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Is that edible? Rowland Hall students apply scientific method while cooking
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sara Young considers herself "probably the worst cook ever," so why is the Rowland Hall Middle School teacher leading a class learning to make peanut brittle, mozzarella cheese and root beer?

It's not that kind of cooking class. In "Edible Science," -- a week-long summer course taught last week at the Salt Lake City school -- the emphasis wasn't so much on creating gourmet dishes as on understanding the science behind the cooking.

Although, no one complained if the finished product was tasty.

"It's a good chance for the kids to learn about science, but in a way that's not pressure-oriented," explained Young, an eighth-grade science teacher. "It's very relaxed, and I think it helps them see that science can be fun, and it's not straight from a textbook."

Young has been known to bungle toast, but she is surprisingly adept at teaching kids to cook when science is involved.

Instead of recipes, students used "procedures." And rather than using pots, pans and a stove, Young's middle-schoolers used Bunsen Burners, beakers, thermometers and graduated cylinders.

Wearing protective goggles, they learned the different ways sugar crystallizes at varying temperatures and about how ginger ale and root beer get their fizz.

For many middle-schoolers, conducting experiments tends to be anticlimactic because they know what's going to happen, Young said.

But, when dealing with food, "they never know what they're going to get."

"When they made peanut butter, all the kids roasted nuts at different temperatures or for different amounts of time," Young said. "So we had really, really light peanut butter all the way to black-tar peanut butter."

For Trevor Falls, 13, his favorite activity was making brie and mozzarella cheese.

The cheese looked gross as it curdled, but the brie ended up being surprisingly delicious, while the mozzarella, as predicted, was disgusting.

As for partners Mallory Metz and Jimmy Seiner, their favorite part was making peanut brittle.

It's not a coincidence that it was also the yummiest treat they made all week. Aside from the pleasing flavor, it was fun for the students to watch the contents of their beakers foam over just like in a real chemistry lab.

Hands-on learning is how Young first fell in love with science. At 12, she conducted an experiment involving the browning of apples. The project got bigger and bigger, until her house was full of apples and accompanying fruit flies.

That enthusiasm to learn has not diminished.

This summer, the science teacher -- who got her undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado and master's at Lesley University in Boston -- will head east for a month-long adventure.

Young's slated to participate in Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists, a program in which seven teachers nationwide are invited to work alongside particle physicists and other scientists from the Department of Energy.

Teachers will spend the month at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia, serving as research assistants.

It's a way to engage the classroom with the research community, and help teachers feel more comfortable discussing current research.

And luckily for Young, a weekly food stipend is provided, so she won't have to cook.

ndicou@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">ndicou@sltrib.com

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