RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- Students at Ridgefield Academy (RA) learned how to make yogurt during a recent Nutrition Week lesson. The teaching involved, however, dove far deeper than the science behind the process.
Through the exercise of yogurt making, second- and third-graders learned aspects of math, gardening, teamwork, science and labor. The project showed the depth to which Ridgefield Academy goes to instruct students via an integrated learning approach.
“We wanted to show students the daily process that people go through to prepare food,’’ said Jerry Nash, a science teacher at RA. “The materials used, the time needed to cure the yogurt, and the chemical and physical changes that yogurt goes through before becoming the creamy, tasty product they are used to eating. The students were curious and wanted to get involved. They were involved in hands-on learning in every phase of the process, which is consistent with how we approach lessons at Ridgefield Academy."
The lesson drew on a range of Academy staff, including Chef Paul Desiano, Nash and Jill Summer, the school’s Kitchen and Garden Consultant and a certified chef.
Desiano, who has been cooking professionally for 15 years, showed students how yogurt was made, including stages of heating and cooling. "It is important that children realize that food isn’t simply purchased at a grocery store," said Desiano. "Parents will ask me, ‘What do you mean you’re making yogurt?’’ Desiano said. “We’re trying to walk that back a little bit. It helps people realize that food has to come from somewhere. With something like yogurt, it’s not impossible to make it yourself. It’s like starting a fire from scratch.”
Nash and Summer worked with the children on flavoring the yogurt with blueberry juice, and incubating it as the final step in the process. “Farm-to-table is one of the key concepts we want our students to learn,’’ Summer said. “That teaches them they don’t have to walk into Whole Foods for fresh vegetables. From planting the seeds to maintaining the garden to eating foods that are good for them, it’s a whole process and we help them connect the dots.” Learning does not just occur in the classroom, as Summer and the students plant vegetables at the school, all of which find homes in Desiano’s lunch dishes.
Nash, an enthusiastic teacher who connects with the students from the moment they enter the room, enjoys seeing the children connect those dots. Nash helped the students understand the science behind the yogurt-making process. “When they understand, it’s like a light bulb goes off, and that’s why I do it,’’ he said.
At the culmination of the week, Desiano made frozen blueberry yogurt for the children by using liquid nitrogen and a food processor. Amid the foaming "smoke" and squeals of excitement, he explained how the yogurt was now taking on a new form and freezing due to the low temperature of the nitrogen.
Student reviews of the finished project were overwhelmingly positive.
Instruction at Ridgefield Academy differs from many schools in two important ways: Students learn by doing, and lessons are integrated across a variety of disciplines. This approach helps Ridgefield Academy students learn information from a variety of angles and approaches. “Kids learn in many different ways,’’ Nash said. “There’s not one way of learning and not one that is better than another. It’s just finding out the best way to reach each kid.”
Ridgefield Academy’s integrated approach to learning requires that the staff work together from start to finish. There are not hierarchies, silos or isolation when it comes to teaching. The whole school works to educate students, starting with Head of School James Heus.
Click here to learn more about Ridgefield Academy.
To watch a video of the making of the frozen yogurt, click here .