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Lesson Plans
Say Cheese
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials
Prep for Teachers

Prior to teaching this lesson, please bookmark all sites mentioned above for the students' use. Take the time to CUE all of your videotapes to the first viewing segment on each tape. Prepare three to five long strings of paper clips hooked end to end to make a chain. Prepare the hands-on activity lab set-ups with the materials for each pair. Pre-pour the apple cider vinegar or lime juice into the glass for the demonstration. Photocopy the student handouts. Be sure to make enough copies to allow for spillage accidents in the lab.
Please go through the instructions from the student handouts as a student would to make sure you are familiar with the materials prior to class use.

When using media, always provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after the viewing of video segments, Web sites, and/or other multimedia elements.

Introductory Activities: Setting the Stage

The following activities will provide your students with a personal link to the subjects we are studying in this lesson: survival on the frontier and food preparation/preservation. In order to better understand the process of cheese-making, which culminates this lesson, the class needs a little background in the chemistry behind the process.

Please take the time to explain to the class that proteins are molecules made of long chains of little building blocks called amino acids. For our purpose today we are say each paper clip is an amino acid.

Step 1:

Divide your students into pairs. Have each pair of students make three or four long chains of ten paper clips each. Show the class the chains you have made.

Ask the students to place their chains in a pile on the table in front of them. Now each of the students should pick up one paper clip and gently lift it from the pile. They should be able to pick up the strands with a minimal amount of tugging. Now ask the class what they can tell about the molecules from the way they act. (They should respond with answers such as the chains slide past each other; they got stuck; or they tied in a knot. The point is that the proteins are flexible and can bend, twist, or slide past each other like spaghetti noodles in a bowl.)

Step 2:

Have each lab pair start connecting the individual strands of paper clips to each other by attaching clips to the sides of the links of the chains (like they are going to make a net). You will need to explain that this process is something that happens in nature when the amino acids connect in a different way to change the structure and properties of the proteins. This process is called cross-linking.

After they have used all of their extra clips to cross-link the strands, have each pair of students to place the proteins back down on the table. Take time to discuss any similarities or differences in the proteins that the students may notice. (They should notice the shape of the pile is different as the extra bonds do not allow the pile to lie as flat anymore. The pile may take up more room on the table top.)

Have one of the students in each pair try to pick up a strand of protein. Ask what has happened. (The connected strands are stiffer and have a greater tendency to catch on each other. They are not as flexible any more. This is because the amino acids have "rearranged" their bonds and become "denatured.")

Step 3:

Pour the vinegar or lime juice into a clear plastic cup in front of the class. Ask for a volunteer from the class. Ask the volunteer to very carefully break the fresh egg and let it gently fall into the liquid. Be sure to explain that we want the yolk to remain whole. Please explain to the class that white of an egg is almost pure protein of a type called albumen. The yolk of an egg is mostly fat. Ask the class to predict what they think will happen to the egg in the liquid over a period of time. Have the students write their predictions down in the space provided at the top of the “Westward Ho!” worksheet. Set the egg in the glass aside until the end of the period for observation. You may wish to have the egg set overnight before the final observation is made. (Gradually over a period of time, which varies with the freshness of the egg and the strength of the vinegar, the clear liquid white of the egg will appear to congeal and become "cooked." This process is caused by the same rearrangement of bonding in the protein strands shown with the paper clips: denaturing.)

At this point you will need to explain to the class that a great deal of the food preparation and preservation which we have used in the past and present is based on simple chemical reactions or traits. Even the people of ancient times used their knowledge of food composition and reactions to survive the harsh environments they encountered.

Explain to your class that they will be examining one group of people from the past: homesteaders in the American West during the late 1800s. Tell your students that there was a television program made in which three modern families – the Clunes from California, the Glenns from Tennessee, and the Brooks from Massachusetts – volunteered to give up all modern conveniences and live in the mountains of Montana for five months. The families' challenge was to live and prepare for the winter, just as a homesteading family of the land rush times would have done. Tell your class that they are going to be looking at short video clips from this series to try to understand what it was like to homestead and how the daily work of a woman homesteader was the same or different from what they know of today.

Step 4:

Place the tape with Frontier House #1: The American Dream in the VCR. Divide the students into small groups of 4 or 5 to work on the first of the questions found on the “Westward Ho!” worksheet.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to answer question 1, "Why did so many people take their entire family and move west during the days of frontier expansion in the late 1800s?" on the “Westward Ho!” worksheet. START the tape at the end of the opening credits with the words "Viewers Like You" on screen. PLAY the tape until the words "The American Dream" appear on the screen. STOP the tape.

Allow the students about five minutes to complete the questions and develop a group answer to the question. (Answers will vary; accept all reasonable answers. Possible answers include: free land – you could get 140 acres for a five dollar claim filing fee, adventure, escape from problems like religious or social persecution.)

Step 5:

Have each group use the overhead table provided with this lesson to briefly report out their answers. Discuss similarities and differences found in their answers. (Students should be able to generate the answers shown above. Some students may also voice the opinion that people could have been fleeing civilization, running from the law, trying to make a new start in a new place to get away from old problems, looking for someplace that was wide open and they could call their own... Any of these points are valid and should be accepted.)

Now ask each student to look at question 2 on the worksheet, "The process of 'proving a claim' was one that involved staying on the land, building a permanent home there, and generally improving the value of the land by making a living there. What do you think would have been the three biggest problems to proving their claims faced by the settlers that moved to the Montana territory in the 1880s?" Ask them to complete this item individually as to what they as think were the three major problems homesteaders faced in "proving their claims." (This will allow your students to predict or compile from past knowledge the material to be presented. Please CHECK to make sure that all students have written down their predictions before proceeding to the next portion of this lesson.)

You are now ready to start the Learning Activity portion of this lesson.

Learning Activities

Step 1:

FAST FORWARD the tape to the visual of the families walking between the frontier log cabin-like buildings, with the narrator saying, "Our challenge: can modern day families last five months and prepare for a Montana winter under the same conditions?"

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to complete question 3 of the worksheet: "How is the work load divided among the settlers?" PLAY the tape through the picture of Susan Cain, Domestic Life Historian, as she says the answer to the focus question. PAUSE the tape to discuss the students' reaction to this division of labor. (Men do all or most of the work outside the home; women do all of the work inside the home.)
Do your students think this is fair, or should there be a different division? Usually the students will agree that this seems to be a fair division of work at this point in the lesson. You might wish to ask them to consider how the workload is divided in their family. What responsibilities fall to each family member today? How has this changed from the time we are viewing in the 1880s? (The answers from your students will vary with their cultural and family structure.)

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking the class to answer question 4 on the worksheet: "List four different challenges to survival mentioned in this segment." START the tape and run through the visual of Karen Glenn as she says, “…sewing, cooking, making bread, sanitary, great." STOP the tape to discuss the answers found by the class. (Challenges to survival include building shelter with only non-power hand tools, hygiene, animal care, and cooking without modern utensils and appliances.)

You may wish to REWIND and REPLAY this segment if the students are having trouble coming up with acceptable answers to the question. You may wish to PAUSE the tape during the replay at various points to focus on such things as the types of tools the settlers are being trained to use. Do your students think they could build a house and furniture with only the tools shown in the video clip? You might also wish to ask them how they think the problems of hygiene were taken care of on the homestead. Please remind them that toilet paper and indoor toilets, running water, and even bathtubs and showers were generally not available on the frontier. Water had to be heated over a fire to get warm.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking your students to answer question 5, "Why are the animals so important to the settlers?" START the tape and run through the visual of Justin Clune as he says "...making things out of wood." STOP the tape. (Animals were important to settlers for warning of intruders, to help with working the land, and for food and drink.)

Discuss your students' answers with the class. REWIND and REPLAY the segment to reinforce the content shown on the role of livestock in the frontier. You might want to remind the class that iced tea, sodas, soft drinks, and bottled beverages were not available on the homestead. The usual choice of beverages was water, coffee, or milk from cattle, goats, or sheep. Remove tape from VCR.

Step 2:

Place the tape for Frontier House #2: The Promised Land in the VCR. Explain to your class that so far we have looked at a little of the training the modern homesteaders went through before they headed west. Now we are going to look at what happened once they left "civilization" as they knew it.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking your class to answer question 6 of the worksheet, "How was cooking on the new frontier different from the way we cook today?" FAST FORWARD the tape to the visual of Adrienne and her two sons at the campfire. The narrator should be saying, "While the men are working, it's up to the women to prepare food." START the tape and play through to the visual of Adrienne Clune sitting and saying, "We've come a long way..." STOP the tape and remove it from the VCR. (Most early cooking was done over a campfire with no stove. After shelter was built a fireplace may have been the only cooking area or a wood burning stove wood be provided in time. The temperature regulation for baking was not as easy as turning a dial. Also getting heat to the food from more than just the bottom was tricky. Note: Adrienne was using a pot that allowed her to put coals on the lid to provide even heat to bake her bread. The pots were very heavy to prevent scorching the food.) CHECK your class for comprehension. They will probably think that this type of cooking took some amount of thought to get it to come out right. There is a short description of how to tell if the temperature of your wood-burning stove is correct for the cooking job you wish (baking fruit pies to roasting meats) on the Frontier House Web site cited in this lesson. You might want to ask how many students have electric versus gas stoves at home. What is the difference between cooking on an electric stove with the preset dials for heat control and cooking on a gas range? How do they compare to the cooking the women on the homesteads had to do?

Step 3:

Place the pre-CUED tape with Frontier House #3: Survival in the VCR. There should be a visual of chickens coming out of a coop with the narrator stating, "...the Brooks don't agree."

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking your class to answer question 7 of the worksheet, "Why don't Kristen and Nate have a cow? What livestock do they have?" START the tape and play it through the picture of Nate walking away leading the sheep as the narrator explains that sheep herding became a major industry in Montana as a result of cattle losses one very bad winter. PAUSE the tape and allow your students to voice their opinion as to which animals would be better to have on a small farm. (They don't feel that the return on the amount of work to keep a cow is as great as it is for other animals. The cows need more feed and hay put away for the winter than smaller animals that you might be able to move to different pastures. The Brooks have 16 chickens and 6 sheep.) Make sure they can give backup information as to why they chose the animals in question. If necessary you may wish to REWIND and REPLAY the tape from a point just before the section they have seen, in which the hay gathering is ongoing, to emphasize the work entailed in wintering over livestock. You might try to view this segment WITHOUT SOUND to allow the students to come to their own conclusions as to the amount of work involved. You might want to point out that a cow requires a lot more hay over the winter than a goat, due to the sheer size of the animal.

Step 4:

At this point you may wish to take a break from the video portion of the lesson and ask the students if they have ever tasted homemade butter. Some may answer yes, but most will have only experienced store-bought butter. Remind the students of the tall wooden cylinder in which Adrienne Clune was pushing a rod up and down during one of the video clips. This is called a butter churn. There are pictures of churns online at The Old Timers Page Web site listed at the beginning of this lesson.

Divide the class up into groups of four or five and measure 1 cup of heavy cream or half and half into one of the Ziploc baggies. Have the students remove about half of the air from the bag and seal it tightly. There should be some air left in the bag to allow the milk to slosh a bit. Now take the baggie and seal it inside the second Ziploc bag with more air in it. This will increase the mixing/churning action and also minimize the possibility of leaks. Now ask the students to GENTLY toss the baggie of cream back and forth between the members of their group for five minutes. Check to see if anything has happened. You can continue the tossing and checking while moving on to the next portion of the video.
Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking your class to answer question 8 of the worksheet, "How does Kristen make cheese?" START the tape at the visual cue of a goat sticking its nose out of a fence while the narrator says, "Not wanting to miss out on the booming dairy industry..." PAUSE the tape to discuss what the students think caused the cheese to form. (She must first heat the milk to kill any harmful bacteria that might be present. She will then denature the milk proteins by adding something acidic like vinegar or lemon juice to the liquid. This process will cause the curds to form. Separating the curds from the whey finishes her simple cheese-making process.) Please let your students know that it has nothing to do with the baking powder. In fact, the baking powder works as an anti-acid and hinders the process.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking your class to answer question 9 of the worksheet, "How did the settlers keep the butter, eggs, and cheeses fresh without iceboxes or refrigerators?" PLAY the tape through the visual of Erinn taking butter out and replacing material in the spring box. The narrator should be stating, "The families can keep their dairy products cool until they're ready to sell." STOP the tape and CHECK the students' answers for comprehension. (They build wooden boxes at the sides of springs that allowed cold water to flow under and around the items kept in them. The water from springs is usually very cold and so they were able to keep their dairy products for a longer period of time.)

At this point you will want to check the butter bags for butter particles and a light watery fluid that has separated from it. Drain the liquid and place a very small pinch of salt in the bag and work it into the butter. Spread the butter on crackers and taste. This may be the end of the first day of the lesson.

Please check with all students prior to using this lesson to determine if any of them are lactose intolerant. Do not allow lactose intolerant students to complete the taste test portion of this activity.

Step 5:

At the start of the next class, have the students observe and record what has happened to the raw egg they placed in an acid environment. Discuss their predictions and the results with the class. Please be sure to stress that this egg has not been "cooked." The protein has been denatured to form a solid white.

Now that we have seen some of the ways that settlers used the resources they had on hand, like excess milk – let's try to make some cheese of our own.

Cross-Curricilar Extensions

Distribute a copy of the “Cheese Please Internet Quest” found with this lesson to each student. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking your class to search the site listed or find a site of their own to answer each of the questions shown on this quest. They may work in pairs on this activity if you have a shortage of computers. You may also want to organize your class so that they will switch off between making cheese and working on the computers. Have the heated milk ready and allow the students to start their cheese-making process. Then go to the computers to work online while the separation process occurs.

There are two basic recipes you might wish to try with your class can be found at:
Lemon Cheese

Queso Blanco
  1. You may make this cheese according to the recipes shown online or you may divide the heated milk into smaller portions in Ziploc freezer bags lining small bowls and have the students add the juice or vinegar themselves.
  2. Allow the milk and acid combination to set for five to ten minutes to complete the curdling process before pouring the liquid through a square of cheesecloth taped over the mouth of a plastic cup. The cheesecloth will collect the curds.
  3. Tie the four corners of the cheesecloth together to suspend the curds over an empty cup by running a pencil under the knot. Leave it alone!
  4. This will create a lot of small cheese balls and draining should be considerably faster.
  5. Unwrap your finished product and spread over a cracker to taste.
    At the end of the class have the students sit and write a short paragraph describing what effect the introduction of modern technology has had on their lives. Ask them to choose any five household appliances found in their home and imagine living without these five appliances. What would change in their every day schedule and how would they compensate for the loss?

Cross-Curricilar Extensions


Have your students write a journal entry for a typical day in the life of a child, woman, or man on a homestead in the 1880s.

Have your students read any one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books about life on a homestead and report back on the truth or fiction found in the story as it applies.

Have your students write a ballad about the life of a homesteader to the tune of "Oh, My Darling Clementine" or a song of their choice.

Have the students research some of the home remedies of the 1880s listed below and write a brief statement as to their scientific basis for action.

St. John's Wort
Willow bark
Mustard seed
Cod Liver Oil
Oil of Evening Primrose
Morning Glory

Have students research primary source documents for more information on the lives of 19th century pioneers. They should create an end product such as a PowerPoint presentation or a video depicting the information gathered in their research.

Community Connections
  • Have students predict the impact of technology on their future. Have them place their ideas in a time capsule to be opened in ten years by another class to see if their predictions have come true.

  • Have students contact and or visit a local dairy or milk processing plant.

  • Have students try to make butter by shaking a baggie of milk back and forth between their hands for 45 minutes to an hour.

  • Have your students visit a historic re-enactment site and notice the differences in technology available for the time period as opposed to today. Create a timeline for clothing changes, technology advances, utensil changes, and role changes in the family.