?) easily covers geography, botany, ecology, language arts, history, mathematics, chemistry, as well as providing an excuse for some tasty field trips.

Start your mini-unit study with books such as The Knowledge: Triffic Chocolate, by Alan MacDonald, and The Magic School Bus: In the Rain Forest, by Joanna Cole.

Alan MacDonald’s book explains the origins of chocolate, its introduction to Europe, and consequent development into the huge confection industry we know today. Written in a similar irreverent style to the Horrible Histories series, Triffic Chocolate is funny, interesting, and enlightening.

As with the entire Magic School Bus series, Joanna Cole breathes life and simplicity into the most complex subjects. The characters’ constant questioning and search for answers mirrors the reader’s learning process, as well as models the scientific method. The characters do not always immediately come to the correct answer, but they eventually do through trial and error.

For fiction books where chocolate figures prominently, try The Chocolate Touch, by Patrick Skene Catling, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl, Chocolate Fever, by Robert Kimmel Smith, Lilly's Chocolate Heart, by Kevin Henkes, as well as many others.

Take a break from all that reading to watch The Magic School Bus: In the Rain Forest on video, which explains why cocoa beans need mud to reproduce. The video and book offer a natural segue into learning about rain forests, life cycles, and South America.

Or, go a different direction and watch Alton Brown's Good Eats DVDs. Look for episodes Fudge Factor, Three Chips for Sister Martha, The Art of Darkness, The Art of Darkness II, and The Art of Darkness III. Alton Brown specializes in breaking down and explaining the chemistry behind cooking. Why do ingredients react the way they do? How does tweaking a recipe change the result? What do those complicated directions really mean? A bit of chemistry, combined with the culinary arts, yields a tasty show.

Of course, what homeschool lesson would be complete without a field trip? The Field Museum, based in Chicago, Illinois, takes its Chocolate exhibition on the road, with stops scheduled throughout the U.S.

For a virtual tour, check out The Homework Spot for links to Hershey’s and a video tour of the Scharffen Bergen chocolate factory.

Closer to home is Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco, which holds the Annual Ghiradelli Square Chocolate Festival each September.

After reading, watching, and learning all there is to know about chocolate, it is now time to cook with some. Here is a quick and deliciously decadent dessert, which is great for young children to help with.

Five-minute Chocolate Mug Cake
(Originally published in the June 10, 2009 edition of the San Jose Mercury News. Submitted by Eileen Fukunaga.)
Serves 1
4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips, optional
Small splash vanilla
Put flour, sugar, and cocoa in a large, microwave-safe mug and mix well. Add egg, and mix thoroughly. Pour in milk and oil, and mix well. Add chocolate chips and vanilla, and mix again.
Place mug in microwave and cook for three minutes at 1,000 watts (“high on a 1,000-watt oven, lower setting for ovens with greater maximum wattage). Cake will rise over top of mug. Allow to cool a bit. Tip out onto plate, if desired, or eat straight from the mug. Pour a bit of cream over the top for an even more sinful creation.

A one-mug serving can easily be divided between two people.

Enjoy learning with chocolate!

 Article by Sarah J. Wilson

No comments:

Post a Comment