Young Chefs and Harvard Ed Portal collaborates to pilot curriculum in undergraduate mentoring program

This past fall, Young Chefs partnered with the Harvard Ed Portal to bring the cooking-science curriculum to students in Boston.

The pilot collaboration was launched as part of a new addition to the Ed Portal’s undergraduate mentoring program, which connects Harvard undergraduate mentors with children and youth from grades 1-12. Approximately 30 Harvard College undergraduate students serve as Ed Portal Mentors each semester and these undergraduates mentor students in subjects as diverse as math, science, writing, and the arts. Young Chefs and the Ed Portal have previously worked together in science-cooking summer programs. Piloting a cooking-science program during the semester seemed like a natural way to extend the opportunities for learning into the school year.

The initial pilot this past fall of 2016 included Harvard College mentors Tina Huang and Ellen Jang-Milsten, who led the program, as well as five student participants who embarked on a semester-long culinary and scientific journey. Through weekly classes, students engaged with some of Young Chefs’ most exciting lesson plans, including the science of pancakes and foams, ice cream and phase transitions, pretzels and chemical reactions, starches and soups, smoothies and density, and chocolate and crystal formation. Young Chefs co-founder and Harvard PhD student Vayu Maini Rekdal supported the implementation of the curriculum, while Susan Johnson of the Harvard Bok Center for Teaching and Learning supervised the undergraduate teaching and curriculum at the Ed Portal.

The program was a huge success and will continue in the spring of 2017. While Young Chefs lessons are the basis of the experiments and concepts that students engage with in the program, the undergraduate mentors have brought their unique perspectives and skills to adapt to the mentoring setting. For example, instead of using traditional lab notebooks, participants used yellow stick notes and the white board to communicate their hypotheses and results. Students enjoyed writing on the white board and the mentors also found it helpful the experiment was drawn on the whiteboard and then students filled in what was happening at each stage.

In addition to adapting the teaching style and materials, the undergraduate mentors changed some of the lesson content to better fit within the time constraints of the weekly classes. A key trick for the mentors was to read through whatever lesson plan they would use and then cut things out or add content as appropriate. For the mentors, it became noticeable easier to adapt content after the first couple weeks because the students’ needs became clearer. For example, in some lesson plans mentors added a game because that seemed to help the students learn better.

After a successful first semester, the program has clearly provided exciting learning opportunities for students, mentors, and the people behind Young Chefs alike.  We are excited to see this program grow into the future and improve and expand the implementation of Young Chefs lesson plans!

Blog post by Vayu Maini Rekdal, Young Chefs co-founder

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