Monday, January 9, 2012

Book Review: Gourmet Lab

While at the NSTA area conference in Seattle, last December, I met Sarah Young, author of the book, Gourmet Lab. Her book has students boiling, baking, measuring, and eating, all in an inquiry way to learn about biochemistry, states of matter, and acids and bases. Students doing edible labs apply the scientific method, develop critical thinking, all in context of a strong motivation to "get it right!" Students learn about science in a way that is meaningful and it tastes good too!

The labs in the book Gourmet Lab are divided into four general science content topics; Changes of Matter, Acids and Bases, Biochemistry, and Molecular Structure. For example, yeast and fermentation in the Ballpark Pretzels lab introduces the fermentation of sugar. Using apples to make applesauce in the Melting Apples lab, help reinforce the concepts of phase changes. The NSTA website provides a free download of the introductory pages of the book along with a free sample chapter. I highly suggest taking a look!

If you are thinking, "I don't even like cooking at home, why would I do in the the lab?" I still would encourage you to take a look at this wonderful NSTA Press resource. One of my favorite aspects is that science terms replace common grocery store terms. Student handouts include the technical terms for the edible products instead of the term that students might see in the grocery store. For example, "emulsified colloid of liquid butterfat in H2O" is actually whole milk. For those of us who might not know these terms, the teacher pages includes a grocery shopping list that includes a decoded version of these terms. In Sarah's NSTA Press presentation, she suggested that keeping the product within its original container, but relabeling it with the scientific term helps reinforce that science is a part of students' everyday lives.

Me with Sarah Young at NSTA Seattle Area Conference

Each student handout includes a background section. This section provides a context for the lab. Science terms are explained, and a question is posed at the end of this section that piques students' interest in finding an answer. The other sections in the student handout include: Hypothesis, materials needed, procedure, data and observation, data analysis, and conclusion and connections. They hypothesis section is written so that the teacher can require any structure of hypothesis he/she would prefer. For example, in the Exploding Corn student pages, it reads, "For this experiment, you will be measuring the overall mass of the corn as it goes from kernel to popcorn. What do you predict will happen to the mass during the experiment? Make a hypothesis stating how the mass will change, with an explanation of why you think that change will occur" (pg. 20). Teachers can either suggest students write "if-then" hypotheses, or a just a statement that connects the changes of mass and volume of the two states of popcorn. The materials are listed so that students work in groups. The procedure section is numbered and easy for students to follow.

I particularly like the tables in the data and observations section and the suggestions for how to analyze the data in the data analysis section. But the conclusion and connections section is where the "meat" (punn intended) of the lab is found. Students are asked to really think about what it is the data are telling them. The questions do NOT assume that the lab worked perfectly (a huge drawback to many cookie-cutter labs). Students are given opportunity to explain the actual data they got and then apply it not only the edible world of science, but also to the non-edible world of science.

What I love about the student pages in the Gourmet Lab is that they can be adapted to meet any level of inquiry. For example, if students have not previously written hypotheses or procedures, printing out the student handout in its entirety will guide students appropriately through the concepts. However, you might instead choose to only provide students with the background page, and have them decide what their experiment will test (write a hypothesis) and then design a procedure that will test it! What I suggest, is that teachers first implement labs providing students with the entire handout, and then with each successive lab, put more and more responsibility onto the student, allowing them to design more of the scientific research process!

The real value in this book is in the Teacher Pages. For each lab, there are teacher pages that include brief introduction, standards addressed, materials needed (decoded for the grocery store), safety highlights, preparation, procedure, sample answer keys (students data may be somewhat different), cross-curricular notes, and optional extensions. Because of the good organization, and easy to use student and teacher pages, the Gourmet Lab is a good book for middle school, high school, and homeschooling teachers.

In addition to an amazing NSTA Press book, Sarah herself is an exemplary middle school teacher. You will enjoy this book!

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