Raise Your Hand, Please

Fifty pounds of 3rd grader, not more than 4 feet tall sat on the floor with her arm straight up in the air. She sat quietly, but her arm, supported at the elbow by her other arm, was quite obnoxiously throwing me off my game. I did say to the group “If you have a question, just raise your hand”. I guess you have to tell 9 year olds…”but wait for a natural pause in my very impressive presentation so as not to interrupt the rhythm of my infinitely interesting story”.

I couldn’t take it anymore. The question she had cooked up must be so important that I can’t possibly continue with the current subject. And I clearly haven’t mastered that teacher’s skill of the “raise your hand take-down”, where the teacher notices the upheld arm, but challenges it to a sort of game of chicken. The teacher knows she can out-talk the arm into total submission. After all, blood does need to get to the finger tips. Keep talking, and the kid’s arm will soon succumb, starting with the need for support of the other arm, followed by head bobbing from the child herself, followed by a complete and utter blank of what the question was in the first place. And ahhh…there it is. The take down. Victory. Teacher-1, Kid-0.

……..I can’t do it any more…”Yes, what’s your question?” I said as I pointed to her. The little girl, looking completely victorious that she kicked my butt in our silent battle of “raise your hand chicken”.
“Um”, she says, “is it true what my Dad says that coffee stunts your growth?”

I thought about this one for a flash as 20 sets of 3rd graders stared at me along-side the 5 sets of “adult chaperones” awaited my perfect answer that would, of course, completely corroborate with their “I’m feeling like a lazy parent and want to take the easy way out on this one” answer. Seeing no escape with any hope of blurting the correct response, I said “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one. Would you research that on the internet and send me a report on what you find out?” Her eyes were big and happy as she bravely took on the responsibility of digging for the truth to her question.

This really was the only question that slipped me up over the last 3 weeks as I had each of the local school’s 3rd grade classes up to my coffee store for field trips. To be fair, I had been challenging the kids to a sort of geography, science, and social studies smack down during their tours, so getting a reverse challenge wasn’t exactly unfair.

The field trips started with the legend of the discovery of coffee by Kaldi, the famous goat-herder in Ethiopia. The kids danced on cue when I told them to pretend to be the “dancing goats” who’d become so hopped-up on caffeine from eating the magical cherries that they were acting like complete spazoids (again, not a difficult stretch for a 9 year old to act out). I was impressed by their ability to identify continents around the globe, and to understand that countries near the equator had warmer temperatures than areas farther north or south. Good stuff kids, you’re in front of the statistics so far! We rounded out that section with coffee harvesting and processing techniques used, and dug our hands into the piles of green coffee beans right in front of them.

We moved on to the science of coffee roasting from there. Why is it that kids have this freakish desire to be the “closest” one to the person talking? This one, I can do. “Kids”, I said, “take 2 steps back”. Ahh…breathing room.

The chemical changes that happen during coffee roasting are extremely complex, and the kids got to see first-hand examples of coffee going through its evolution from green bean to fully roasted bean. They repeated “ENDOTHERMIC” and “EXOTHERMIC” as a group, and again, on cue, had it all figured out within seconds. I swear I’ve explained this stuff to intelligent adults who don’t make it half that far!

I asked the kids “should we start up the coffee roaster?” “YEEEEEESSSS!” they screamed. Of course, how would I not know the answer to that? We fired up each of the parts of the roaster, the drum, the air, the gas, the cooling bin agitator, and the door. The kids each pushed their way to the front to see the “blue flame” of the gas inside the roaster’s viewing window. Wow, who knew that a little blue light was better than Xbox?

Looking for fire

Looking for fire

Next came my favorite part of the tour. To complete the travels of the coffee properly, we’d have to brew some up and taste it, right? The look of horror on the chaperones’ faces was indescribable. Everything from, “Are you out of your fricking mind giving kids that stuff?” to “Our church doesn’t believe in the beverage of coffee” came my way.

Preparing some coffee to taste...can we be any closer?

Preparing some coffee to taste...can we be any closer?

go on...taste it

go on...taste it

“Ok kids”, I said, “Here’s the deal. Coffee contains something called caffeine. It’s a stimulant that can give you energy, and everyone’s body reacts differently to it. It’s in lots of different places like candy, medicine, energy drinks, soda pops, and other foods. It’s up to your moms and dads to tell you if it’s ok with them to have it. Got it?” Yep, they got it. This is a smart bunch these 9 year olds. One by one, the kids dipped a vertical spoon into the freshly brewed cup of coffee and touched it to their tongues. Did I feel a little like a dealer lining up my future customers? You bet, but it wasn’t about that at all. It was about letting the kids get a total hands-on experience and completing the circle of what we had learned. Some of their eyes lit up with joy at the amazing taste of coffee while others squinted and puckered with disgust. Sorry moms and dads, your court now.

They all scampered off at the end of our time together, and seemed to love every minute of it. I know I did.

P.S. I still haven’t received that report on coffee and growth rates in children, but as soon as I do, I’ll be sure to share it with you all ;).

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