Don't you love it when a colleague says "Oh your job is so fun and easy - you just get to cook and eat with the kids all day long!"
It's amazing how many teachers (parents, administrators, etc) think teaching a classroom full of public school kids how to cook something is the exact same as teaching one of your own children/grandchildren at home. Amazing, and maddening. Why is it that I can pick out about 42 issues with "Freedom Writers" and "Dangerous Minds," but the English teachers all seem to think that "Superbad" is a fair representation of home ec classes? Neat rows of well-stocked two-man lab stations, and time to make homemade tiramisu in ONE class hour? Wha?
We all know that just handing a recipe to a group of kids and saying "Go cook" is not going to work. Even if you've gone over the recipe. Repeatedly. And demonstrated. Repeatedly. Once they get into the kitchens, it's always a free-for-all. Always. No matter how many times you warn them "Now, once you get into the kitchens, it is not a free-for-all - that's why we spend so much time learning the rules and preparing." So much oxygen that we'll never get back.
Part of that is just the nature of trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. Recipes are typically designed for only one cook who then sets aside the time he/she needs to create the final product. In our classes kids work in groups to prep, create, eat, and clean all inside of 44 minutes (or 88 minutes divided, etc). Real-world recipe reading skills are not the same skills needed to succeed in a classroom kitchen setting.
All this to say that most FACS teachers strongly believe in lab plans, meaning making the kids sit down and write out who is going to do what and when. That way on the day of the lab - theoretically - there are no arguments over who does what, and the tasks are completed in a timely dovetailed fashion rather than all of the group members standing around watching one person complete one step at a time as you would do if you were cooking independently in your own kitchen. Theoretically.
The first few labs are always the toughest - after all, the kids have to learn for themselves that if they stand around and watch one person do one thing at a time they are not going to have time to eat AND they will not receive a pass from their beloved teacher when they stay after the bell finishing clean-up. After the first few they get the hang of it and things begin to run pretty smoothly.
However, I have run into two problems with this at my new school. One, we only have a few labs, so there's really not much time for that "getting the hang of it" phase. But the second one is the biggie.
Now I have faced attendance issues at every school I've taught at, but this one takes the cake. At the beginning of the year I spent time on lab plans, then came to discover it was a massive waste of time, no matter how far out in advance we began to work on them. There was no way of knowing how many people were going to show up on lab day or who they would be. I couldn't even assign groups the attendance problem was so ridiculous.
At the high school level when there were attendance 'surprises,' the kids could pretty much handle the adjustments - we'd have to combine groups, someone would have to change roles, someone would have to do two jobs, whatever it took. The situation usually worked itself out.
At the junior high school level, the abstract thinking abilities are just not there yet for a substantial number of the students. Which makes perfect sense, if you know your Piaget; however, it also means that making lab plan changes on the fly is not a realistic possibility.
All this to say that I had to throw out the lab planning concept at the end of the first semester and come up with something different.
And that's when I began developing Cooking Lab Task Cards***.
We still go over the recipe in detail. I still demonstrate the labs (actually, I've taken to creating videos and showing them on the SMART Board. That way everything is close-up and everyone can see very well. They can also watch them at home if they're absent, as I have posted them on YouTube). We still go over the different jobs. But on the day of the actual lab, whoever shows up is handed a task card.
THE EVOLUTION OF LAB TASK CARDS
Even though the first two classes to cook this semester were small and filled with very cooperative kids, I was dreading the first lab and trying to think of ways to make it run more smoothly. Then I thought, why not give them each a to-do list for what needs to happen before the lab? I hand wrote a list of supplies on little slips of paper, creating a set for each kitchen. When we went into the labs I handed each kid a paper, and magically they all did what the sheet said!
It was at that point that I began developing the actual cards. On the front of each card is a list of that person's assigned prep responsibilities - tasks that have to be accomplished BEFORE any actual work takes place.
Once that is accomplished, then they have the steps that they are responsible for on the back.
These cards have worked wonders! Somehow, with a short, detailed list of what to do in their hands they are able to more or less stay focused and get things done the way that they should be done.
I went through quite the evolutionary process with these - as mentioned I began by handwriting supplies on slips of paper for my first experiment during my first rotation this semester, which worked pretty well. Then I reworked the lists, added the jobs, and typed and printed them on labels and slapped them on index cards, which worked well until a class in the second rotation decided it was okay to just ball them up and throw them away rather than give them back (really? You really thought you should throw that away?).
Now that I've used this method several times, I've created a more permanent product for my third rotation.
1. I create a "prep" label and a "steps" label for each person (A/B/C: if there is a fourth person, I double up the weak readers; has worked well so far) for each day of the lab. For this I use Avery 5168 3.5" x 5" labels.
2. I cut colored 8.5" x 11" cardstock (one set for each kitchen in its corresponding color) into four equal pieces.
3. I affix the labels to the cards, and laminate (not the flimsy roll stuff. I do not want these getting trashed - I go for the 5mm, yeah buddy).
4. I hole punch the cards, and use a book ring to hold together all of the cards for that recipe.
5. I store the cards in a 4 x 6 inch index card box (check out these from Amazon!).
Admittedly, this is a LOT of work initially. However, they are enormous time-savers (and frustration-savers!) once created. Additionally, each class only cooks three or four times, so I only have to create four recipe sets, which are then used in 12 different classes throughout the year as I go through my rotation.
I'm just bummed I didn't have this together 7 or 8 months ago!
And since I have to change everything up for next year, I'll have to make four more recipe sets, but I'll have the summer to do that... and then I'll already be set for the following year!
Again, if we spent more time in the kitchens (or if I were working with an age group more capable of formal operational thought), I wouldn't employ this method. But, when only offering a small number of labs within a short period of time, I want the emphasis to be on their hands-on foods experience rather than their ability to break down new and complicated text into a series of dovetailed tasks.
And of course I would also like to retain some fraction of my own sanity and sense of well-being.
***Update: Sets of task card labels are now available in my TPT store for $1 per set. Recipes are also available for free download. Check 'em out at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Facsclassroomideas.
Please note that only the labels are for sale - you'll have to do the card making yourself! : )