Students learn to cook through WLHS online class

Students at West Linn High School are channeling the spirit of Julia Child and Gordon Ramsay alike in the kitchen with the school’s culinary arts class. The hybrid online class was created three years ago by teacher librarian Stacy Erickson as a way to get students in the kitchen and experience online classes like they will face in SUBMITTED - These are cake pops made by Anya Lehman, class of 2012, in the culinary arts class at WLHS.

Erickson was previously a social studies teacher. She has spent the last six years in the library and has worked at WLHS for 18 years. She received her doctorate in 2007 with an emphasis on teacher professional development and online environments.

“The school district is starting to think about online options,” she said. “We have a need to explore these options, but also to make them happen. Students had been talking about a hands-on cooking class. It’s a nice way to blend the future of online education and let them experience cooking.”

The class averages 45 to 50 students — mostly juniors and seniors. The 15-week curriculum is taken as an elective. Grades are based upon completion of the project, presentation and descriptive writing. The students have weekly online assignments and meet face-to-face with Erickson once a month.

The students have a Facebook page for the class, a blog and use Blackboard — an online learning tool — to manage discussion boards and assignments. Each week, students receive a new cooking assignment such as interviewing someone in the food industry, shooting a cooking video, learning about nutrition or creating a complete menu for a party.

“I’ll get everything from a crumbling mess to a 10-layer tort,” Erickson said, noting that if something goes awry in the kitchen, students still receive credit. “I have kids who really like to cook and students who have never even made an omelet before.”

Some weeks focus on pie and cake, others on stir fry, muffins, breakfast or brunch and protein. Erickson’s favorite assignment requires students to interview a family member about a family recipe. Students may cook solo or communally to cut down on food costs. At the beginning of the class, students learn about food safety.

“We’ve only have had one kitchen fire, just one. That’s pretty good,” Erickson said.

Students select individual recipes based on dietary restrictions and individual skill levels, and receive reviews throughout the course. The final project includes a field trip to Williams-Sonoma and requires students to submit a recipe book and cook an entire meal all at once.

Once complete, students are required to take a photo of the food and a picture of a clean kitchen afterward — messy kitchens were a problem the first year — and post it online.

“The students seem to be very engaged,” Erickson said, noting that many students are already taking full course loads and therefore cook on the weekend. “These are wonderfully complex kids. The class has been a really great resource for families and students and we live in a beautiful food region.”

The online class may also prove a successful model for the school district, which prides itself on innovative curriculum and college and career readiness.

“I think we’ll see more hybrid classes in the future,” she added. “Kids are looking for flexibility and different class options.”

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