Sunday, February 27, 2011

Curriculum Resource: Presidential Palate, or Learning American History through Cooking

Before explaining this project, I have to give a shout-out to my homeschooling support group, Cary Homeschoolers. We are so fortunate to homeschool in Cary, NC, not only because there are so many homeschoolers here that we have lots of programs and resources, but also because we have so many really well-informed parents who are so generous in sharing their expertise with each other. So, for example, when I want to know what terms to search for on Google to find out more about that human tendency to make sense out of abstract or random pictures or symbols, I know exactly who to ask (it's called "Pareidolia," she informed me). Or when I'm trying to help my son figure out whether he should display his data as a bar chart or a pie chart or some other statistical analysis, I know who to call. Or when I want some obscure historical reference on some topic that I don't know that much about, such as the liberation of the serfs in 19th century Russia, I know exactly who can lend me a book on that subject. I could go on and on about all the people who have helped me to get the information I need to educate my son. I just want to publicly acknowledge what a gift it is to homeschool within that kind of a community.

However, it is not only the academic knowledge that this community provides. I have a friend whose social action inspires me to be more involved in political issues. I have another friend who attends my spiritual community and assists me in my teaching there. Yet another friend is redoing her kitchen, and helps me see that improving my house is a possibility.

One CHS member who has galvanized me to do some more imaginative cooking for my family is my friend who writes a delightful blog entitled Siggy Spice. She concentrates on delicious-sounding recipes, but writes about them in a wonderful humorous voice. She is homeschooling three children, plus parenting another, and yet manages to come up with original meals several times, PLUS she manages to photograph them and blog about them. Her example has helped me to upgrade my cooking, at least in terms of trying some new recipes and such.

But as I was trying some new recipes--which I really enjoy doing, by the way--it also sparked a new idea for our history studies. This year we are learning about the US Presidents. And I don't know about you, but I kind of muddle up a lot of those Presidents in the middle. I mean, I'm good for the first four to six or so, and I'm solid in terms of Eisenhower on. Plus, I know the ones around the wars. But all those guys in the middle--Garfield? the Harrisons? Taft? For me, at least, those guys kind of run together.

I've written on several occasions, perhaps most recently here, about how I think incorporating food into lessons really helps students remember the lesson. (After all, food is kind of a priority for this age group.) So I came up with a new approach to learning the US Presidents. First of all, we are going to "chunk" them into groups of four. Chunking is an educational theory that we can learn limited amount of information at the same time -- so, for example, we learn our phone numbers as 919 (one chunk), 555 (another chunk), and 1212 (a third chunk).

But in addition to "chunking" them into groups of four, we are going to add an experiential component to each chunk. We (my son and I) are going to cook a meal of four dishes that represent the four Presidents in that chunk. We are going to assign one President to main dish, one to vegetable, one to dessert, and then one other to some other side dish. We plan to combine dishes that were authentic to the time period to modern dishes that relate to outstanding facts about that President.

My intention is to combine research and learning about American Presidents with an interest of my son (cooking), along with teaching him cooking skills, which I think are lifelong competencies. I think this way of approaching the Presidential timeline might help him at least place those less renowned Presidents in the right framework for their time.

We cooked out first Presidential Palate meal this week as part of our Presidents Day celebration. So I plan to post specifics about our Washington-Adams-Jefferson-Madison meal tomorrow.

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