Course Design: The Key to Differentiated Instruction

By Lindsey Dixon

The first time I met Sabrina was over the summer, before our purple walls, music studio, and Homework Café® had become a reality at Fusion Academy Southlake. Our campus leaders and new teachers gathered at a local venue to talk to prospective families and community professionals about what makes Fusion so special.

At the time, it was a little hard for any of us to perfectly articulate what that meant. As a staff of “newbies” and “non-Cali originals,” we already learned everything we could at that point about the love and culture of a Fusion campus but hadn’t experienced our own Southlake brand of it yet. Sabrina and her family attended to share their reasons and excitement for choosing Fusion for their daughter’s full-time middle school education.

Making my way around the room, I found myself hovering near the Jenga towers we strategically placed as an icebreaker. Just then, a girl of no more than 11 hopped over to me and proposed a game without hesitation. Family in tow, we all talked about how Sabrina was excited to be our first official student.

Her family chose us because of the flexibility our scheduling offered since she was an advanced scholar. Sabrina was excited to share that as a result of her previous advanced studies she was more than one grade level ahead in science and math. As a self-professed science nerd, I relished the opportunity to meet a young lady with an already developed passion for a typically dreaded content area.

After conversing for a few minutes, Sabrina divulged that she was interested in taking a science elective but had already covered much of the traditional content found in middle school curricula.

Creating a Unique Course

It was then I knew I had the opportunity to do something I never could before in traditional school education- I asked how she felt about creating a brand new science course in something she was interested in. A course that would expand and apply all of her previous knowledge and incorporate something totally unique: cooking.

As a former restaurant chef (long hours in a kitchen were totally worth paying to get through college) and now science teacher, I knew I had the background expertise and science curriculum knowledge to create something special for Sabrina: Science of Cooking and Molecular Gastronomy.

What a super-awesome, deliciously nerdy title!

Sabrina’s eyes lit up and a smile I now picture every time I think of her spread from one freckle-specked cheek to the other. She erupted with ideas of using modernist cooking techniques and ingredients, the new and fun science-fiction part of the culinary world. When her family came in to sign up for her classes a few weeks later, Science of Cooking was included from day one.


Designing the Course

Now, the tricky part. Designing the course to align to state standards that is fully tailored to Sabrina’s diverse strengths and needs.

In the following weeks, I researched Texas middle school science standards that align with what is covered in a food science course. Materials were gathered, books were requested (I got every single one approved except the five hundred dollar Modernist Cuisine boxed set. Maybe next year, right?), and a scope and sequence was drafted.

First, we covered food safety and basic techniques, then applied the scientific method to recipe design. From there, topics such as how microorganisms are used in food production to the use of emulsifiers in recipes were tackled.

The Magic of Science and Cooking

After our first semester, Sabrina had applied much of the knowledge she gained from traditional science courses to something she was passionate about. We were successful in creating something unique for her that was fully aligned to academic standards and simultaneously aligned instruction to something Sabrina loves.

She discovered that cooking spray was erroneously prescribed in baking most cookie recipes, investigated the chemical reaction involved in the production of dough, and had an incredible experience with a guest celebrity chef.

Now, the sky’s the limit!