Friday, November 18, 2011
The Rest of The Cranberries - A Lesson in Almost Unschooling
From time to time people ask me how "almost unschooling" works with older children. So, I thought I should mention, that while the younger children (ages 5-8), had a lot of fun using cranberry juice as a pH indicator, and learning big words like anthocyanin this week, T (age 14) wanted and needed a greater depth of information.
What does it mean to say something is an acid or a base?
What is an ion (because when you read about acids and bases you read about ions)?
What is pH? And really, why difference does all of that make outside of a chemistry lab?
I've said before, that I view my role as an almost unschooling parent, as one of an educational tour guide. To that end, seeing an interest in my son, I spent an hour or so, looking for books on our shelves...
...or ones available from our local library, or that we could at least read a few pages from with the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon, for instant knowledge, explaining the answers to the questions above.
Then today, while T busied himself reading the books above, and watching a few related videos from BrainPop.com (the one subscription service we use on a regular basis), the younger children, and I continued on with even more cranberry themed lessons.
The older girls made cranberry sauce, using our recipe from last year. That recipe (you can click the link to see it) calls for an entire bag of cranberries, so the girls had to estimate how much of the bag we had left, double checking their calculations by reading the ounces and serving sizes on the bag...
...and then weighing...
...and measuring the cranberries.
They had estimated we had half a bag, and it turned out we had about an ounce more than half a bag. They removed the ounce, and then divided the rest of the recipe in half, before mixing up a batch (that's estimation, measuring, weighing, and dividing fractions, just in case you're keeping track).
While the cranberries, orange juice and sugar were bubbling away in the microwave...
...we read a paragraph about pectin from Joan D'Amico's The Science Chef.
Alton Brown also has a pretty good explanation of what pectin is and how it works, in the "Cran Opening" episode of Good Eats (click the link to find part one of the episode on YouTube).
It takes heat to break down plant cells walls, and free the pectin to do its job. Last year, we ran our sauce for 5 minutes, stirred it, and then ran it for an additional 7 minutes in the microwave. This year, the girls decided (against my advice) with the smaller recipe, less time would probably be needed, so after five minutes...
...they took it out, and strained the jelly into a pretty, flower shaped, silicon type mold, before placing it in the refrigerator to set.
We used the lumpy bits that were left...
...to make a batch of "Grandmother's Famous Cranberry Bread".
You can find the recipe at the back of Wende and Harry Devlin's Cranberry Thanksgiving (a big hit around here), or at Allrecipes.com, by clicking the link above. We substituted pumpkin puree for the orange juice, and added pecans, and it was quite delicious.
Then, while we were still waiting for the cranberry sauce to set up, and had The Science Chef out and handy, I helped C (age 5), make a batch of cranberry pudding, using the last of the cranberry indicator solution (basically cranberry juice), as I had promised her, after our cranberry finger paint fun, the other day.
You can view the pudding mix recipe with the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon, just type "pudding mix" in the search box, but you'll need to actually get your hands on the book to read D'Amico's scientific explanation of corn starch, and how it thickens things like pudding (or finger paint). However, Good Eats also has a "pudding" episode.
I like D'Amico's pudding mix, because it can be mixed with water (or in our case cranberry juice-ish water)...
...to make the pudding. C thought it turned out pretty good.
I actually preferred the taste of the finger paint (which is not really a recommendation for eating either one). Oh, and I was right about the cranberry sauce - it needed more cooking time. It tasted great, but when we removed it from the mold, it did not hold its shape.
We decided to try reheating it, to see what would happen, and in the process learned a lesson on chemical verses physical change in regard to sugar left unattended with heat for too long...
...but that's probably enough for today.
Let's just say, it's great to be a homeschooler.