High School students are given an introduction to chemical engineering by making a cup of coffee….from raw beans to a fresh brew.
Flux. It’s a state that we are all too familiar with these days! But our High School chemistry students got to understand what it means as a physics term, while in a course about….coffee.
That’s right — in the High School the conventionally-named “Introduction to Chemical Engineering” course introduces students to the field of chemical engineering through roasting, grinding and brewing coffee beans and applying this knowledge towards developing the perfect cup of coffee using the least amount of energy. This curriculum, developed by University of California Davis, has been adopted by a few leading schools, including HKIS sister school Concordia International School Shanghai.
The course, taught by High School chemistry teacher Joanne Brown (a closet tea drinker; don’t read too much into that), brings together students in grades 10, 11 and 12 from all levels of science classes. Students hone fundamental skills such as organizing data sets, graphing techniques, as well as gaining tangible experience creating and observing different processes, such as the aforementioned flux (Engineering 101: this is the movement of particles across a surface; for coffee, the finer the grind, the more surface area, therefore more movement across the particles–the higher the flux, the richer the flavor).
When DragonTales popped in for a visit, students were in the process of caffeine extraction. They had all worked independently to control a variable–a bean, a roast type, different grind sizes, different temperatures of water, different brew methods.
Student Isaac Cheng explained his task for the day. “Last week I started to ferment these beans with yeast to experiment with increasing the flavor depth and complexity. Different bacteria and culture creates different flavors. The easiest one to get is yeast, which I can get in Wellcome, so I used yeast!”
Beans on Roast: Ms. Brown examines the roasting equipment.
He reflects on the difference between this course and more traditional chemistry courses. “It makes chemistry more fun. We can see and taste what we’re doing, and how we can change that. There’s a real emphasis on how we do it. The procedures for making it have to be very stringent to change one variable at a time, the scientific method, to get the coffee that we want, especially when there are so many variables we can control. This course helps us understand the scientific method of changing one variable at a time to create the best outcome for this coffee.”
“Especially when you try new things, you have to research it, you have to learn more, which is very interesting,” he adds. Ms. Brown can see clearly the learning that takes place for students with all levels of experience. “Students are going to leave the course and understand an engineering process that can be applied to a lot of materials around us that come from raw sources and have to be processed and made into what we use.”
This course showcases the types of classes that the High School is offering to students. It’s a “design thinking” approach (how do students problem-solve creatively), blended with a choice-based approach (how can students pick a course that is interesting to them, so they learn core concepts in an accessible and fun way). Keep an eye on the High School–there’s more to come!
Conclusions Percolating: Coffee labs underway.
“It makes chemistry more fun. We can see and taste what we’re doing, and how we can change that. There’s a real emphasis on how we do it. The procedures for making it have to be very stringent to change one variable at a time, the scientific method, to get the coffee that we want, especially when there are so many variables we can control. This course helps us understand the scientific method of changing one variable at a time to create the best outcome for this coffee.”
Aromatic Hour: Students finalize their labs.
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