Using STEM to Improve Our Local Community

6 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Students will experience first-hand how an interdisciplinary team of experts is needed to address many real-world issues such as the difficult task of meeting the rising food demands of a growing global population.

Big Idea

The collective effort of interdisciplinary teams of STEM professionals is critical to the future of our global community.


5 minutes

The current Obama Administration has made global food security a top priority and will undoubtedly look to members of our nation’s STEM community to provide expertise and leadership. In a recent report, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization projects that, “feeding a world population of 9.1 billion by 2050 will require raising overall food production by 70% (nearly 100% in developing countries).” 

Agricultural biotechnology borrows best practices and innovations from STEM fields such as Information Technology and Engineering, in addition to relying heavily on math and science principles, to help farmers grow food sustainably.  It's techniques allow farmers to grow more food on less land using farming practices that are environmentally responsible. Novel methods in agricultural biotechnology have resulted in higher seed yields per acre and crops that not only thrive under environmental stress and climate change but may also possess enhanced nutritional content.

Locally, as demands for seedlings and plants for DC Metro area community gardens continues to skyrocket, our goal of growing 10,000 seedlings a year for distribution to gardens across the city has forced our program to examine ways that science, math and technology can support the scale up of our current “Field to Plate” program without increasing our reliance on limited resources such as water or manpower. Similar to the goals of farmers across the globe, we are aware that an increase in seedlings and plants nurtured by our scholars will mean greater harvests from community gardens and more fresh produce to support food programs for the homeless and less fortunate in our city.

In this project-based, capstone lesson students design a school and community wide initiative to address a pressing need in several communities across our nation.


1. Students will experience first-hand how an interdisciplinary team of experts is needed to address many real-world issues such as the difficult task of meeting the rising food demands of a growing global population.

2. Students will discover that even residents in urban areas such as Washington, DC can grow nutritious food that can improve the quality of life for everyone in our community.

3. Students will have the opportunity to work alongside current leaders in our STEM community to harness the power of technology, math and science to increase crop production to meet increased local demands for fresh produce.

4. Students will research and design novel practices to address an issue relevant to their community – the lack of nutritious food options for individuals most in need.


60 minutes

Engage (Activate Student Thinking)

A. BRAINPOP: Students will view a TED Talk delivered by Rebecca Onie, founder of Health Leads, entitled, “What If Our Healthcare System Kept Us Healthy?” (Time: 16:34min) After viewing the TED Talk students will be asked to complete a journal entry based on the video and the following Challenge Question(s):

What if doctors could prescribe food, housing and heat to their DC Metro area patients in the winter? How could doctors connect patients to resources they lack such as food, proper nutrition and housing, which are the root cause of so many health problems? Is it possible to integrate “social care” without overburdening an already strained healthcare system?

B. GUEST SPEAKER (30min): A volunteer from the Capital Area Food Bank Garden, a partner in our current “Field to Plate” initiative, will lead our whole group discussion in which students will share their responses to the Challenge Questions. The representative will also update students on how the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) has been able to collect, store and distribute 45 million pounds of food, half of which is fresh produce that our scholars have helped cultivate. Also, with the help of Information Technology, CAFB has successfully partnered with clinics and hospitals in the DC Metro area to strategically deploy a team of nutrition experts to provide healthier foods, teach ways to buy better options on a budget and develop healthy habits in patients during their hospital stay. The Guest Speaker will end this portion of our lesson with the following Transition Question:

What additional strategies could be used to bring more fresh, nutritious produce and healthier food options into communities most in need?

C. BLOG (10min): Students will suggest additional strategies via blog posts placed on our Biotechnology Department’s secure Edmodo site.  These suggestions will serve as the basis of our exploration in the next phase of our lesson.


45 minutes

Explore (Guided/Student-Centered Activity)

In this phase of the lesson students will participate in hands-on experiences which will enable them to explore ways to address the challenge of meeting increased demands for fresh, nutritious produce in our communities’ food programs. Students will be asked to define the problem to be explored in their own words by analyzing data from last years “Field to Plate” program implemented by students enrolled in our Biotechnology program.  Students will also review requests for plants and seedlings for Spring 2014 received from various community gardens, Eco-City Farms, Brain Food Youth Cooking Program Garden and other DC Metro Area partners. Students will be asked to create data tables, charts, and graphs displaying 2013 crop data such as percent yield of produce vs. seedlings planted, water and soil usage, and total number of volunteer hours worked for the 2013 season.  Students will be encouraged to compare the 2013 data to projected values for 2014 and formulate recommendations for how to proceed this season based on the data.

RESEARCH: Students will research ways to address the increased demand for plants and seedlings needed for the 2014-growing season. Each student team will meet with designated mentors from local partnering agricultural biotechnology agencies in addition to receiving coaching from representatives with Global Kids D.C., a nonprofit educational organization that works to ensure that urban youth have the skills they need to succeed in school, effectively navigate the democratic process, and achieve leadership in their communities.  Students will prepare and deliver multimedia presentations to articulate their own understanding of our Essential Question(s):

How can the use of innovations in Computer Technology, Engineering and Biotechnology be used to effectively support global demands for increased food production? Can these novel practices be applied locally to the scale-up of our “Field to Plate” program?


60 minutes

Explain (Formulate Ideas)

After students have researched the practices that may support the scale-up of our provision of seedlings, they will have two key opportunities to access the language of the discipline of agricultural biotechnology as well as clearly define several core practices in regards to the use of technology in this field. In early December, Global Kids, DC will provide a common experience for all student teams through a hands-on simulation aimed at visualizing the increased pressure food demands will have on our current practice. 

Students will then welcome IT professionals to McKinley Technology HS in honor of National Computer Science Education Week (December 7-13, 2015) and participate in an AppInventor workshop aligned to developing skills and presenting ideas for how to use math, science, and technology to address social issues such as the goal of increased food production in our “Field to Plate” program.


60 minutes

Elaborate (Apply and Extend Understanding)

If student teams have not started gravitating towards an engineering application such as automation of greenhouse processes, a computer application such as an app that would help streamline greenhouse operations, or finally a biotechnology application that could optimize the traits expressed in our seedlings, our final fieldtrip to the Microsoft Government Affairs Tech Lab will certainly provide direction. During this fieldtrip, taken in mid to late-December, student teams will reflect on their common experiences in Phase Three, select a research focus and begin the exciting journey of creating a novel process or resources. Under the guidance of skilled mentors, they will define and pitch their idea to a panel of industry professionals. At the conclusion of this phase (early January) students will revise their team’s original presentations, receive feedback from mentors, make final revisions and prepare for the reveal of their teams original idea aimed at successfully scaling up our greenhouse production to over 10,000 seedlings in 2014.


60 minutes

Evaluate (Monitor Understanding)

The final stage of this lesson is designed for students to elaborate on their understanding and to self and peer evaluate the level of new insights and knowledge acquired. The greatest measure of the degree of enduring understanding gained during this lesson will be demonstrated as students implement the use of their proposed technology. Based on the activities conducted during all phases, students will present a business or action plan for implementing their original technology, process, app, or equipment to an audience of their colleagues and peers as well as members of McKinley Technology industry partners as part of our STEM showcase.