Thursday, May 8, 2014

Student-Centered Learning or How About Cheesecake in Class?

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."—Benjamin Franklin

I'm teaching several different types of classes this quarter and have close to 100 students! I teach at a local community college.

This quarter, I'm teaching everything from a Prep for Small Business Ownership class for immigrants and refugees as part of the ABE ESL program to a new class I created as part of the Arts Now program called Blogging and Journaling: Freeing the Writer Within.

I'd like to say that I'm not just teaching, but allowing students to become the center of their own learning process and development. I can give instruction, information, ideas, materials, stories and share my own personal experiences, but the students must take the extra leap and apply all these things to their lives.

For real learning to take place, experience is necessary. 

The classes I remember most from school are the ones where the teacher was more like a guide and it was up to me to take these ideas and materials and put them to use.

So what does this all have to do with cheesecake, you ask?

In my Prep for Small Business Ownership class, I had the students read an article from 2005 Small Business Resource Guide (A supplement to Business Examiner). It was a little magazine that is chocked full of interesting "real life" stories about people who took the plunge and started their own businesses.

The article they read is called Agencies Can Provide Sweet Deals and it's about a woman named Danelle Bentley who loved to cook delicious cheesecakes for friends, family, neighbors—anyone she could think of. Many of them, after tasting her creations, said, "This is the best cheesecake I've ever eaten—you should go into business."

She didn't take it seriously at first, but before long she had transformed her garage into a commercial kitchen and later opened her own shop, Dee's Licious Gourmet Cheesecakes, and was selling to a restaurant chain and even sold a product at Costco.

After reading the article in class, I said, "I wonder if she is still in business? Maybe you all could Google her and find out."

One student took this very seriously and managed to track Danelle down. She even went to her place of work and interviewed her and came back to the class to report what she discovered.

At first I was a bit surprised and even thought maybe this was a step too far, but the student had a very pleasant experience chatting with Danelle about her cheesecake business and this gave me the opportunity to contact her and ask if she'd come to the class as a guest speaker.

Even though Danelle is no longer in the cheesecake business, her experiences—both positive and negative—about operating a small business were invaluable to my students.

Besides that, what an amazing journey it was for my class to read an article in a 2005 supplemental magazine and then have that person show up in class with arms full of mini cheesecakes (a secret recipe) for my students. They were so thrilled and had so many questions.

It was one student's very keen interest in finding this woman that brought her to our class. This made our class experience and the learning process much more interesting for the students because they were involved in this process.

The entire class came up with questions to ask Danelle and I compiled those questions into a list and emailed it to her.

I know this was an experience the students will never forget. At the end, we all clapped and thanked Danelle for coming and took a picture with her.

Students in my Prep for Small Business Class with Danelle who formerly owned Dee's Licious Gourmet Cheesecakes

Perhaps, after years of being out of the cheesecake business, the enthusiasm of our class sparked that interest and passion in her again. At least I know it did for the time she was in our class and we were so lucky to hear her stories.

Was there ever a time in school where you were excited to be part of the learning process? What were you doing? Do you have any specific teachers you remember very well?

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