Category Archives: Hands on Learning

Brownie Time!

We’re in luck! You may remember our Kitchen Chemistry experiments we posted throughout last year and now MIT’s Open CourseWare, program is offering an Advanced Kitchen Chemistry class! We will be using this as one aspect of our science/chemistry curriculum again this year and we couldn’t wait to get started. Enter….Brownies. Yes, brownies!

Before we started cooking we had to answer some questions, the first was: What is the  difference between cake flour, bread flour and all-purpose flour? The primary difference is the protein content which becomes gluten. Cake flour has the least amount of protein, (about 8%) while all-purpose has somewhere around 10-11%. finally, bread flour has the most protein AND it’s got a very fine texture. When your making cakes, you would want a flour that’s lower in protein.

Here’s the next question: What are the health benefits of chocolate? In milk and dark chocolate, it can give protection from disease-causing free radicals, potential cancer prevention (says the cocoa plants), improved heart health, good for overall cholesterol profile, better cognitive function, blood pressure\ blood sugar aid, and a SUPERFOOD!!! (which not much of this matters when people are adding piles of sugar on top!)

Next: What are the types of chocolate? SO MANY!!! Unsweetened, bittersweet, semisweet, milk, dark, sweet baking, unsweetened cocoa, white, pre-melted, candy coating, mexican (my personal fav!) and so much more!

Ever wonder why we crave chocolate? We learned about that in DEATH BY CHOCOLATE! an earlier post. Check it out here.

And finally: If you were optimizing the brownie recipe, what things would you examine? We decided the short answer is the type of flour, the amout of chocolate and the quantity of eggs.


We loved baking these little treats! They were cakey and delicious, but too airy for us to call them brownies. This is where the optimization of ingredients begins. Today, we will alter the contents and see if we can create the perfect brownie for us! To be clear, nothing wrong with chocolate cake, but we were striving for a true brownie. :0)

Pots and Pizza…

It was raku day again at Jeff’s studio. The sun had finally come out after what seemed like a week of solid, steady rain. No better time to eat! Just before the pots were removed from the kiln, we began making PIZZAS! Street taco sized tortillas, sauce and cheese, we placed them into the kiln once the pots were removed, for a late morning snack. Minutes later, the bottoms were crisp, the cheese melted and our treats ready to eat. We let them cool while we checked on the pottery pieces, now covered in sawdust. 3 cheers were given by potters and just like that, they were gone!

Oh, the things you can do with a kiln! :0)


On Your Mark… Get Set… Paint!

How do the roots from a garlic plant make their mark? As it turns out, kind of lightly! This week we are learning about how everyday objects in our home and nature work when combined with ink to “make their mark”. The results were different than you might expect!

We started by each finding 5 unique things, both inside and out. There was everything from balloons, matches, a silk flower, a real flower, bamboo tassels, tin foil, leaves, ribbon and of course, a feather! It was trickier than we thought to turn them into “brushes” by connecting the chosen objects and finding a way to secure them into the metal rods, and then onto sticks. But we did it – Hot glue to the rescue!

Once assembled, we ran out of time to do the actual painting, so today, we had that to look forward to. India ink and blank coasters were our medium. One ‘brush’. Dip. Paint. Another one. Dip. Paint. The results were interesting. We liked the marks of the sponge – bold and saturated. We expected a clearer pattern from the flowers, but the ink resisted. The feather, of course caused smiles and oooohhhh! The tassel and embroidery thread brushes were the most paint-brush-like, but not nearly stiff enough to get good control.

So there you have it! Next time you are anywhere in the world, look around you and see if you can imagine making a mark with unexpected things. Once you do, grab it and give it a try!!



Air, Water & Friction!

A couple of weeks back we went on a beach adventure to learn about the evidence air, water and friction in nature, such as the title says!

Driftwood is is one such natural phenomenon that all 3 can be seen. The air moves the water, (along with other forces) which moves the water which pushes the wood. The sand moves up and down and over time – a long time – it abraids the wood, wearing it down. Same as beach glass and, well, stones throughout the rock cycle – which we also love to find. All these things are changed, worn down over time by air, water and friction.

After collecting our favorite pieces of wood, we came back from the beach and started our project. We used twine, a few hooks in the wall, a drill, some white and blue paint, driftwood (there’s a song about that you know!), a big branch and a warm fuzzy blanket to sit on!

We drilled small holes in the tops of the pieces of wood but only the tops. Then we painted the ends white and blue and hung them from the larger branch attached to the ceiling. Now it hangs happily in our learning space, reminding us about the power of the forces of nature!




Borax, the Mineral…

A couple of days ago we made our own homemade crystals out of pipe cleaners, boiling water, a jar, food coloring, a stick of some sort, a length of string and BORAX. You may know this mineral from the brand 20 Mule Team Borax right? Well actually, this is a mineral found in nature, most famously in the Boron mine, California. When Borax crystals first come out of the ground they are translucent but when dehydrated, the deteriorate into a fine, white powder.

Now, we found this super cool DIY online about making these fun crystals. You can check it out here. We tried it and there were some… incidents, so here are a few tips if you want to make some fancy-pancy Borax gems!!!

Tip #1: Try to make as few holes as possible when you’re intertwining your pipe cleaners because as you can see there are fairly large holes in ours even after the crystals grow, much to our dismay!

Tip #2: If you are going to use a mason jar like we did, make sure the rim is big enough to fit the gem through, even after its done growing so just leave a little elbow room! We used the narrow mouthed jar on one of ours and the crystal was forever stuck inside.

Tip #3. Use a TON of food coloring because even after about 30 drops, when we rinsed the crystals it got a LOT lighter so just go crazy with it!!!!!!

The process was super fun. We looked at the final gems under the microscope (check it out at the end of the photos posted) and we thought it was cool how the colorant was gathered around the base of the crystals. It’s a fast and simple project – give it a try for yourself and let us know how it turns out!



Monarch Watch!

Lucky us! Today we joined a local horticulturist, Hannah Nendick-Mason to participate in the University of Kansas’s citizen science program, Project Monarch Watch. You might remember an earlier post where we shared our experience on raising monarchs in our home. If not, check it out here. This made it extra exciting to experience the next level of the monarch journey.

We were quite surprised to see how many Monarchs were at the site where we met! It took some patience and many, many tries before we got the hang of the best way to catch them in the butterfly nets. Once caught, careful handling was in order, a sticker applied to their hind wing and data was collected and recorded. Then, with a good luck wish and blink, they were back on their way, fueling up for their epic flight ahead.

Special thanks to Hannah for having us “tag” along with her on this super fun adventure!



Into the Fire!

A much delayed post, Olive had an amazing chance to participate in a wood kiln firing along with about 8 professional potters at the end of April. She had been learning from Jeff about ‘imperfection’ and how perfect it can be. For so many months, she had been striving to create balance and clean lines on her pieces and now, it was more about texture and the unexpected. Poking, carving, adding, pushing her pieces to see how this form of firing affected her work. She learned more about glazes and temperatures and the unbelievable amount of wood (check out the photo – that is only a portion of what would be used for this single firing) preparation, and labor it takes to fire in a wood kiln. It was exciting to know that the wood ash would create a glaze that varied based on the air flow and were the pieces where located in the kiln. The result was an entirely new aesthetic than what either of us had known about until now! We loved it!