Juniper Elementary fifth-graders in Jaime Speed’s class spent part of Monday afternoon divided into groups — some creating bacon-wrapped cheese pastries in an oven-equipped break room, some designing magic-themed snacks around cheese sticks and melted chocolate, and others meticulously putting together table decorations. Despite running around performing various tasks, the students were mostly focused, because later that night was the event they’ve waited for: the opening of their Harry Potter-themed pop-up classroom restaurant.
Speed, who’s taught at Juniper for 14 years, said the restaurant concept teaches her students a variety of subjects and skills, such as food science, kitchen safety, graphic design and event planning. Having students learn at a young age how to create their own unique pastries or design a menu introduces them to potential career paths, she added.
“These are trades that are legitimate trades,” Speed said. “Graphic design is a great job. A chef, or working in a kitchen, is a great job. I just think it’s been great to teach them about life.”
Speed came up with the restaurant idea from a new, hands-on elementary science curriculum, Amplify Science, which was just adopted in Bend-La Pine Schools and will be introduced soon to Redmond elementary schools as well. She said the fifth-grade chemistry unit centered on food chemistry.
Students learned earlier this school year about molecules and matter through a project involving food dye, and discovered emulsifiers — food additives that stabilize processed foods — while making salad dressing. Baking has also taught the students about the differences between chemical and physical changes to food.
According to Speed, this hands-on, kid-friendly curriculum has been wildly successful at getting kids invested in science.
“The way that the (students) are talking about atoms and molecules, their understanding is so much deeper than I’ve ever experienced at this age,” she said. “It’s a high-interest topic, everyone likes food, and Harry Potter is a huge incentive.”
The restaurant was Speed’s own idea, as a way to culminate all that the students have learned about food science and safety. The Harry Potter theme fit naturally, as Speed’s class is already centered on the books, and students are sorted into a wizarding house, like in the books. Each food item references Harry Potter in one way or another, from “Nimbus 2000” broomsticks — mozzarella cheese sticks with ends molded like brooms, tied onto a pretzel stick with a chive — to a “Sorting Potion,” which turns clear 7Up into one of four of the wizarding house colors — yellow, blue, green or red — due to food dye hidden in the cups’ ice. Even Bugle chips are renamed as “Wizard Hats.”
Perhaps the most elaborate food is the “Bacon-Wrapped Wands,” where students stuffed puff pastries with cheese, wrapped bacon around them and stuck them in the oven. The students’ food safety skills were on full display while making the wands, as they changed plastic gloves after every step and frequently washed their hands for lengthy periods of time.
“We’ve learned a lot about foodborne illnesses, so that we don’t give them out to people,” said Sasha Irwin, 11.
Students also designed the menu and restaurant logo with the help of local graphic designer Jennie Hoffman. Each student submitted a logo design, and the class voted on the winner: “Wingardia Leviosauce,” a pun on the famous Wingardium Leviosa levitating spell in Harry Potter.
Students said they loved learning to cook and working on a large-scale hands-on project. According to Speed, the everyone-has-a-task nature of the restaurant planning has kept every student occupied.
“They’re more engaged the crazier it gets, because they each have very important tasks to do,” she said. “So I’ve had less issues with behavior during the cooking and building times than I have during the sit-down times.”
Melanie Corrales, 10, said she appreciated how every kid had a specific role.
“It’s not like somebody’s not doing anything and another person’s doing everything,” she said.
Some students were tasked with figuring out how to fit the 88 parents and family members who RSVPed to the dinner into a small classroom. Mathias Odell, 10, said he had figured out exactly how many people could squeeze around a desk, and then how many clusters of desks could fit into the room using multiplication skills.
Later that night, the students managed to cram every family member into Speed’s classroom, some of whom said they were impressed by the students’ creative food and quick service. The kids, all sharply dressed in white, kitchen-ready shirts and Harry Potter aprons, were polite and professional while serving their family members. Meanwhile, the back room where food was being prepared was controlled chaos — much like an actual restaurant kitchen — with students scrambling to find enough napkins and Speed delegating tasks.
The room already had many Harry Potter decorations, but students added some extra touches any Potterhead would love, like fantasy monsters called dementors hanging from the hallway ceiling, or a picture of the ghost character Moaning Myrtle on the bathroom mirror.
Speed said she believes the project has been a success, and she plans on bringing it back in future years. Some of her students hope the rest of the school tries something similar.
“I think this is a really good idea, and I think more classes should do it,” said Mathias.
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