Saturday, June 16, 2012

the burger bash

3rd annual D.P. Todd year-end Burger Bash
How does your school end the year for the students? A nice three hour exam? Unreturned book fees? I suppose these will be with us for some time to come, a little pain for some gain. I would argue that exams can still be about assessing meaningful learning rather than ranking the little darlings. The exam pressure isn't all bad, it brings out some interesting resolve in students that is sometimes absent earlier in the month.  Some kind of final assessment clears away any doubts about whether a student is ready for next level and gives a few of them a final chance to establish that they've met the learning outcomes.

Three years ago, our school's bon vivant Socials teacher turned Culinary Arts teacher Mr. Ian Leitch hatched a plot for doing away with anything resembling an exam. He came up with a twofold assessment to allow his Cafeteria students to demonstrate their learning and celebrate their accomplishment.  The first part assesses individual competency and involves the documentation of a multi-course meal the student prepares for their families. Each step is justified, explained, and prepared with care, often tapping into cultural themes and family favorites that have significance for the student and his/her family. Back in class the student shares the story, pictures, and photos of how it went, complete with family evaluation. Assessment measures performance and learning re outcomes, but it also places a value on the work and personal learning that students self-describe (ultimately more lasting  than learning based on external standards).

Mr. Leitch's Cafeteria students work hard all year to provide amazing, healthy, tasty meals 2-3 times a week for a school that has no cafeteria, no industrial kitchen, not even a place for kids to sit and eat lunch. Carts of food scuttle down the halls in anticipation of lunchtime to the little snack counter that serves as a staging area for food service. The creative (sometimes experimental) student-designed meals are served up to about a third of our 750 students, who line up with $4 and a hunger for artfully arranged offerings such as 1) pulled pork on bannock with with cole slaw, 2) New York steak on a potato tart with prawns and sundried tomato cream reduction, 3) trio of Indian dishes (based on a student's parents' wedding meal), 4) garden veg sandwich with aged cheddar and mango chutney on foccacia. Etc! Stuff that Veg would be proud of.

The Cafeteria course uses some great blended learning -- student time is divided between classroom based lessons, independent group meetings, food prep, food service, and other work. They have a regular block, some of which they need to attend (not all of it in their foods classroom), some of which is optional, and they also give up some of their lunchtime. There is also an expectation for online/mobile contributions, e.g. recipe development, check-in with their group and teacher, and facebook promotion of their lunchtime food service. In my mind this is the right "blend" for blended learning -- the face-to-face time is very structured and involves powerful teaching, the independent work is group-based to provide accountability, and the online work makes the other parts go better and doesn't require students to be zoned out in front of a computer. They call their program/operation "Te Amo" (Spanish for "I love you," which was what one of our exchange students said when he tasted their food for the first time in 2010). The teacher is compensated with two teaching blocks for a single class, which recognizes that he gives up most lunches and spends parts of his evenings picking up food orders, stocking, and working with student groups face-to-face or by mobile phone. I'd call that a "flipped classroom" but this is becoming common enough now that we have to start seeing it as part of the spectrum and not a reversal of old-school teaching and learning.

Watching Mr. Leitch teach is a pleasure -- he opens up their thinking and senses to how important food is in our culture, our lives, our emotional and physical health, and brings them, step by step, to a place where they create beautiful dishes that could be served in restaurants. His manner is so full of joy and respect, inclusive without pandering and humorous without losing focus, and always about the students being their best. Mauri Bell, a dynamic Ed Assistant connected to the class and program acts as sous chef and negotiator/facilitator on the long list of duties performed by students, in addition to working with some special kids in the program. The class structure runs very much like a professional kitchen, with students rotating through important roles from dishes to top chef. They have "iron chef competitions," hour-long intense workshops on single ingredients, student submitted food "problems" to solve (e.g. how to turn a family recipe into an event production line), some keynotes on process and safety, and group accountability for pulling off orders, planning, and production. They even made cheese.

The second part of Mr. Leitch's course wrap-up benefits the whole school and assesses teamwork, very important in a program that will/does lead many into the food service industry. At the end of June, the Te Amo Caf students form groups and design the ultimate burger -- secret sauces, the right cheese, crazy good toppings, and usually a special twist. They build a demo burger, photograph it, market it around the school, and sell tickets to buy them. A bit of friendly competition and a chance for them to act and talk about food to the whole school they way they have been doing in class. How's that for a final exam? The rest is pure anticipation and celebration. In the staff room, teachers are going on about which burger(s) they have bought tickets for, talking about what the students said to convince them to buy it. On the last day, the grill is going before the last class is out... of course the doors are open and my hallway is filling with the smell of cooked meat, so much for my lesson plan! The burgers are cooked on one grill, and each team has a station out on the grass to assemble their prized creation for all the students who picked their burger from the others.

Our school's leadership class (Mr. Balazs) teams up to coordinate the rest of the burger bash. The yearbooks are ready for distribution, and are given out as the students end the last class. Our admin team has dragged big tables out to the fields, and the students pour out to wait for their burgers and sign yearbooks. We've done this for three years now and it is so cool to see the interactions and conversations. Signing a yearbook brings out some pent-up sentiment in everybody. From signing big Canadian flags for our exchange students, or listening to the music DJ'd by our talented leadership students, the event had a great vibe. I want to use the words joy and respect, even if these don't normally fit with the idea of a year-end party (you'd think some of them would want to break stuff and get the heck out). The students left the field after a couple of hours, not even much to clean up (although our admin and the leadership students were there for that, too).  The first year we did this, it struck such a need that we finally had to ask kids to think about going home at 6:00 after they had talked, danced to the music, and signed yearbooks for 3 hours.

This year was no different -- joy and respect (perhaps modelled by their Culinary Arts teacher) were what the students delivered. I had the Royal... it had a spicy honey garlic sauce, monterey jack cheese, and pineapple. A bit messy but tasted fantastic. The mix of food, conversation, sunny skies, and yearbooks also provided some serendipity, neat encounters that don't happen elsewhere. I heard one student, while signing the yearbook of another, say "I didn't really get to know you that well this year, it was nice talking to you." Lots of hugs and laughs and teens being teens, but no booze or funny business, go figure. I was especially pleased this year to be asked to sign the yearbooks of a few special students whose progress and resilience I really admire. Some of our students are rough around the edges, including a bunch of kids that take Mr. Leitch's Cafeteria class, but you'd never know it from watching them at the burger bash. Your teachers are proud of you.

A very nice way to end the year, even if there is that other messy business -- a few exams to take the edge off the post-burger-bash glow.  Thanks Mr. Leitch, Ms. Bell, Te Amo crew, staff and students for a great finish.


Mr. Balazs said...

What I love the best about this day is that so much of it is student directed and student-led. It is the Yearbook, Leadership and Te Amo students who plan, coordinate and execute these afternoons. I think it speaks volumes about the personality of the students that we can have an event FOR the kids, BY the kids and so many take part in it... a real sense of community. Usually the younger students offer to man the yearbook station so that the graduating students can have "the afternoon off" to visit and sign books, yet most often the senior yearbook students WANT to stay and hand out the books - they take such pride in the work they have crafted and prepared for their peers. This is when we are reminded of what good citizens they have grown into.

Steve Chase said...

Thanks again for sharing Glen! Thanks Leitch and D.P. Todders for raising the bar. Fantastic to see the learning culture that's exploding at D.P.Todd.

Anonymous said...

As a former student of John McInnis (RIP 1972 - 2010) I must say I never though I would see another school with the same sense of community as JMC had, Let alone a school with grades 8 - 12. In my short time with you, your staff and students proved me wrong. Constantly your Principal would ask me what I thought of your school and I would reply to him (a former JMC teacher himself) that DP Todd is John McInnis, except with grades 11 and 12. The very idea of most teachers knowing every students by name, and if not, at least remembering their faces is unheard of in pretty much every other school I've been to.

There is a special spirit and community at DP Todd that you do not and probably will never find at any other school in SD 57. This burger bash that Mr. Leitch and the students put together is just another amazing example of this. Students, staff, and admin coming together for the sake of the students - for the sake of the school community. Building memories and school spirit. Giving all the future grades something to look forward to each year. Well done Mr. Leitch for creating these fond memories for students, Mr. Balaz, for helping students develop into responsible young adults who can help organize such an event, and even Mr. Thielmann for sharing these thoughts and encouraging kids to be positive and to be a part of their school community and building school spirit with them by joining in on these events.

When people ask me what my favourite school in SD 57 is, I always respond with John McInnis (not what it is now, but what it was pre 2010).... followed in close second by DP Todd. And the reason is because the sense of community the school has and the sense of pride the students have in their school. Well done teachers! you have created such a positive learning environment for these kids despite everything going on right now, I think other schools can learn a few things from what you have done here!

Thielmann said...

Thanks for your comments; I've passed them on to the rest of the staff -- we're like students, we like it when people say nice things about us! You raised an interesting point that we talked about a few months ago as staff -- with JMac and Lakewood closing, we're now the small school in town, and that can be a good thing. Small is beautiful, more community and not so much like an institution.