How to Pass the CSW: How Well do You Know France?

map france citiesI love maps, because they make me dream of travel!  Someone once said “maps are the foreplay to travel.”  I don’t know where I heard that, so I can’t credit the source, but it’s a great line and I wish I had said it first!

Being a wine person, maps also make me dream of wine – or have nightmares about the study of wine.

I think we would all agree that understanding a region’s geography sets the groundwork for really understanding their wines. Note that I said “really understanding” and not just memorizing lists of rivers, towns, and grapes.  If you are a regular reader of The Bubbly Professor you know that in my classes, I try to  emphasize learning – emphasizing understanding, context, and meaning – as opposed to just “memorizing factoids” or “trying to pass a test.”

In an attempt to help those of you who are studying – and hopefully, really learning – about wine for the CSW Exam or other wine certification, I’ve put together a fun (?) map exercise for France.  I’ll give you a blank map and you get to fill in the rest!

If you take some time to do this exercise, trust me, doing some research and referencing a good map will go a long way to your understanding of the geography of France.  However, the act of actually drawing in the towns, rivers, mountain ranges and wine regions on the map takes this activity from passive learning (looking at someone else’s work) to active (drawing it yourself) and turns it into a “whole brain learning” experience.  Trust me, this exercise will increase your retention and understanding of the geography of France, laying the groundwork for understanding the geography of the wines produced there. Note that I did not say it would be fast or easy, but I guarantee it will be a worthwhile way to spend an evening.  (Perhaps a good swap for a night of watching re-runs of Mad Men???)

BeaujolaisIf you dare, click here to download the So You Think You Know France Exercise.  Enjoy the study session, and let’s see just how much we know – or have yet to learn – about the geography of France!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texasmissjane@prodigy.net

Bubbly Disclaimer:  This is my own personal advice and should not be considered as “official” advice from any school or organization. I hope the materials here on The Bubbly Prof help you out with your wine studies, and that you are successful in your certification endeavors.  Cheers!

Train the Trainer: Critical Thinking in the Wine Classroom

One of my rallying cries in wine education and ALL education for that matter, is to teach our student skills far, far beyond the basic memorization of facts.  I’ve spoken at many a conference on this matter, and have dedicated many of my posts on this blog to the subject.  It’s all about teaching to the “higher order thinking skills” known as (I’m not making this up) “HOTS” rather than just teaching to knowledge or memorization, known as “lower order thinking skills” or “LOTS”.

One of the best ways to teach to the “HOTS” is to guide your students to use the information rather than just remember it.  For instance, in my red wine class for beginners, I hope that my students will not just memorize the names of the red wines and the vocabulary words we discussed, but be able to use the information in some meaningful way, such as:

  • Describe what tannin is, and discuss how it adds to the overall character of a wine.
  • Discuss acidity in red wines and how it compares to acidity in white wine.
  • Describe a wine’s method of production and how it lead to some certain character of the wine…

What we are doing here is teaching critical thinking skills. Critical thinking can be traced in Western thought to the Socratic method of teaching used in Ancient Greece, and in the East, to the Buddhist Kalama Sutta. It is a part of the formal education process, increasingly significant as students progress through the higher grades, and should be the main concern in college and graduate-level teaching.  Obviously, critical thinking is an important part of just about every profession. 

According to Wikipedia, “There is debate among educators about its precise meaning and scope.”  Thank you, Wiki..very well said.  Crtical thinking is indeed one of those concepts, like “Politics” or “The Economy” that everyone understands but is hard pressed to actually define.  So here goes, my contribution to the debate…my definition of critical thinking:  The process of actively using new information by application, analysis, or evaluation. I tried to keep it simple.

Here is a list of my favorite techniques for adding critical thinking to the wine classroom:

  • Compare and contrast wines (or regions, or winemakers) by style.
  • Group wines into categories and explain why and how you chose the categories.
  • List wines in order (lightest to fullest, simplest to most complex).
  • Support an opinion with evidence. For instance, this wine is complex because…
  • Discuss whether or not a certain wine appeals to you, and tell us why/why not.
  • Describe a certain aspect of a wine (tannin, alcohol, residual sugar) and discuss how it relates to the other elements of flavor.
  • Predict how a wine will interact with a certain food.

And to make it easy, you can use what I call a “Bubbly Professor Brain Crank”.  I like to call this one “The Instant Critical Thinking Tool”: 

This wine is ____________  because ______________.

I like to use this sentence for class discussions, and it has a tendency to show up on my final exams.  I love it because it appears simple and un-intimidating, and yet you must use critical thinking to answer the question.  It’s also perfect for discussion because there are an infinite number of correct answers.  Students like that feature for test questions as well.

Here’s a sample…just how would you answer this question?

This Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1990 is ___________ because ________________.  

Made you think!  

 

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Week One, Day One: The Introduction to Wine Class

Next week starts a brand new semester and among the classes I’ll be teaching this block is my sentimental favorite – The Introduction to Wine Class.  I offer Professional Wine Studies, Wines and the Culinary Arts, and Wine and Food Pairing as well as semester-long looks at both Old World Wines and New World Wines, but the introductory class remains my favorite.

It’s great to see wine newbies go from “What is Wine” to “The Legend of Sassicaia” in just over 12 weeks.  I always like to start Week One/Day One simply enough with “Wine, Defined.”  I am sure that every wine educator out there has their preferred version of the answer to the question, “what is wine”?   My is quite simply, “Wine is a beverage produced by the fermentation of fruit, mainly grapes”.  Of course this answer leads to many questions and further disucssions…what is fermentation, why grapes, and “can you make wine from Welch’s Grape Juice”?  Of course, the answer is yes…it just won’t taste very good!

And it never fails, within the first ten minutes of class someone will mention the following subjects:  Boone’s Farm, Four Loko, Sangria, Hellow Kitty Wines, Prison Wine, Mad Dog 20/20, Saké, Arbor Mist Blackberry Merlot, Thunderbird, Mimosas, Cristal, and Ace of Spades.  Fellow wine educators, I bet you have your own list, I would love to hear about what your students ask on day one!

And somehow, we get through it all.  I like to have a basic “learn how to taste” session on Week One/Day One as well, both to get the class off to an engaging start and also to lay the ground work for the more detailed, directed tastings we will have as the class progresses.

My introduction to sensory evaluation class is admittedly quite technical.  I tell the students what the wines are, but I ask them not to focus on that one particular wine but rather to use the wine at hand to learn about the sensory evaluation of  “every wine or any wine.” 

I use just three wines; an unoaked, crisp Chardonnay (A Macon-Villages is ideal), followed by a simple yet sweet white wine (I’ve been using Flat Creek Estate Muscato D’Arancia), and finish with Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The basics of sensory evaluation class that I teach on Week One/Day One does not follow the basic steps of wine tasting.  We will get to all the expected steps (sight, swirl, sniff, snort, whatever…) in the course of the session, but not exactly in that order.  I tell the students that we are going to do approach the wines in the proper order (dry before sweet, white before red, light before heavy) and that we will let each wine “reveal” its secrets to us – in other words, each wine has something special to teach us. I choose my flight of three to include a wine that perfectly shows acidity, one that has sweetness, one with bitterness and tannin, and make sure that within the set of three, each of the major aroma families is there in an easy-to-recognize manner.  I want the class to be chock-full of “a-ha moments.”

Then I launch right in, teaching what I call “The Nine Elements of Wine Flavor.”  The nine elements are: Acidity, Sweetness, Bitterness, Tannin, Umami, Aroma, Body, Balance, and Alcohol.  I told you it was technical!  It does start off quite scientific, with discussions of pH, IBU’s, R.S. and ABV, but by the time we add aroma to the mix I make sure the step off the path of “paralysis by analysis” and let the students just relax and enjoy the flavor of the wine.  And somehow, it all comes together in the end.

If you’d like a copy of my handout about “The Nine Elements of Wine Flavor” just send me an email request to”  missjane@prodigy.net .

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” of Austin, Texas.

Train the Trainer: Teaching to the Whole Brain

I always find it amusing when I get bored in a wine seminar.  After all, there is nothing I am more fascinated by than wine.  I have spent my entire adult life learning about and enjoying wine.  I teach wine for a living, and then in my free time go to wineries, wine tastings and wine stores.  And yet, I find myself falling asleep at a wine seminar!

What gives?  I am extremely interested in the subject at hand, and yet the speaker can lull me to sleep.  Most likely, I am being subject to a speaker that is only engaging a a mere segment  of my mind.  Most seminars include speaking (zzzzzz……………) which only engages a little area on the left side of my brain called “Wernicke’s Area.”  If you have ever heard the (not quite true) cliché that we only use 10% of our brain power, this is one situation where it makes sense.  Anyone sitting and listening to a speaker is only about 10% engaged, and the other 90% is probably either falling asleep or writing a grocery list.

To approach maximum engagement, we need to teach to the whole brain.  Luckily, modern science has given us the tools to do so.  We know now that we can teach to six separate-yet-connected parts of the brain, each controlling a different aspect of attention, cognitive processing and memory.  We also know the specific teaching techniques to use to keep all six of these areas of the brain firing on all cylinders. 

To be a practitioner of Whole Brain Teaching, work on including these six elements in your teaching:

Listening –This one is easy, as just about all teaching involves a speaker, which forces our audience to listen.  Listening is controlled by Wernicke’s area on the left side of the brain. This one is a given…however, to be a whole brain teacher, you need to move well beyond listening.

Visual – The visual cortex uses over half of the brain’s energy and is a powerful tool for both learning and engagement.  Most teachers and speakers these days use what they consider visual elements in their teaching with power point slides, white boards, and handouts.  However…words on a screen or a written handout are not true visuals!  Words on a screen or written documents are not “processed” by the brain in the same way a picture is.  When you see words on a screen you read them to yourself, and the data is processed by the verbal (listening) side of the brain.   To enhance learning and not distract the learner, make sure your visuals are true visuals – meaning pictures or graphs.  

Critical Thinking – Our brains are kind enough to give us a pleasurable “rush” of dopamine when we solve a problem.  It’s the reason that so many people like to do crossword puzzles and play Sudoku. It’s also the reason why you feel so good when your figure out how to stop the faucet from leaking or change the battery in your car.  The real rush comes from not just getting it done but the fact that you figured it out.  To put this in an educational context, remember that just sitting and listening can get very boring…but you can keep your students in the flow of what scientists call “reward-driven learning” by stimulating their pre-frontal cortex…that part of the brain that handles thought processes that involve decision making, compare and contrast, explanations, examples, and schema.  The point is to allow your students to solve a “mental puzzle” related to the subject at hand.

Movement – You can stimulate the very powerful motor cortex by adding gestures and movement to your teaching.  It may seem a bit silly, but kinetic memories are among the strongest memories.  You never really forget how to walk or ride a bike!

Speaking – Let your students talk! Adding active speech to your classes, whether from discussion or recitation, spark’s the brain region known as “Broca’s area” and is an excellent tool for engagement.  Breaking the students into small groups or even teams of two and having them relate back key points of the class, quiz each other or even “teach” each other for one or two minutes is an excellent way to bring speaking into class as a directed activity.

Emotions – The limbic system, at the center of the brain, controls emotions and emotional memories.  If you leave out the emotions, you have “hollow brain teaching”!  Use emotionally competent stimuli to invoke humor, curiosity, outrage, awe, nostalgia…any emotion will do!

Remember, the more you can use these six activities…the more you will be teaching to the whole brain…and the more your students will enjoy and remember your class.  Good Luck!

 

Train the Trainer: Are you a visual or a verbal learner?

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Are you a visual or a verbal learner? Do you tout the fact that there are four learning styles – and your classes engage each one of them? Do you make power point slides and handouts in an attempt to “engage visual learners”? Do you think your lecture and discussion is ideal for “engaging auditory learners”? If so, you are not alone…but many people will argue that you are wrong! Ouch!

Let’s give this side of the story a chance and consider that it might be high time to get over this antiquated idea of education.

For more than 30 years, the notion that teaching methods should match a student’s particular learning style has exerted a powerful influence on education. The wide appeal of the idea that some students will learn better when material is presented visually and others will learn better when the material is presented verbally (or kinesthetically, or logically) is evident in the vast number of learning-style tests and  teaching guides available, not to mention the reams of literature on the subject.  Just google “learning styles” and see what happens.  I got over 14 million results touting no less than 71 different “learning styles” – all in 1.3 seconds!

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This is not to say that people do not differ in learning abilities.  A person with a high level of visual learning ability will be able to easily recall if an image was red or blue, and will have a high level of recall of people’s faces.  A person with a high level of auditory learning ability will have an uncanny ability to differentiate between different pitches, levels of volume, and the unique sound of a voice.  However, this does not imply higher levels of the construction of new knowledge, new meaning, new vocabulary, new concepts or new context based on the path of input.

Modern scientific research simply does NOT support the existence of different learning styles, nor the hypothesis that people learn better when taught in a way that matches their own unique style.  As a matter of fact, reams of literature have also been written on the subject that there are NOT four distinct learning styles. I got nearly as many google hits by using the terms “learning styles don’t exist” and “learning styles debunked” as I did on “learning styles” alone! If you don’t want to believe me (or google), perhaps you will believe a team of eminent researchers in learning psychology and their report published in December 2009 in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The report reviews the existing literature on learning styles and finds that although numerous studies have purported to show the existence of different kinds of learners such as “auditory learners” and “visual learners,” those studies have not used the type of randomized research designs that would make their findings credible.

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Or perhaps you will believe a Harvard  Ph.D.  Dr. Daniel T. Willingham, a cognitive scientist and author of Why Don’t Students Like School, recently posted a short video on youtube entitled “Learning Styles Don’t Exist.” I highly recommend it, and his book for that matter. Dang. So, if it is just not as simple as “learning styles”, what’s an educator to do?  At the risk of oversimplification, I believe we should concentrate on what cognitive processes learners have in common rather than focusing on how they might be different. The latest research on learning, and something that has certainly changed the way I teach, is well reflected in something called “whole brain teaching.”

Whole brain teaching recognizes that maximum learning occurs when a learning activity involves visual, verbal, and emotional elements combined with activities requiring critical thinking, movement and speech.  Teaching in this way triggers action in the “whole brain”, in other words, six distinct regions of brain activity working in conjunction. And while we are at it, please forget the cliché that “we only use 10% of our brain capacity.”  The truth is actually closer to “we only engage 10% of the brain at a time when using outdated teaching techniques.”

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