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Online Learning with Hands-on, A Cooking Lesson

Its Friday August 7th, I just finished posting my latest Podcast of Breaking Down The Wall with my guest with Marg Bouse. Marg is a friend, a venture Catalyst, Mentor and business strategist. A little more on this in a moment….

I grab my cup of Green Mountain Dark Magic coffee from the Kuerig and yell “Alexa, Start my Day”. Alexa briefs me on calendar entries, informs me about the latest “news”, weather and she settles in on Maine Public Radio. A woman starts to tell a story and suddenly, my ears perk up as she strikes a familiar chord. She was speaking about her 10-year-old son Wiley and how much has changed in the last half year as Wiley gathers the list of what he needs for summer camp. But this list does not include a sleeping bag, a flashlight, or even bug spray…. He needs a can of chickpeas?

Wiley is about to join 30 other kids from faraway places such as Vancouver, Canada, San Jose, Ca. and Washington D.C. They are all attending summer camp but this year, in their own kitchen.

Welcome to Dinner Club, conceived and taught by Chef Pascal Simon, a German-born chef who has been teaching baking classes for kids out of her home kitchen in Austin, Texas, for over a decade. Popular among her foodie families and home schoolers in the city of Austin, her classes were mostly focused on cookies, Pop Tarts, and French macaroons in her popular Summer Cupcake Camp.

Then came the pandemic…

Chef Pascal Simon had only taught in person to a dozen or so kids packed into her kitchen. Her classes were about hands-on proximity, tactile problem-solving, and community-building. She had never once been on Zoom, but over the next two months she reinvented her business.

This is where I began to hear that familiar chord… During my Networking and Innovative Learning podcast with Marg Bouse, we spoke about the challenges during the pandemic with online learning. We discussed how some people have a difficult time learning from a monitor and/or online. Others needed reinforcing with hands-on and may also need to ask that question that everyone is thinking…

We return to the Maine Public Radio and begin to understand the predicament that Chef Pascal was facing…

The Monday after the pandemic shutdown the world… Chef Pascal began offering online baking classes to any kid who signed up, for free. Within weeks she had up to 45 kids signed up from across North America. The cooking sessions were energetic and chaotic, with Chef Pascal picking up numerous new teaching skills on the fly. Parents appreciated the classes and frequently expressed amazement at what their stuck-at-home kids were accomplishing.

Chef Pascal greets the students individually. Within fifteen minutes, each child on the Zoom screen has raw chicken on a cutting board and a knife in their hand.

"If your chicken is already cut up, I'm sorry," Chef Pascal says. "I told your parents not to do that."

An hour later, the kitchens smell incredible. The butter chicken that night is perfectly tender after simmering in cream, tomatoes, and spices. Chef Pascal's completes the evening’s dinner creation with the children online with her dry sense of humor and her genuine appreciation of her students.

We see these challenges every day and when we focus on what we can do, it becomes possible… Chef Pascal, unaware of the workings of the internet and teaching online had a difficult challenge. She pushed aside the negative and moved forward with what she knew… How to cook and how to teach…

Chef Pascal said her biggest surprise was how effective it was to be teaching cooking and baking online. She goes on the say, “Everyone forgets there is a screen between them as they are still all literally in the same kitchen.” Her recipe for online education, make it real, make it hands-on and make it ambitious. You will be surprised at what the children can do…

Well, my coffee is done, the story is over, “Alexa, turn off the radio”. It is time to round up the dog and head out into the back forty on the ATV… Let’s go dog!!!

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