Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3

CaptureThe Advanced Baking course which I teach has been written as a very onesided course for many years. It is geared mostly towards cake decorating with little to no student choice built into the curriculum. In the three years that I have been teaching the course, I have mostly taught it “off curriculum” with the full knowledge of my supervisor. There is an opportunity to rewrite the curriculum documents this summer to make it into a more well-rounded course.

The users of this prototype are the Baking and Advanced Baking students at the high school in which I teach. These students enter Baking with a basic skill set and understanding of cooking and baking. They have an interest in the subject matter and a wide range of baked goods that they want to learn to make. 

In this prototype, the units of study for both the Baking and Advanced Baking courses were sorted into the most relevant course. Then additional columns break each unit into more specific “big ideas” or concepts and finally there is a set of suggested activities and labs for each unit as well. I am testing to see if each unit has been assigned to the appropriate course as well as the equal distribution of time and resources to each unit. I am also testing to see if the activities and labs give adequate choices to the students. 

Due to the current COVID 19 Pandemic the protocol had to be somewhat adjusted. Instead of having face-to-face meetings and focus groups everything had to be done at a proper social distance. I asked a mix of students and colleagues to look at the Scope and Sequence. My colleagues gave feedback to me via email.  The current Advanced Baking students, who have taken Baking but have only experienced a small fraction of the current Advanced Baking curriculum, provided feedback by making comments on a Goole Doc version of the prototype. Finally, my independent study students who have taken both the Baking and Advanced Baking courses in full joined me for a Google Meet session and had a focus group discussion about the prototype. I planned questions in advance but asked everyone to give feedback in any area in which they felt it was necessary. 

When the feedback started to arrive I was initially a bit surprised by it. The current Advanced Baking students were the first ones to provide feedback and while some of them were able to step back and look at it objectively others were very focused on the topics that were added to Baking that they hadn’t had a chance to cover. These students felt that the custards unit, for example, should be moved to Advanced Baking because they hadn’t covered it yet. Once I explained that this was for future classes and they would not be affected by it they adjusted their thinking and were able to provide more relevant feedback. 

My colleagues liked the Scope and Sequence and did not feel that anything needed to be changed. They especially liked the addition of the science experiments and taste testing to give students a real look (and taste) at how ingredients change a product. This was also the case with the independent study students who were the most experienced of all the students that provided feedback. One student commented, “I wish I could take the class again Mrs. K, you added some cool stuff”.  Overall I think this prototype was very very successful. Some minor tweaking will need to be done before the new curriculum documents are written but it is mostly complete. 

Something to think about for the future…

One student said, “I don’t want to do the sourdough unit because I don’t want to take care of a starter but I guess I can see why its a good unit”.  This comment reminded me that even with a more well-rounded curriculum not everyone will be happy all of the time. If they are more interested in one certain area of baking they are going to want to focus there. They still need to go through all of the units so they can have a full baking repertoire but it would be great if there was something more independent to follow it up. With this in mind, I am planning to speak with my supervisor and ask for either an Independent Baking class or smaller class sizes that will allow room for more independent study students in each period.  The students would be eligible for the independent experiences after finishing Baking and Advanced Baking. 

Prototyping a Solution — Finally

My Problem is

The Advanced Baking course is repetitive, dated, and skewed toward one area of baking. 

My Prototype

Baking and Advanced Baking Scope and Sequence

My Reflection

I put a LOT of thought into this project. I will have the opportunity to rewrite the curriculum documents for our district for both Baking and Advanced Baking over the summer, and the scope and sequence are the backbone of that undertaking. I need to have it worked out properly before I begin writing a full curriculum document. I looked at what is taught at Johnson and Wales as well as a few other places in the United States and came up with my scope and sequence-based upon that. 

The part that really gave me struggle was making sure I wasn’t skewing the new scope and sequence in any one direction. The Baking curriculum covers the necessary information about ALL areas of baking and the Advanced Baking curriculum takes it to the next level asking the students to use what they know to be creative, make new things, run a bakeshop, advance their cake decorating using more sophisticated ingredients, and make super difficult sourdough bread. I feel comfortable that this iteration is complete, evenly distributed across units, and also allows the students to be creative as they have requested. 

Prototyping Creatively

The next step in the Design Model that I have been writing about is where I finally get to create a prototype of my solution to the problem. In this step I bring together everything that I learned through empathy reporting, defining the problem, and ideating or incubating all the possible (even wildly out there) solutions.

As with all of the other steps I spent some time practicing before jumping right in and making my prototype. The practice session included using 3-12 household items to create a prototype for a big idea of choosing. Rather than prototyping a solution to a problem I was creating a prototype that would be a visual representation of what the big idea meant to me. Read on to see what I created…

My Chosen Big Idea

Our Connected World

My Prototype

Untitled document

My Reflection

Explanation of My Prototype

{In the span of one week our society changed dramatically in a way I have never experienced before. I’ve been teaching for 20 years and never in my wildest dreams thought that I would find myself teaching from home. Last week our connected world was just that…connected, in a physical and virtual way. This week our connected world is trying to distance itself physically which leaves us connected mostly digitally. I am teaching BAKING from my laptop using demo videos I create and upload to youtube and FlipGrid for responses to prompts. At the same time, I’m assisting my children with 1st grade and 3rd-grade work as well as gym, Chinese, art, music, etc. We Facetime my niece every evening and I’ve set up a Facetime appointment with my friend for Saturday evening “wine time”. I’ve learned new ways to teach from home on Twitter and I send messages to my nephews on Facetime messaging. Without technology and the internet where oh where would we be? }

Description of  How I Feel Post Prototype

From this prototype experience, I learned that it’s kind of fun, and stress relieving even, to use available materials to represent something. It forced me to be creative! Instead of dice, I started with my son’s army guys but they made the prototype seem too aggressive. I had to go through my house to find something else and finding the dice was like a Eureka moment. In this climate, I really couldn’t go out and purchase any other materials anyway. It really drove home the idea that prototypes should solve the problem in a creative way. 

My Incubation Journal

My Problem is

The Advanced Baking course is repetitive, dated, and skewed toward one area of baking. 

My Brainstorm Session

I explained the PoP to my department coworkers and asked them to contribute their thoughts via post-it note on a poster I kept on my workroom desk all week. This is the final collection of notes. It was not possible for all of us to sit down together due to our schedules and the fact that we are without a contract and the union requires us to arrive and leave on time.

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My Incubation Journal

journal

My Reflection

I have thoroughly enjoyed the ideation experiences. (Honestly, in general, I have loved the design process. I think if I had known more about design earlier in life I would have followed that as a career path.) It gave me a chance to let the ideas fly with no concern for cost, administrative expectations, etc which can really get in the way of creative solutions. I think I have a solid avenue to pursue for prototyping and testing. At this point, I expect to construct a new scope and sequence for both Baking and Advanced Baking courses with Baking focused on learning the background knowledge needed for baking success.  Then Advanced Baking will focus on understanding substitutions, recipe construction, recipe testing, and running a bakeshop. We will attempt to partner with local bakers for real-world lessons. My mind just keeps spiraling from here but that’s where I’m starting.

Learning to Incubate My Ideas

Brainstorming has always been my go-to for coming up with new ideas. Actively thinking about a problem and coming up with solutions, often in a group setting. This week however I tried something a little more relaxed. I attempted to sit back and think in a quiet setting to allow my ideas to “incubate”. I even took a relaxing walk as I was thinking about the problem.

My problem is: 

The Advanced Baking course is repetitive, dated, and skewed toward one area of baking. 

The things that I find to be the most problematic are: 

  1. How do I ensure that the curriculum covers all areas thoroughly and meets the individual student needs/wants?
  2. How do I work in the bakeshop experience as part of the curriculum?
  3. Can I use the baking curriculum as a means of preparation so students can write their own recipes in advanced baking and direct their own inquiries?

A glance into the process:

My thoughts were mostly focused on question number three but in the process, I got a bit of resolution for all three issues. It kind of flowed like this…

If I set up the baking curriculum to include all of the units of study then students will have all the knowledge they need to make baked goods of all types. By using the Johnson and Wales curriculum as an example I can make sure we study ALL areas thoroughly. Maybe I can do a side by side comparison of Johnson and Wales and the Culinary Institute of America?

Then in Advanced Baking we can focus on the way recipes are constructed and the ratios necessary for each type of baked good. This will give them the info they need to write recipes. We can also master recipe testing in Advanced which is a big part of perfecting products for the bakeshop experience. Then they can scale recipes to larger/smaller quantities which is also a bakeshop skill.

My takeaway of incubating:

My mind doesn’t rest! Every free second it brings this back to the front of my thoughts so I can focus on it again. I’ve gone on some pretty wild tangents but with the current budget situation in my district, I’m sure none of those have any hope of surviving. An example is the purchase of a professional convection oven so we can bake more effectively. We have to fight to get them to replace regular equipment when it breaks so asking for a new piece of equipment doesn’t even have hope.  Then again maybe I can find someone willing to donate one…

 

Putting a Problem into Words

I have a problem with my Advanced Baking course that I want to solve. The problem is that the Advanced Baking course is repetitive and needs to be reworked. I’ve spent time talking to the students to find out what they think of the course and how they feel it would be best to improve it. That was stage one of the design process. Now I’ve moved on to stage two which is defining the problem. As I mentioned in my last blog post defining the problem seems very straight forward and easy…but it isn’t. I have struggled this week with looking at it creatively and reframing it.  

To help me with reframing the problem I worked through a few activities to help push my thinking. The first was a list of “5 Whys?”. It helped me identify the root cause of the problem and went something like this.

My Problem is: The advanced baking course needs to be redesigned

Why? Why does the advanced baking course need to be redesigned?

Response 1: It is too similar to the baking course and that makes it repetitive. 

Why? Why is it too repetitive?

Response 2: The units of study are the same in both courses.

Why? Why are the units of study so similar?

Response 3: That was how it was written by the teacher before me.

Why? Why did she write the units of study in this way?

Response 4: She felt that baking should be about cake decorating.

Why? Why did she focus on cake decorating?

Response 5 (my root cause): That was what she was comfortable with.

The second activity was a “Why How Ladder” and it helped me to identify a very abstract common need that addressed all of the needs of the students. Then by asking How for each of the original Why statements I was able to come up with some possible actions that might help solve the problem.

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In the end, I was able to come up with a definition of the problem. A definition that will probably need to be tweaked to perfection over the coming week.

Definition of the Problem
The problem is that the Advanced Baking course is repetitive and does not give the users an opportunity for individualizing the content and choosing the lab experiences that give them the experience they need. The users are high school students who are interested in baking and have already taken introductory coursework in baking which gave them background knowledge and the basic skills needed for baking. The root cause of the problem is that the course has not been rewritten for a long time. It was written by a teacher who was not experienced in all areas of baking so she focused it on her favorite areas. From my point of view, this has turned into a bigger problem than I first imagined. We have to go deeper to fix the underlying problems before we begin to work on the way the course is taught.

Now that the problem has been defined I see a total rewrite of the Baking and Advanced Baking courses beginning with a comprehensive scope and sequence as the first step in correcting the problem. That, of course, is just the first step. The course should be written in a way that encourages individual skill building and student-driven learning. Their success in the future hinges on their ability to continue learning even after they finish the course. They also need customer service skills and a chance to produce baked goods on a larger scale. 

Creativity in Problem Solving

This week I have moved on to exploring the second component of the design process. In this stage, we define the problem. It seems like a very easy, straightforward activity, doesn’t it? I’m here to tell you that looks can be very deceiving. Defining the problem involves sifting through all of the findings from the empathy stage and coming up with an actionable problem statement. It requires me to be more specific about the constraints and details of the problem. To define the problem I will have to look at it from a creative perspective and consider reframing, possibly more than once, to get it just right.

To get into the right frame of mind for this challenge I did a few “warmup” exercises. These exercises helped to get me ready to think creatively and to reframe the problem. To be honest, they were fun too!

Exercise #1: Creating Sniglets

Sniglets are words that don’t appear in the dictionary but that really should. They are created by observing life and creating words for things that don’t already have a word. Here are mine –

Dishspair (dish-spair) – n. The feeling you get when you realize there are more dishes to wash.

Eubakia (yoo-beyk-ee-uh) – n. The euphoric feeling of baking the perfect baked good.

Mindin (min-din) – n. The tiny dinner you have after eating a late heavy lunch.

Exercise #2: Reframing 

In this exercise, I identified a problem, described the problem,  and then I described how reframing it could lead to a better solution.

Original Problem: When I started working at my current job the classroom was not set up in an organized and useful manner. I teach baking and thus I need mixers, ovens, sinks, etc. for all of the workgroups. There were three ovens, three sinks, and six workgroups. 24 students were expected to work in the space at the same time with this limited access to equipment. While there were six stand mixers in the classroom another problem arose on my second day when we plugged them in and turned them on. We flipped a breaker! I was so very frustrated! From conversations with my coworkers, I knew that the district was absolutely not going to buy more ovens or install more sinks. They were also not going to consider limiting the number of students in the classroom. .

Reframed Problem: I had to find a way to make this space work even with all of its “quirks” I talked to the buildings and grounds crew to find out which outlets were connected to different breakers. Then I sat in the middle of the classroom and looked all around me at what was available. I had to change the way I looked at the problem to what I DO have rather than what is missing. Once I reframed it the problem became how can I set up the classroom to make it a working kitchen for 24 students with individual workspaces for each group.

From this reframing experience, I learned that the way I look at a problem has a LOT of impact on the success of the solution. Once I reframed it I was able to set up the room in a very successful format that has worked for us for 3 years. Each year there are small tweaks to the organization of the space but the general layout has been perfect. Truly solving a problem requires us to look at it creatively.

 

 

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Empathy – leading us to better solutions

The baking classes are second-level courses. The students arrive already knowing how to measure, read a recipe, set up mise en place, and the bare-bones basics of baking. While they are in the Baking class they improve on their mise en place, learn the importance of measuring by weight, experiment with ingredients, and gain a solid baking foundation. From there they can move on to Advanced Baking in which they repeat a lot of the same units with simply more complex recipes. It is quite repetitive in nature and needs a style refresh or a different structure.  

I decided last week that applying design empathy to this problem would be a good way to get a student perspective. They were the users of the curriculum and therefore their perspective would give the best clues to how effective it was and how well it was meeting their needs.  We were approaching the very end of the first semester and the Advanced Baking students were finishing up and preparing to move on to a new class. This was the perfect time to ask them to be reflective about their experience and to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the program. Since I keep a very relaxed conversational tone in the classroom on a daily basis it is quite natural for me to ask the types of questions that I had in mind.  

I started by giving each student a list of questions to answer and I encouraged them to be brutally honest in their responses. Not all of the students are comfortable speaking their minds aloud in a group setting and I wanted everyone to have input. They were given 24 hours to work on it because class time was really packed with our final bakeshop experience of the semester in full swing.  The surveys came back surprisingly complete. While we worked side by side preparing doughs and batters during the remainder of the week I worked in lots of small group and individual conversations. I was trying to get even more information but I was careful to listen and not lead. Some students were more specific than others but everyone had useful information to share. survey response

The students all felt that they learned a lot in Advanced Baking. They felt that some of the most positive parts of the course were the bakeshop experiences (we take orders from staff once a month and bake to fill the demand) and the freedom to be creative and create new things. Students also identified areas of the course that they felt needed improvement. One of the recurring answers was that students want more time to work on the areas of baking they identify as either their favorites or the ones they need more time to perfect. They felt that they were restricted by the need to follow the predetermined units. 

I wasn’t shocked by any of the responses. I feel much the same way the students do and that is why I identified this problem, to begin with. The course could be so much more effective than it is but I want the students to be part of designing the solution. I am looking forward to the adventure ahead of us as we begin the process of designing a new and improved Advanced Baking course.

Through the eyes of another

Empathy has been the word on my mind for the past two weeks. I’m exploring the process of design and empathy is the first step.  I was surprised at first to find that empathy was stressed in the design process however as I have focused on the topic I have developed respect for its inclusion. “Empathic understanding goes beyond knowledge: when empathizing you do not judge, you ‘relate to [the user] and understand the situations and why certain experiences are meaningful to these people’, a relation that involves an emotional connection” (Kouprie & Visser, 2009). If we don’t begin the process of design by developing an empathic understanding of the people who will be impacted then our final product is unlikely to fulfill it’s intended purpose. We have to understand the WHO of the problem before we can develop a solution.

While I’ve been focused on empathy I’ve looked at situations in a different light. I’ve tried to approach life from the perspective of others and it has been eye-opening. One specific instance was homework time on a typical weeknight. My children are 6 & 8 years old and while the 6-year-old has very little homework the 8-year-old always has a significant amount. Every evening I struggle to get her to sit still and complete the assignments. There are constant reminders and frustration builds until we are both angry. I decided to try to experience the activity from her perspective and see if I could empathize with her side of the story.  You can find a short video of the perspective-taking experiment here.

I learned a lot from experiencing homework time from the perspective of my 8-year-old daughter. First of all, there is way too much happening around her for her to even consider concentrating. There are puppies (Wilbert & Kitkat) begging for attention and needing to go outside. There is a brother sitting close who is doing colorful fun things and he wants to have conversation. There is a mommy in the room who is moving around and typically cooking dinner which has its own sounds and scents designed to distract. How could I possibly expect her to concentrate in the middle of this circus?

While I was recording I had a “homework” assignment in front of me but even though I was looking at it I wasn’t able to concentrate at all and that is where I started to feel empathy. To be honest, I feel terrible for all of the frustration I have unleashed on this poor child on a daily basis.  If I had taken the time to look at it from her perspective I would have saved us both a lot of grief. Homework time has been redesigned as a result of this experience.

My daughter sits in the dining room to do her homework now where it is quieter but close enough for me to answer questions if she has them. The puppies are sent outside to play in our fenced yard while she works and her brother sits in the kitchen to do his work. So far homework time is going a little smoother than in the past. It’s amazing what can happen when you look at things through the eyes of another.

References: 

Kouprie, M. & Visser, F.S. (2009). A framework for empathy in design: stepping into and out of the user’s life. Journal of Engineering Design, 20:5, 437-448. DOI: 10.1080/09544820902875033

Passion, Curiosity, and Questions

I have many passions in life. I’m passionate about being a supportive wife and a great mom. I’m passionate about exploring the world of food and creating new dishes. I’m passionate about sharing my love of food and cooking with everyone around me, including my students.

This week I’ve explored PQ or Passion Quotient, CQ or Curiosity Quotient, and the idea of “Questioning for Life”. I’ve looked at my life and my teaching through the lens of PQ & CQ and created this video to express what I saw.


The most interesting thing I learned this week is that my passions in life are closely connected to my curiosity. When I am passionate about something, I want to learn more about it and see how it works. The passion sparks curiosity and makes me ask questions, more and more questions.

It took me 17 years of teaching to find the perfect job for me, the position where my PQ and CQ are most appreciated.  I feel confident that for me PQ + CQ = the BEST me that I can be. However, I’ve just started my journey to asking great questions. I find the idea of “Questioning for Life” to be an open challenge for the future. “When you find your beautiful question, stay with it. If it’s a question worth pursuing, it will likely also be confounding, frustrating, exhausting” (Berger, 2014, page 215). It sounds challenging, but at the same time, it also sounds worth my time and energy. I’m going to start searching for MY beautiful question.

References:
Berger, Warren. (2014). A more beautiful question: the power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.