Differentiating Deliciously

The Food Technology room at Marling School in ...
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No, I’m not talking about the social bookmarking site.

I’m talking about education and food. That’s what this blog is supposed to be about and in a Twitter response to my last post, @ToughLoveforX remarked that high schools should have teaching kitchens.

I disagree.

All schools should have teaching kitchens. Maybe even all classrooms.

The earliest lesson that I remember from my schooling was when, in first grade, we shook heavy cream for what seemed like forever to make whipped cream and butter.

The next lesson I recall is when we made applesauce.

There was a time not that long ago when most high schools and middle schools had classroom kitchens. Most were removed shortly after Russia’s first space shot galvanized American educators to get serious about science and math because we had to put a man on the moon.

Been there. Done that.

Now its time to reexamine that decision to remove those kitchens.

Kitchens are the perfect venue for teaching middle and high school students.

Those students have an abundant interest in food and eating, so there is incentive to show up for class.

Each of the major disciplines can be addressed in the process of completing the task of planning, preparing and reflecting on the flavors of a menu.

Researching dishes to include on a menu involves language arts, social studies and nutrition science,

Scaling the recipe of a dish for a smaller or larger number of servings is measurement math and multiplication or division.

Costing the price of the ingredients, creating a budget and doing the purchasing incorporates various math concepts and skills.

Cooking and baking involve chemistry, physics and nutrition science.

Invitations, dish descriptions and critiques all involve writing.

And so on.

And why stop there? Sewing classes, woodworking shop, and other venues of practical skills are rich with academic possibilities.

Every day I have students coming to me and asking for food. Every student in my school is eligible for free breakfast and lunch, but I hear stories about how mom works two jobs and doesn’t come home until midnight and then starts to prepare supper.

It is a long stretch between an 11:30 or noon lunch and a midnight or 1:00 AM supper. Even if there were no academic benefits to having teaching kitchens, doesn’t it make sense to give these students the ability to prepare a nutritious meal or two?

There is a big push right now to introduce more and more technology into classrooms and I’m all for that. But the technologies most classrooms need are not interactive white boards or hand-held computers; what classrooms need are stoves, ovens, chopping blocks and refrigerators.

The investment for a classroom full of computer-based technology and a teaching kitchen are roughly the same but kitchen equipment is far more durable, more easily maintained and far less likely to become obsolete within a few years of purchase.

Critics of my proposal, and I expect there to be many, will say that classroom kitchens don’t teach 21st Century skills, or that I’d just prepare kids for flipping burgers.

Nonsense.

Writing a recipe is pure concept mapping.

Planning a menu requires the accumulation and integration of information from a variety of sources and the creation of a cogent new document. Its a process of planning, drafting, gathering feedback, revising, proofing and publishing. Sound familiar?

Well run kitchens require collaboration, planning, critical thinking, problem solving, adaptation to changing circumstances, the ability to gather and evaluate information, mutual respect, attention to detail, and the ability to apply principles learned in the synthesis of new concepts.

Those sound like 21st Century skills to me.

Is there some risk in giving your average high school student a cleaver and 10″ chefs knife? Absolutely, but far less than giving that same student a car.

The fact is, the technology most classrooms need is not an interactive white board or hand-held computers; what they need are stoves, ovens, chopping blocks and refrigerators.

OK, maybe a computer or two to access recipe sites and to write the class blog.

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15 Responses to Differentiating Deliciously

  1. Glen Westbroek says:

    My favorite responses from students come when they change the state of matter while making ice cream. Many are VERY surprised at how cold the slurry of ice & salt becomes. I’m confident they would gain much less understanding of the concept if we just read about temperature changes that happen when matter changes state.

    Adding a kitchen would also allow me to demonstrate different forms of diffusion:). I’m seeing a need for cookies and classmade bread here!

    • Deven Black says:

      Every time I raise this idea with teachers I see their eyes light up in way I rarely see when I discuss technology with them (okay, those other than the geeks I’ve met through Twitter and ISTE). Kitchens are something we are all familiar with, feel safe to us and to students, and are hands-on in ways computer tech can never be. I’m not anti-tech at all, I just think that kitchens are an easier sell to teachers.

  2. My son is 10 years old and autistic (mild). He cooks a meal once or twice a week for our family which is great on the days when I am caught in after school meetings until quite late. I’d love it if he could show another one of his talents to classmates. They know he can read, spell and play the piano but he can only write in a very concrete manner, such as writing out a recipe. He recently did a speech in class where he went through the process of cooking a pasta meal and he’d never been more eloquent. Cooking and music have given him the confidence to experiment with form. He can now compose/play variations of his piano pieces and change recipes to suit his taste or available ingredients. I think this will lead to confidence in being more creative in his writing too. One problem with kitchens and younger students is that safety/risk concerns trump learning experiences in the minds of school management, let alone the cost factor. But all the best in promoting kitchens for schools. I fully support it!

  3. Michael J says:

    I never knew that kitchens were removed after the great “we’ve got to beat the Russians after Sputnik.”

    That was just about the time that “education” became a national security and wealth producing enterprise. One could argue that was the wrong turn and we are still playing out the results.

    I’m focused on the problem of high school dropouts. In that context the notion that “everyone has to go to college” may be exactly what’s making it so difficult to solve the problem.

    Academically rigorous “vocational” training makes so much more sense. Of course “vocational” training has a bad reputation among all the academics who fill the discourse in teacher’s colleges and in educational “research.”

    The good news is that this is starting to turn around. although Alice Waters is just one of the people trying to bring food into educational experience. The irony is that it’s all about the lower grades.

    Meanwhile, the food industry will never be outsourced. The popularity of the Food Channel and the never ending supply of cookbooks attest to it’s traction.

    I was just thinking of your eighth graders.

    I wonder if it would useful to give them a daily assignment. Write down exactly what you ate yesterday and hand it in every day.

    Use the fact that they handed in the assignment to keep track of when blow it off. You have a nice chart to show mom at parent teacher conferences.

    Then use the content to show them how with a little effort, thought and creativity they could have eaten less junk.

  4. Steve Brown says:

    As part of my 30th high school reunion this weekend, I had the opportunity to tour my old school. I hadn’t set foot in the place since 1979. I was surprised to see the home economics, woodshop, printshop, & auto shop of my youth all gone. Because things like cooking, sewing, basic carpentry etc. aren’t on the MCAS exam, those subjects were long ago jettisoned. The argument, is that if a child wants to go into culinary arts, or cabinetry, they will go to tech school. And while there is truth to that, today’s students are missing out by not having access to what we used to call “industrial arts.” Basics like knowing how to maintain your car, cut a piece of wood, and prepare a healthy meal are skills that last a lifetime, not to mention the ancillary lessons in all the other disciplines you aptly described in your post.

  5. RIGHT ON!!! All kids love to cook and eat. What a functional skill that is going by the wayside. No wonder why no one has any money – people eat out all the time.

    The other benefit to additional classes such as sewing, wood shop, etc. is to open up different avenues of occupations. Not everyone is college bound – our schools need to refocus and offer differing opportunities.

    Great blog post.

  6. Hadass Eviatar says:

    Love your post as usual, Deven …. just adding one caveat. When I went to school, cooking was for girls and woodworking for boys … I’m assuming it goes without saying that you would have everybody do both!

    Of course, my sister and I both got kicked out of home ec and ended up doing the boy stuff ;-). Luckily we are both good cooks now despite that!

  7. Michael J says:

    Deven,

    I just wanted to add a tweet and link referring to a recent David Brooks column in the New York Times that points to the same reality as you.

    “society pays too much attention to (scholastic) the first education and not enough to the second.” David Brooks NYT http://ilnk.me/b8c

  8. [...] One blogger thinks all schools, especially middle and HS, should have teaching kitchens. [...]

  9. ceolaf says:

    I think you are mistaken.

    The goal of schooling is NOT to produce memorable individual lessons. I am not sorry to say this, and I do not think that that should ever be the goal of schooling.

    The goal is — or ought to be — to teach deeper, broader and more connecting ideas. As Ted Sizer said, to teach children to use their minds well.

    If they remember the individual lessons, so be it. But if they do not, but HAVE learned to use their minds well, then even better.

    You see, you are confusing the means of education (i.e. the individual lessons) and the goals (i.e. Sizer’s “worthy residue that remains long after the lessons have been forgotten”).

    • Michael J says:

      Celof,

      With all due respect, I think you are mistaken. We can sort agree on the goal of education “worthy residue that remains long after the lessons have been forgotten” But the best way to get there is reflective practice.”

      I might say that the real issue is to have the ability to distinguish between worthy and less worthy residue. The problem is that those who assume that “academic” excellence has greater value than intelligent skepticism are point us in the wrong direction.

      At any rate, step one for learning is engaging with real-to-the student activities. Step two is mentoring and nurturing the practice of reflection necessary to change long term behavior.

  10. Loren says:

    Ceolaf,

    Are you commenting on some other post? Otherwise I think you really missed the mark on this one. If the kitchen isn’t a place to instill the practice of using your mind well, then such a place doesn’t exist. I think the posting gives ample evidence of habits of mind that can be created in the kitchen and applied to everything else in life.

  11. Barbara says:

    YTS steered me here and I’m glad she did! Excellent post. I have done a few recipe/cooking posts encouraging parents to include their young children and children with disabilities in cooking.

    I understand a large part of today’s 20-somethings are unable to cook = don’t.know.how.

    My Hubby is a middle school science teacher and he agrees.

  12. Writing Help says:

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