Battle Ground’s Culinary Arts teachers cook up engaging lessons

Teachers have transformed classroom demonstrations on how to properly measure ingredients and knife skills into videos reminiscent of a Food Network cooking show

It wasn’t long ago that Battle Ground’s Culinary Arts teachers prepared for class by making sure they had enough ingredients for students to make a dish. 

These days, one of the bigger concerns is camera angles.

Regardless of your profession, everyone has had to make adjustments since the beginning of the pandemic. In education, remote learning has necessitated that teachers deliver engaging lessons using online tools like Google Classroom and Zoom and in some cases — their videography skills.

Prairie High School Culinary Arts teacher Britt Pedlar gives a recipe demonstration from his home kitchen. Photo courtesy of Battle Ground Public Schools
Prairie High School Culinary Arts teacher Britt Pedlar gives a recipe demonstration from his home kitchen. Photo courtesy of Battle Ground Public Schools

Culinary Arts teachers in Battle Ground Public Schools have taken the challenge and run with it. Take, for example, Introduction to Culinary Arts, or “Foods I” at Battle Ground and Prairie high schools. In these classes, teachers have transformed classroom demonstrations on how to properly measure ingredients and knife skills into videos reminiscent of a Food Network cooking show. 

“In converting my lesson plans to something more akin to an online cooking school, students are being very responsive and engaging more with the content,” said Battle Ground High School teacher Gene Fritz. “Online video lessons provide students greater flexibility in that they can watch the cooking demos when it’s most convenient for them.”

As part of Battle Ground Public Schools’ Career and Technical Education, or CTE program, the district’s Culinary Arts classes focus on teaching students tangible skills that prepare them for a variety of job and career opportunities. The video lessons have proven to be a solid way for students to continue learning, and grow in a variety of skills.

“Some kids are able to absorb the content rather quickly and work ahead, while other students can use the videos as a resource to go back and review previous lessons if they are struggling with a concept,” Fritz said. “No matter what, our goal is to broaden access to the learning content and meet students where they are.”

Michelle Freed, who teaches Foods and Food Science courses at Prairie High School, agrees that flexibility is beneficial to students. “Remote learning is providing my students with the opportunity to be more independent,” Freed said. “In addition to learning real-world cooking skills, students are also learning time management skills and building self-confidence.”

Freed says that even though kids are not in her classroom, they are still developing strong relationships via remote learning. “I’m making cooking demonstration videos from my kitchen, so in a sense, students are being invited into my home,” Freed said. “While we’re missing some of the collaborative teamwork that comes with in-person cooking, students are gaining time with their families and bonding over meals that the students have prepared.”

Since they are preparing food at home, students submit their assignments by creating videos or taking photos documenting each step of the cooking process. They also write a reflection describing the challenges they encountered while making a recipe and how they resolved potential problems. The teachers provide feedback through notes in Google Classroom, and even record audio feedback on video submissions sent by students. 

The Foods instructors agree that it’s more about effort and understanding concepts than it is about results. After all, cooking is a skill that requires practice, time, and continual refinement.  

Freed also relies on parents to provide critiques. “Parents often tell me they’re shocked that their kids can make something so good,” Freed said. “But even if a recipe doesn’t turn out quite right, it provides a learning experience and ultimately builds confidence.”  

“The partnerships between parents and teachers is so important,” Fritz said. “Our job is to be calm, communicative, and caring, and we all share the same goal of looking out for students and helping them prepare for the future.”

“So many CTE staff are really digging in and doing such creative work to support students learning at home,” said Cindy Arnold, the district’s director of Career and Technical Education. “It’s inspiring to see them go above and beyond for their students.”

Teachers are doing all they can to provide hands-on experiences that would normally happen in the classroom. Floral teachers are sending flowers to students’ homes so they can still do flower arrangements. Forensic Science teachers have been creating virtual “crime scenes” for students to help investigate. Woodshop and metals teachers are also sending supplies home so students can do hands-on projects. And the CASEE program has developed lab work that students can do at home.

No matter the subject, the goal of CTE courses is to provide students with skills that can translate to job opportunities. For many people, their first real job is working in food service, and taking Foods I has provided an entryway for many local students to get a job while they’re still in high school.

Britt Pedlar teaches Culinary Arts at Prairie High School, and a key element of his classes has always been taking students on field trips to local restaurants so they can see for themselves what it’s like to work in a busy kitchen. Pedlar hasn’t let the pandemic stop him from providing his students with these valuable insights and has pivoted to conducting virtual field trips to local food trucks and restaurants.

“Typically, I try to talk to a few workers to get a glimpse of their work,” Pedlar said. “My goal is to highlight the benefits, challenges, and realities of each job so students get an accurate picture. Students are also quite receptive to hearing advice from these professionals, so I also try to get some sort of tip about food to pass on to students.”

To see what one of Pedlar’s field trips looks like, watch Pedlar’s virtual field trip to the Loco Ono BBQ food truck on his YouTube channel.

“We’re doing everything we can to connect with students and create stability and a sense of normalcy wherever we can,” Fritz said. “We want to support our students as people, and that means doing whatever we can to build them up and prepare them for their futures.” 

Information provided by Battle Ground Public Schools.