Café Conversation: Chocolate and Silkworms

You can find me just about every morning at the Café Pacifica having my just-plain-old black coffee and not-so-plain conversation with the early crew – my cafe “homeys”. From time to time, I hear the most amazing stories, one of which I want to share here.



What is the connection between chocolate and silkworms? The  connection is awesome learning!

One of my crew, Deb, volunteers at a middle school, and works with students in the special education program. The teacher for this very fortunate group finds creative and engaging ways to help her students learn. Here are two examples of her “stealth” education:


Students are assigned to bring in their favorite family chocolate recipe (just the recipe – not the actual yummy). After a few days, students are invited to verbally share a little about their recipe in “Show and Tell”. Next, they are assigned to write a short report about the recipe – where it came from, who makes it, when the family enjoys this treat (holidays, birthdays, rainy days, whenever), and what the student likes about this variation on the chocolate theme.

Then the recipes are converted into arithmetic problems. You are having a party and you are going to have 12 guests. The recipe makes enough for 6 people. Rewrite the recipe doubling all the ingredients. A worksheet is distributed for homework – color in the measuring spoons or measuring cups for  each ingredient.

Another activity has students trading recipes – find someone who has a recipe similar to yours – find someone who has a recipe very different from yours.

Finally, students go to the home-ec room and make some of the delicacies. I hear that other students from the school flock to the chocolate sale table to purchase goodies from the special-ed students.


The same group of lucky special education students spends an entire year caring for and observing silkworms. When the silkworm shipment arrives, learners divide into small groups. Given all the supplies needed to set up their silkworm farms, students work with guidance from the classroom volunteers to make happy homes for their voracious and productive pets. The small groups are tasked with feeding and harvesting, maintaining a weekly log, and keeping the silkworm environments happy and healthy. Students keep individual journals, and occasionally share their journals with each other.

In addition to the types of engaging activities with the chocolate project, silkworms add learning topics such as biology, ecology, and EEK! even sex education and reproduction.

Our Challenge

I hear you thinking, “Nice story, Chris, but what does this have to do with graduate school?” I argue that these rich types of learning opportunities have everything to do with graduate school. What if we were to identify the desired learning outcomes, consider focus and level of complexity, and then design activities and assignments that are meaningful, relevant, and multi-dimensional?

And, oh by the way, fun is a good idea, too.

So if it’s not chocolate or silkworms, what have you, are you, or might you do for some “stealth learning”?

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