Alex Niosi

Delaware Valley School District
Delaware Valley, Pennsylvania
Alex Niosi, Culinary Arts instructor

Career and Technical Education (CTE) is synonymous with hands-on education and real world application. The latter is one thing that has remained consistent during this transition to virtual and hybrid learning. Mask wearing and social distancing has become a familiar part of our daily lives. When we transitioned back into our culinary lab and classroom we needed to make it a familiar part of our culinary experience. We model our kitchen experience after industry trends and guidelines, this way the students in labs experience first-hand how it is in the industry. One of the first things we discovered was that working in the lab was very loud and face masks limit communication in an already difficult environment. In keeping the real world application aspect of CTE, we searched through industry texts to see what is currently being used in kitchens and culinary lab environments. We came across an article that showed culinary schools using a specific style face shield to work in their labs. We were able to incorporate these same face shields along with proper social distancing to create a better functioning lab experience. Not quite back to normal, but closer than before.

In our CTE environment we are lucky enough to have big enough lab areas to promote social distancing. We are two years into a brand new fully remodeled CTE wing in our high school. Open work areas, brand new equipment, perfectly clean stainless steel that seems to go on for days.  The students that have been part of the program since the remodel have been patiently waiting to get into their new lab environment.  The remodel, getting sent home early last year, and coming back to an ever changing new virtual/hybrid learning model has left our CTE students wanting real hands on lab experience more than ever. The CTE model and especially Culinary Arts is set up for individual students to be able to work on specific projects with their own sets of tools or equipment. We already wash, clean, and sanitize all of our tools and equipment due to the nature of Culinary Arts. So the transition for CTE students who are in school has been something to get used to but not extremely difficult because of their ability to adapt due to their CTE mentality.

Virtual learning in the CTE environment on the other hand has been a very difficult challenge. Adapting a hands-on curriculum to a virtual platform has been challenging. My morning lab is predominantly Zooming for their classroom/lab experience. I still consider myself a new instructor. I am lucky enough to be currently obtaining my teaching certificates as I try to navigate these changing teaching/learning environments. Since I am still discovering my teaching styles, I’m finding it a little easier to adapt to change. I have found the most success using a flipped classroom style set up with my Zoom students and in classroom students.  We discuss topics for a short period in the classroom and then the students are engaging in online video lessons, online research, and discussions via Zoom. I think this model of learner centered or learner driven engagement is working well in this online/classroom environment. This keeps online students actively engaged while in-class students transition from classroom to lab work. The options for industry specific online content is basically endless. Textbook companies, colleges, industry organizations, and many more have all made so much available online due to this new change in teaching. The educational community has really come together to make learning a number one priority in this situation. Having this available content really helps create a better virtual learning experience where hands on learning is lacking.  Another very helpful resource has been industry organization online learning modules. These give the students the opportunity to engage and be interactive with the content.  It may not be hands-on, but the students are actively involved and I think that is currently a very good substitution.

The final piece of the Virtual CTE puzzle is getting the Zoom students actively engaged in the kitchen lab setting. We have been incorporating the virtual students into the lab demonstrations and guided practice activities in the lab. The virtual students are submerged into the lab experience. During demonstrations and evaluations, the virtual students experience the lab setting. The lab demonstrations can then become video lessons that can be posted to the online classroom and used in a variety of ways.

Virtual learning in a hands on setting like CTE is proving to be a difficult task but one that we are discovering can be successful. Career and Technical Education is based in hands-on learning and real world applications. I have found successful students in this CTE environment have an ability to adapt to their changing learning environment. This new virtual/hybrid style of learning is just one more way to engage students and prepare them for their real world industry.

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