CAPSTONE: Feeding 9 billion through sustainable farm design (2 of 3)

5 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


In addition to the objectives from part one, by the end of part two of the Food CAPSTONE experience, student will be able to 1) explain constraints impacting potential solutions to problems posed by the global food system and ideate solutions within these constraints and 2) design a prototype sustainable farm as a solution to specific problems posed by industrial agriculture and a growing human population.

Big Idea

The human population will approach 9 billion by 2050, but our current food system was not designed to sustainably feed so many. How might we apply our understanding of agricultural methods to feed 9 billion people in an environmentally sustainable manner?

FRAME: Ideating and prototyping

In Stage One of the Food CAPSTONE students learned about the requirements for the project, chose teams, developed empathy for humans affected by the global food system, defined problems of the global food system to be solved, and exchanged ideas during unconferences.  Students have met these objectives:

  1. identify broad human needs that are unmet by the current global food system

  2. define specific problems that, if solved, would meet human needs. 

This second lesson is "Stage Two" (Approximate time is three class periods)

During Stage Two, students learn about the design challenge that they will undertake to develop solution ideas to the problem statements developed during Stage One.  How might we design a sustainable farm that, if adopted at large scale, would sustainably meet the food needs of the global human population?  Students will continue working with National Geographic resources to learn about potential solution; this divergent thinking exposes students to many solution ideas.  Students will then converge on a single solution idea: the sustainable farm.  During the prototyping stage, students actively collaborate with each other to meet the criteria outlined in the attached "Sustainable Farm Challenge" of the prototype activity guide.  During this collaboration process students will utilize a sustainability calculator to meet defined constraints, but will otherwise have free reign to design.  

By the end of Stage Two, students will have met the following objectives: 

  1. explain constraints impacting potential solutions to problems posed by the global food system and ideate solutions

  2. design a prototype sustainable farm as a solution to specific problems

By the end of Stage Two, students should have a working prototype of a sustainable farm that solves the problems articulated in Stage One.  Students should also be able to articulate the logic of the choices made in the farm design and the fit of the farm design to the design challenge of sustainably feeding a growing human population.

RESOURCE NOTE:  There are two attached resources.  

  1. The first is a prototype activity guide that might be modified by teachers for classroom use.  It contains a number of resources used to support students with this CAPSTONE.  
  2. The second is a prototypes rubric used to evaluate this project.  

COLLABORATION NOTE: I owe a special thanks to my colleagues Scott Larsen (here he is in Wall Street Journal article about blended learning) and Katie McCarthy for collaboration on this work. 

IDEATE: Divergent and convergent

55 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students explore potential solutions to problems articulated during Stage One from a National Geographic resource.

What will students do?

Students examine elements of National Geographic's five point plan to feed 9 billion people.  These elements are "Freeze Agriculture's Footprint," "Grow More on Farms We've Got" This interactive serves as a model of solutions development for students.  For each potential solution, students will answer these three questions:

  • What is the idea?
  • Why will it succeed?
  • Why will it fail?

This is a divergent think activity that incorporates elements of brainstorming and pre-mortem analysis.  Students are pushed to consider a number of different solutions ideas before choosing a solution idea to pursue.

When students have identified a solution idea that they believe is most promising, they will form groups to explore this topic in greater depth.  (If there is a skewed distribution of student interests, the teacher should reserve the right to equalize student groupings.)  Student groups will create "flash publications" of their topics using the familiar format for this unit:

  1. The presentation must begin with context.  What is the idea and why does it matter?
  2. The presentation must include a focus question.  What is the most important question to be able to answer regarding this idea?
  3. The presentation must include an evidence-based response to this focus question.  What data did the group gather and interpret to answer the focus question?
  4. The presentation must have at least one visual that helps learners understand content presented.  How might we use visualization to teach content in a way that verbal statements cannot?

After each student group presents the whole class discusses the idea.  Instead of providing feedback to the presenting group about the presentation, all students will work to understand the costs, benefits, and feasibility of the presented idea.  

Finally, once all student groups have presented, the whole class will discuss takeaways.  What are the benefits of each idea?  What are the costs? What constraints make some ideas more or less feasible? 

TIMING NOTE: This is an open-ended task.  Students practice the evaluation of proposed design solutions as practice for their own design of a sustainable farm.  As such, students may need more time in a given section and the teacher should respect this need.  Suggested timing is:

  • Individual reading: 10 minutes
  • Group presentation development: 15 minutes
  • Flash publication and idea reflection: 25 
  • Takeaway share: 5 minutes 

What is the ideal outcome for this section?

Students will pursue a teacher-generated solution idea in the PROTOTYPE section. (See this reflection for an explanation for the teacher-generated solution idea.) As such, the purpose of this section is not to have students choose a perfect solution strategy to pursue.  Rather, the goal of this section is to have students engage in effective design practices.  This means that students are able to appropriately consider the strengths and weaknesses of a design idea given design constraints.  As students prototype solution ideas in the next section, the skill of explaining why a solution ideas will succeed or fail is essential.  Without it, students will not be able to effectively communicate their ideas with each other and successful collaboration will be impossible.

PROTOTYPING: Constraints and Design

110 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Student teams will collaboratively design prototypes of a sustainable farm that meet provided constraints.  Students will need to calculate budgets, consider long-term outcomes, maximize the scalability of the prototype, incorporate constraints, write a summary of the prototype, develop a visual or model of the prototype, and create a presentation of the prototype.

What will students do?

For a complete presentation of the student design process, see the prototype activity guide. This description contains highlights.

Students learn about the farm design constraints through a GRASPS framework:

GOAL: Design a sustainable farm that satisfies several key constraints found in the real world.  Here is the RUBRIC for this design challenge.

ROLE (students): Groups of farmers

AUDIENCE: Community members, local citizens, government officials

SCENARIO: You are a part of a group of expert agriculturalists.  You live in a country that is struggling to feed its human population in a sustainable way.  Several members of the government would like your group to design and create a sustainable farm model.  The government plans to use your design in farms throughout the country.  You may use industrial and/or sustainable agriculture practices.


  1. Your group will draft a proposal to the government detailing the choices you made and the reasons behind them.  This document should be at least 750 words.  Government officials are not experts in sustainable agriculture so be sure to explain each method along with the costs and benefits.   

  2. Your group will also develop at least ONE visual to support your explanation.  To accomplish this work, we will explore canva as a potential graphic design tool.


In addition to this GRASPS framework students are given a series of "constraint checkpoints" designed to help students meet criteria outlined on the RUBRIC
  • Amount of money spent is under the budgeted amount
  • Amount of food produced is enough to feed the entire population
  • Sustainable farm does not take up more than the allotted space
  • Pollution emissions from the farm do not exceed maximum
  • Created a blueprint or layout of the sustainable far
  • Written sustainability plan contains:
    • Rationale for the choices made during the design process
    • Description of what sustainable agriculture is and why it is important
    • Description and explanation of the choices made in each of the four main areas (animals, crops, equipment, practices)
    • Description of the limitations of the sustainable farm
    • Areas that need to be considered that are not included in the design (transportation, nutritional needs, changing population size, etc.)
Finally, students have the option to use a teacher-developed sustainability calculator that allows for modeling of design ideas. 

What will the teacher do?

The primary teacher move here is to support students will relevant resources, troubleshoot problems student may have with technology or the sustainability calculator, probe students' rationale for design choices, facilitate collaborative conversations among teams, and model aspects of the design process when appropriate.  Three impactful teacher moves to try are: 1) whole class modeling of the use of the sustainability calculator; 2) holding 10 minute unconferences at the end of each period dedicated to this design process so that students can develop strategies and solutions for successfully completing all portions of this design process; and 3) Curate a list or resources that students find useful.  Here is a short list of resources that emerged for the CAPSTONE: