Chemistry of Beer

This semester I will teach a freshman inquiry course, designed by me, called Chemistry of Beer.

In my 20th year of teaching, I will finally teach a course in which I will learn along with my students. Although I know a lot of chemistry, I don’t know much about beer. It will be the instrument of our curiosity, the focus of our questions. What a wonderful way to learn.

Toddlers learn at a remarkable rate.

Talking, walking, playing, baking, eating.

Colors, numbers, songs, ABCs.

Dinosaurs, trains, stories, movies.

They learn by being curious. If we continued to learn at this rate, it wouldn’t take 12 years to prepare for college.

We send our children to school where they learn, among other things, how to sit still, be quiet, wait their turn. How to react to a mean child. How to make friends. Finally to add and read, but not faster than the group. If a child learns slower than the group, they feel bad about learning. If they are uninterested in the topic the group discusses, they become bored. They don’t sit still. They don’t be quiet. They don’t wait their turn.

And the spiral escalates into a dislike for school, and by association, a loss of curiosity and desire to learn.

Even for students who learn rapidly, and those who are comfortable being quiet and sitting still, learning morphs into a quest for good grades, instead of an inherent desire to know everything.

I am thrilled to teach at a college where critical thinking and a thirst for knowledge are appreciated and emphasized. In this inquiry course, we will all learn together. At the beginning of this journey, my anticipation feels like waiting for Santa. I hope my students feel the same.


4 thoughts on “Chemistry of Beer

  1. You have a number of colleagues or former colleagues who are (or were) home brewers if you need any additional resources. I am sure you know that a lot is known and published regarding the chemistry to beer, but hopefully you will be doing much of the learning experimentally yourself. If you want to do a follow-on course, you might want to do a chemistry of whiskey course. Or you could take this in another direction and do a follow-on course on the science of foam.

    1. Great ideas!
      The group is a mixture of majors from biology, teaching, business, political science, undecided, theatre, criminal justice, and a couple of chemists–all new to college. I’m using Roger Barth’s textbook, along with ACS journal articles. There is a remarkable amount of (funded) beer research going on.
      Good to hear from you!

  2. This is a great post! Yes – curious learning is the best learning. I think that is why I enjoyed grad school – I could finally investigate exactly what interested me! I do think it is important to have some kind of formalized learning (i.e., K-12 schooling) for the social growth you mentioned, and also for an exposure to more subject matter than may be encountered at home with the TV blaring. As you noted, the grading system diverts attention away from the self-satisfaction of learning to a recognition of meeting standards. I can’t propose an alternative, and I know many others have struggled to do the same. We don’t want just anyone to be our brain surgeon, we want the best brain surgeon, and we rely on metrics to determine that individual’s qualifications. Again, this is a reason I enjoyed grad school so much. Enrolled alongside thirty others with unique and diverse interests in our field, we were measured individually and not comparatively. My obsession is the pattern and theory of architecture, but I sat next to someone who fixated on structural systems. I received my degree when my thesis defense indicated I had attained a high level of knowledge in my specific focus. That program endures for different lengths for different students, and it’s not considered shameful if you are asked to remain for an additional period of time (although there is, of course, the burden of additional tuition to consider). Unfortunately, I don’t know that the same system can be applied at all ages and levels of learning. For one thing, a five-year-old may have a thorough grasp on addition but lack the communication skills (either spoken or written) to convey that knowledge according to the required formula. For another thing, one teacher taking on 25+ students needs every ounce of organizational structure he/she can have, and that extends to the system of student of evaluation. For practical reasons, he/she cannot spend extended time in dialogue with each individual student. The approach seems to be, as you referenced, to aim for the middle of the pack, which has ramifications for both advanced and divergent learners.

    As a lover of learning and a future educator, I relish the opportunity to consider the way we teach. Thanks for writing this post, Mom 🙂 You are a GREAT teacher, and I can’t wait to hear about your explorations alongside your students.

What do you think of that?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s