food is

I start this course in a similar fashion every semester. I poke and prod the students with survey questions designed to explore their rules and beliefs that surround food.

A large portion of the first week is spent in discussions surrounding favourite flavours, and shapes, and the ‘whys’ behind systems of thought that support the fact that ketchup is better than fresh tomatoes and that muffins are actually cupcakes without icing.

All the while I am slowly cataloging the pre-knowledge of my students.

All the while I am engaging them in some pretty lofty debates- ‘Be it resolved that nobody should buy bread from a gas station..’

All the while I am assessing Learning Skills and the critical analysis tools that each of my new, young chefs employ.

And all the while I am nurturing the open opportunity to build rapport and lure the students into an open mindset or growth mindset. By challenging their assumptions, discussing their beliefs, and sharing their experiences the class slowly gels around a common pursuit- deeper appreciation of the course material and of each other’s contributions.

This mindset ultimately serves more useful than the handouts, the slide-decks, and the summative tasks. Students that give themselves permission to explore the ‘why’ behind their food rules and food knowledge, usually experience a deeper satisfaction in their learning. And, more concretely, are able to demonstrate their skills clearly and articulate their qualifications without leaning on any marking scheme.

The open minded student leaves this course being able to explain what they could not do when they walked in, what they can do by the end of the course, and confidently replicate the effort it took to arrive at success.

This kitchen/classroom space is an amazingly, deep learning zone for me. Every semester that I am able to continue teaching this course I try to add more depth and density. By adding flipped videos, blogging, and maintaining a virtual classroom I hope that the students will appreciate a Modern Learning approach to a ‘cooking course’ In the least, by openly documenting my learning process and including the class community in the development of class resources, the students will see the reasonable risks that I am taking. And maybe, in turn, the students will be willing to do the same.


This bread lab is, hands-down, one of my favourite cooking labs.

To be able to make bread from scratch is a skill that everyone should master. And the excitement that explodes from the students as they inspect their custom loaves is a joy to share.

In making a simple loaf of bread, we commune with history and connect with thousands of years of culinary evolution.

The relationship between flour, water, and yeast in our modern-day classroom is like a conversation with the past. The method of fermentation and baking that we use in the classroom looks very similar to the very earliest methods of bread making. And in following this path of food preparation we acknowledge the connection between us and every other cook who dared this same pursuit.

Michael Pollan in his book Cooked espouses the importance of basic ingredients, essential skills, and appreciation of the community or social element of cooking. I highly recommend this book and its partner Netflix series as essential media to consume. Pollan’s POV of ‘eat what you like, as long as you make it’ resonates with me and I pursue this foodie philosophy in life and in teaching.  I guess you could say it is my primary food rule.

Each and every student in my class, I hope, is starting to glimpse the power within these three tenets of the culinary arts – ingredients, skills, and community. In truth, I would include the fourth rule of sustainability. ‘What’ we eat on a daily basis has become as important as ‘how’ and ‘why’. As each student attempts to synthesize what they learn in our class with their daily decision making, they will quickly find out that despite their informed intentions it is exponentially more difficult to make clear choices. What is ethical? What is clean? What is healthy? All good, basic questions and all create opposing views or food rules. This dissonant process is an underlying part of learning where both flights and fails can provide learning opportunities. I often reassure students that it is okay if their brain cannot make their hands do as they wish. Many kids, very quickly, get what it takes to make a loaf of bread. And a few even enjoy what they have made…some do not.

The final products that my students produce often bare little resemblance to the demo dish that I produce or to the dishes of their colleagues or to the foods they have at home. Nor should they. I encourage the students to embrace the process and to track both their successes and failures. The differentiated outcomes are essential to deep learning in our cooking lab and connect to all aspects of learning. Not only does this process illuminate the importance of personalization of learning approaches, but it also vividly highlights the fundamental potential of process work.

The method and the set up for the method are everything in cooking. It is often referred to as ‘Mise En Place’ or ‘put in place’. No matter the fact that each brigade [cooking group] is provided with a common demo, ingredients, and equipment- how the group interprets the instructions ultimately drives outcomes. Each group through collaboration and negotiation must create a way through their understanding of their goal – in this case making a loaf of bread- and each small decision brings another opportunity for learning.

For me, the process of making bread is ultimately the end goal. I have had both great successes with some loaves and in other moments I have stumbled miserably. Regardless, I remain focused on creating opportunities for my students to make enjoyable, edible mistakes. And if the loaf in front of them is not as awesome as hoped, then maybe the next one will be…or the next one…or…


This has to stop.

These moments of time travel give me headaches.

I am standing in class, mid-lesson, mid thought- I blink it is 1985, I blink again and it is 2016. Where am I? The lights, the corkboard, the rows of desks. A fleeting sense of nostalgia chased by the grim reality of, well, nostalgia all soaked with the sour smell of ‘been there, done that’. It all is pretty much as it was in 1989 when I graduated from high school.

I’m getting edgy and the same fuzzy feelings from my high school days, turn on me viciously. Looking at my current classroom I realize that my younger self is screaming at me, dissing me for missing my own point; I had issues with school back in 1985 as a student, that now, in 2016, teacher-me continues to perpetuate.

If I had walked out of a classroom in 1985, back-to-the-futured, and walked into a classroom in 2016 would I have noticed any changes? Computers, fashion, adornments notwithstanding…

The lesson is hinged on the question ‘Is your career, future proof?’ The course is Careers. Each of the students, at this point, has started to investigate and plan their post-secondary pathway. Each of the students has started to pick senior level courses that in theory will keep them racing towards a career. My question is poignant. At least it is to me…is it important for the students to see a bit of their future? It is important to keep them tracking their future targets. Their targets are constantly moving. The competition for finite future prospects is stiff. Yet, as I ask the students, I realize that I want to answer it as well.

I start to futurecast into the next 15 – 20 years that remain before my tentative retirement, what if I am still standing in this same classroom? What if the children of these children remark to me ‘wow this class looks exactly the same as my mother described’? What if nothing changes..? Now I am really uncomfortable.

The students needed some prodding, I shift gears. ‘Is teaching future proof?’ Still lots of blinking. ‘Will I be able to teach in the same way that I do now in 5 years, or 10 years, or even 15 years from now?’

This gets them chatting. Analyzing what a teaching job would look like in the next 15-20 years became the parallel sweet spot for our lesson. The students could not stop poking questions and making statements about my career. Some students took the opportunity to comment on the current system as they know it, others tried to project themselves into a future system that they may never be a part of. Either way, I felt my younger self smiling satisfactorily.

Capturing the full transcript was impossible, the following bits came from two class sessions. Some students listened the entire time without comment, many jumped in and on and over each other when certain topics were tabled. The class is composed of grade 9, 10, and 11 students. Some were taking the Careers course, others were drop-ins on day two of our discussion.

Them @ Me @ Them

You should stop using paper handouts.‘ I have tried that, some students do not have digital technology.. ‘No, just stop using paper handouts…‘ Like stop handing things out at all? No handouts..? 

Can we film our class?‘ …in general?  Ya, I film everything then I post it.‘ Post it? Where? Everywhere.

The WiFi should be available outside in the school yard.‘ It kinda works if you really need it, you could stand near the door… I want to work outside when the weather is nice…

The school has it wrong…‘ Good start, what are you thinking? I don’t want to insult you, but school is designed wrong.‘ School is not just me, its you and me. Ya right.

Why do we have classrooms?

I agree, school is messed up.‘ Share your thinking. We walk in the halls and sit in the classrooms. I want to hang out in the halls and move around in class.

Why can’t I stay home and do school with YouTube?‘ Explain your thinking. I watched two YouTube videos today in P1, could’ve watched that at home.

School should be free.‘ It is, kind of, for you. ‘No, free, right up through university.‘ How would that work? Well we can pretty much learn anything for class online…

I was just thinking about my art teacher, he uses a lot of history examples in viz art… I like how he mixes other courses into art class.

School sucks…I want to work…why can’t I just go to work and not do school?‘ Where do I start? There’s lots of reasons to get an education, then get a better job… I don’t really care about that, I just want to work.

I miss my elementary school.‘ Why? I had more fun.‘ …like recess? Not just that, I think that it was just more fun to learn.