Monday, November 17, 2014

How I am teaching culinary math the second time around.

After teaching culinary math for the first time I've learned a few things, the most important being the primary student learning objective; Complete a recipe costing form. The course does discuss a few topics that are outside of this form, but this one objective contains about 90% of the course material. It might sound a bit funny, it takes teaching a course once to find out the real student learning objective, but as with many things in life "You truly learn something the first time you teach it."

For those of you in education you might be asking "What is a recipe costing form?" With a current average of 5.1% profits, maintaining high efficiency and cost control for restaurants is a necessity. To do that detailed records of how much everything costs must be kept, and the menu prices of dishes need to be firmly based on their costs. Simply put, a recipe cost form is used to determine how much it costs to make a recipe. With the base cost of the recipe, how many servings it will produce, and the target food cost for a restaurant (25-35%) a restaurant manager can get an idea of how much to price a dish. There are other things to consider (target clientele, location, marketing, etc.) but a recipe cost is a good starting point to base prices on.

This might sound simple, but there are a few ideas that need to be addressed. As an example, let's look at yield. If you order a pound of potatoes for $2.00, are you going to serve exactly that pound of potatoes? No, you have to skin, trim, and wash them first. You loose a certain amount of the weight (that you paid for), so you now have 87% of that pound (the yield). That pound of potatoes now costs $2.00/87%, or about $2.30. The terminology used is: as-purchased (AP) cost is $2.00/lb but the edible-portion (EP) is $2.30/lb. If a recipe calls for 3 pounds of prepared potatoes (skinned, trimmed, and cleaned) we simply multiply this amount by the EP cost of $2.30/lb to get $6.90. Do that for each of the ingredients, add them up and you have the final recipe cost. These forms setup these calculations in a consistent manner so they are easily done, can be read by other people, and different recipes can be compared. (There is an exception to using yield when a recipe calls for a number of something, like one whole apple. If you paid for each apple, not by the pound, yield isn't necessary since you didn't 'lose' a part that you paid for.)

All this is to say that these recipe costing forms are the true final assessments of the course, and using a backwards design model, the course should be focused on getting students to complete them. Thus all the assessments are going to target different aspects of these forms. To scaffold these skills I changed the learning activities (handouts) to include two parts:

1. An Exercises portion of various questions that we discuss in-class, with the answers provided at the end. I generally start the day with an example or a discussion of the idea, then do one of the first few questions, and slowly step back my instruction as students attempt more of the questions on their own.
2. A Graded portion that they are to turn in over the next few days. Answers are not provided, but they can work with each other.

To ensure students complete the Exercises portion I have a notebook check during test days where I review their notebook. These notebooks are not my idea, I have to thank Rhonda Hull at Clackamas Community College for the inspiration. She designed the MTH111 College Algebra course that I teach occasionally, and in addition to using a flipped classroom model, uses notebooks to ensure students are completing their work.

I also included a quiz each Wednesday, and a test every second Friday. I like the regularity of these assessments, in the hope that they reduce cognitive load on students, but also allows them to plan on these activities.

I'll make a few future posts about how this class goes, the one idea that is outside of the recipe costing form (kitchen ratios) and potentially about a new culinary math project. If you have any questions for me, about the course, my approach, the activities, or anything else, just post a comment below.

Thank you for reading!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reflection: Teaching culinary math for the first time.

Last week marked the end of the math class I taught at a culinary school, and I wanted to reflect on how the term went. I'll have another post about what I intend to do for the next term, which started today

Before the course started I did a bit of my own research and found Culinary Math by Blocker and Hill to be immensely helpful. It provided much needed guidance on how to approach teaching certain topics, terminology used in the industry, and various forms and conversions. The school uses a college math textbook that is targeted to general undergraduate students. I have been told this is to save money, but was (and am) frustrated that there is a perfectly good text out there that addresses exactly the kind of knowledge students should know. In fact they used Culinary Math before this textbook. I recommended students buy Culinary Math for their own use, and a number of them did so. Powell's Books seems to have copies for around $17 (where I bought mine) so it didn't seem to be a big hardship for students to buy this in addition to the textbook.

At the start I was also worried about student's perception of me being a 'math person' and not being a 'culinary person'. Would they resist me talking about conversions, yields, and fractions because I had never worked in the kitchen? I tried to address it head-on by sharing my independent research, how I read books by chefs regularly, I consider myself a home cook and have made Thanksgiving dinner in addition to regular meals, and tried to be honest about where I was coming from. It seemed to make an impact as students were comfortable talking to me about recipes and other topics.

Before this class students had taken 3 6-week terms of culinary classes, and thus had quite a bit of culinary knowledge that I didn't. Because of this imbalance in understanding, I gave them much more leeway in explaining a concept or idea than in other undergraduate classes. Usually I have students attempt an explanation, but if they're getting off track I'll gently correct them by asking a question or pointing something out. Here I didn't feel comfortable doing that, and had students correct each other's arguments in-class. I wasn't explicit that this is what I was doing, but let it happened naturally.

The students themselves came from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences with math, and (most importantly) attitudes toward math. One student had pre-calculus classes in high school, others got through with the minimum, and one was home schooled. I tried to target most of the material on authentic examples, but also included 'naked' math questions to delineate if students were having issues with computations or with understanding a contextual question. This seemed to work for everyone, the high-anxiety students had their own understanding of the situations we were talking about (they had worked with measuring cups and volume measures before this class) and the low-anxiety students were able to rely on their previous math experiences.

Later this week I'll detail how I'm setting up the next section of this class. If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to share below!