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!

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