I’m having my students collect all sorts of data for Chicken Middle, their student-run-business. Things like the number of eggs collected per day and the actual items purchased at the concession stand (so we don’t have to wait until we run out of snacks). It takes a little explanation to convince them that it’s important and worth doing (although I suspect they usually just give in so that I stop harassing them about). So this talk by Ben Wellington is well timed. It not goes into what can be done with data analysis, but also how hard it is to get the data in a format that can be analyzed.
Doubly fortunately, Ms. Furhman just approached me about using the Chicken Middle data in her pre-Algebra class’ chapter on statistics.
We’re also starting to do quarterly reports, so during this next quarter we’ll begin to see a lot of the fruits of our data-collecting labors.
We’ve discovered committees. Yesterday, after spending half an hour discussing the brand new bread bag prototype that one of the students came up with, they decided that maybe just the people interested in working on them should work on them. So we just, organically, created a committee.
As with all new discoveries we’re now using them for everything. Today the students decided on a committee to run Dinner and a Show. We’ll see where this goes.
Catastrophic failure of one of our ovens! Last year when we started up the bread business, we bought two counter-top ovens within a couple of weeks of each other. They needed to be extra-large to fit two loaves of bread each, which made them a little hard to find. We got a EuroPro oven first, and when we found that it worked pretty well, we went back to try to get another. But just a week later, the store was out of stock and that type of oven could not be found in the city of Memphis or its environs.
Instead we got a GE model. The price was about the same, as was the capacity. We quickly realized that the GE was quite the inferior product. The temperature in the oven was never the same as what was set on the dial. Our bread supervisor at the time ran a calibration experiment, the results of which you can see above, so we still managed to use the oven. Only this year, three weeks into the term, it conked out.
We sold at least one underdone loaf before we realized what had happened, and received a detailed letter in response (which our current bread supervisor handled wonderfully in his own well worded letter). Fortunately, we have found a newer version of our EuroPro oven, which seems to work quite well.
I like the oven calibration exercise. It was a nice application of the scientific process to solve an actual problem we had with the business. Though I know it’s not quite the same, I like the idea of doing annual oven calibrations just to check the health of our equipment and help students realize that the scientific process is a powerful way of looking at the world, not just something you do in science.
Sally, our school’s business manager, was kind enough to come in last month to help the financial department of the student run business organize its books. It was long overdue. We’d been improving our record keeping over the last couple years, but now we have much more detailed records of our income and expenses.
This is great for a number of reasons, the first of which is that students get some good experience working with spreadsheets. We use Excel, which in my opinion is far and away Microsoft’s best product (I’ve been using OpenOffice predominantly for the last year or so because, it improved quite a bit recently, and I’m a glutton for certain kinds of punishment.) I’ve been surprised by how many students get into college unable to do basic tables and charts, but hopefully this is changing.
The second reason is that the Finance committee can now use the data to give regular reports; income, expenses, profit, loss, all on a weekly basis. I expect the Bread division to benefit the most, since it has regular income and expenses, offering students frequent feedback on their progress. We’re now collecting a long-term, time-series data-set that will be very nice when we get to working on statistics in math later on.
In fact, we should be able to use this data to make simple financial projections. Linear projections of how much money we’ll have for our end-of-year trip will tie into algebra quite nicely, and, if we’re feeling ambitious, we can also get into linear regressions and the wave-like properties of the time series of data.
Extracting pectin for making jelly does not seem to be that hard. Sam Thayer has a nice little article on how to get pectin from apples. The blog Spain in Iowa, has some nice pictures and video of how they extracted pectin from apples and what the result should look like when you test it by putting a teaspoon of pectin into a teaspoon of rubbing alcohol. Almost immediately (but leave it in for a minute), the pectin should jell in the rubbing alcohol and you should be able to pull it out using a fork.
Basically, all you do is chop up the apples, cook them for a long time over low heat till they’re broken down, and then strain out the liquid produced. Since I have access to a lot of green apples that won’t be used for anything else, I tried the process myself. Using a pot full of apples I produced a lot of liquid; way more than I could ever use, but the process seems to work fairly well.
One 8 quart pot of apples produced 8.75 cups of liquid. I’d planned to use the home-made pectin in my currant jam, but testing the currant juice showed that it had just as much, if not more pectin than my boiled apple residue. I guess I’ll save the apple pectin for future use.
Ideally, Student Run Businesses should sell goods or services that are worth the value paid. While I appreciate that there is some value to the sympathy of friends and family, it is nice when customers believe they’re getting a good deal even without that. One direction I try to direct the students is toward making things from scratch, because it adds so much to the experience. Then they can have the extra value of using natural, perhaps even organic, ingredients and satisfying Michael Pollan’s rules for good eating.
In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan
My students have not yet tried jam or jelly-making, but if they do natural pectin would be great.
The above video, on how to build a self-watering container (this type is also known as a Global Buckets), seems extremely useful for the urban gardener, especially in Memphis where even gardening in the ground is difficult because of the poor, loessic soil. I’ve found container gardening (in cat litter buckets) to be much more effective, even though evaporation is a major issue with our hot summers. So I very much like the idea of self-watering containers.
These containers may also be an excellent complement to our greenhouse, because we can avoid having to water every day. If we got the right containers, or decorated them nicely enough, we might be able to sell these with our vegetables at the end-of-year plant sale.
The related videos on YouTube have a variety of other self-watering container variants. This version, with water jugs and a single large tub, also seems like it might be effective. There are also nice instructional video on how siphons work, as an easier way of watering a series of buckets. The Global Buckets project is a fascinating effort to help reduce malnutrition with simple materials.
Yesterday, one of our experimental loaves of bread failed to rise, so re-tried it today and had a discussion about all the things we can do encourage it to rise. Since yeast is an organism, and we talked about the role of yeast in baking bread yesterday, this was a chance for the students to take what they’d learned and extrapolate into a new situation.
These types of situations pop up all the time in the student run business, especially when we try something new. It gets to the critical thinking skills adolescents need to practice. It is the reason Maria Montessori advocated for a boarding house middle school that ran a business. It is one of the reasons I insist that we start at least one new business every year in addition to our core pizza business.