DESIGN CHALLENGE: Food labels (2 of 2)

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Objective

In this multi-day "lesson" students will be able to 1) develop a redesigned food label utilizing design elements that surface the normally hidden costs of modern food production; 2) present redesigned food labels to peers; 3) facilitate discussion about how redesigned food labels might be used in the real world; and 4) select an actionable idea to propose to the community.

Big Idea

The current food label describes the ingredients and nutritional content of food. How might we redesign the current food label to more accurately capture the total impact of modern food production, especially environmental costs?

FRAME: The public weighs in

In the previous lesson, students explored ideas for redesigning food labels that would nudge consumers behavior towards more sustainable food systems.  In this "lesson", students develop prototype food labels, present them to a public audience, vet feedback, iterate on designs, and consider community actions plans.  This work will take approximately three class periods, but is presented here as a single lesson that captures the second part of the design cycle: prototype, test, and iterate.

One particularly important practice in this lesson is the public presentation of design ideas to students outside the class.  This is a new experience for students, as previously presentations have happened only internally.  Higher stakes public presentation is an important part of the design cycle, as it allows students to receive feedback from students that were not involved in the design challenge.  This feedback tends to be much more honest and less biased; because students were not a part of the design challenge, they are far more likely to describe something as confusing or unclear.  

This experience can be stressful to students, but it is an important and necessary area of growth. Previously, students had presented work publicly in digital form.  Now they will present live.  This is the "final stage" of presentation competency.  This course builds towards authentic engagement with the community.  This type of engagement cannot happen unless students are skilled at public presentations.  By the end of this DESIGN CHALLENGE, successful students will have met these objectives:

  1. describe key features of sustainable agriculture
  2. identify features to add to the current food label that more accurately reflect the costs of food production
  3. develop a redesigned food label utilizing design elements that surface the normally hidden costs of modern food production
  4. present redesigned food labels to peers
  5. facilitate discussion about how redesigned food labels might be used in the real world
  6. and select an actionable idea to propose to the community.

PLANNING NOTES: Students may want to visit the cafeteria to learn about food offerings first-hand.  This is highly encouraged, if possible.  Teachers will need to do advanced planning, including communication with cafeteria staff, and handling logistics for a brief class “trip.”  Additionally, as students will present work to other classes, teachers need to coordinate schedules, brief potential student audiences, and explain the purpose of this project to other teachers that might host presenting students.

RECAP: Food label or food fable?

10 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students preview two clips that describe one need for a redesigned food label; students then describe additional needs that a food label could meet.  By the end of this activity students should be able to demonstrate competency in the two objectives from the previous lesson: 1) describe key features of sustainable agriculture and 2) and identify features to add to the current food label that more accurately reflect the costs of food production.

What will the students do?

Students will view these two shorts clips as a class:

As they watch, students will answer these questions:

  1. What argument do these clips make about the need for food label redesign?  
  2. What additional arguments might be made?  (Pro-tip: review your notes from our last lesson and consider the title of this course.)
  3. What is the role of sustainable agriculture in your responses to the two previous questions?

What will the teacher do?

The teacher will facilitate a whole class discussion of findings from these clips.  The goal is for students to come away with at least one argument for food label redesign that incorporates the idea that food labels should more accurately represent the usually hidden costs of food production.  If students have trouble making connections, teacher modeling of a claim about the need for a food with appropriate evidence from the world of sustainable agriculture would be helpful.  

EXTEND: Label redesign

45 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students identify a “must have” for food label design, choose a commonly consumed food at Sunset Park High School, design a label for that food, and develop a short presentation for a peer audience.  The teacher assists with the design work of student teams.  By the end of this section students will have engaged in a mini design challenge.  This is an opportunity for students to play with design ideas among supportive peers.

What will the students do?

Students complete the following tasks:

  • Choose a food label design.  A choice that meets the design challenge criteria captures the impact of the food on the environment.

  • Choose a food.  A choice that meets the design challenge criteria is a food that is commonly consumed by students.

  • Develop a food label for the chosen food.  A successful food label effectively provides information to a consumer about the overall impact of the food on the environment and human health.

  • Craft a short presentation for a peer advisory audience.  A successful presentation describes the improvements of the food label compared to traditional food labels.

For each step, students should be able to justify their choices.  Why did you make this choice?  What are its costs and benefits?  Why do you think that this choice will be more effective than another choice?  Using paper, markers, stickers, and tape, students will develop a working prototype of a food label.  Examples of student work products are in the WORK SAMPLES section below.

NOTE: Students may want to visit the cafeteria to learn about food offerings first-hand.  This is highly encouraged, if possible.  Teachers will need to do advanced planning, including communication with cafeteria staff, and handling logistics for a brief class “trip.” 

What will the teacher do?

The teacher will assists, as necessary, with the food label design.  Often students will need thought partners, and teachers should be prepared to probe student understanding and choice.  Teachers would be wise to resist the urge to validate student designs as “good” or “bad.”  The goal for teachers should be to surface students’ logic and to push students to match design choices with actual consumer needs.  Again, while aesthetic consideration are always an important element of design, the most important teacher move to make in this section is to push students to develop quality content BEFORE they work on a perfect, beautiful label design.

RESOURCE NOTE:  The attached picture captures one group's brainstorming process. This is a list of commonly consumed foods at Sunset Park High School that students then used a reference for food label redesign.


EVALUATE: Presentation and application

110 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students share presentations with the class, receive feedback, iterate, and then deliver presentations to other 11th grade classes.  The teacher supports students’ presentation development and assists with presentations to other classes as necessary.  The goals of these presentations are to: 1) improve the prototype redesigned food labels and 2) to develop ideas for a local plan of action that uses the food labels in the community.

What will the students do?

Students will develop presentations to give to other 11th grade advisories in the building.  Presentations are approximately THREE MINUTES and answer the following questions: 

  • What is our food systems context in Brooklyn?  
  • What was the need we saw?  
  • Why did we create food labels?  
  • What is our food label redesign?  
  • Why do we think it is an improvement? (Pro-tip: how does this incorporate sustainability ideas?)
  • How might we use the food labels in the community to change consumer behavior?  

Students will then deliver these presentations to other 11th grade classes in the building. Students in other classes will vote for the food label that they believe will most successfully nudge consumer behavior towards a more sustainable food system. Finally, students will engage with other 11th grade students to develop a plan for community action.  These plans will address the following questions:

  • What will we do?
  • What is our timeline?  
  • How will we know that we are successful?

What will the teacher do?

The teacher will assists students with developing presentations and also facilitates the debrief discussion during presentations to other classes using a tuning protocol.  See the reflection for a fuller description of this protocol.  The teacher also needs to arrange for students to visit other classes.  These visits require advanced planning. At minimum, a teacher should coordinate with other teachers to ensure that students will have enough time to present and debrief. Additionally, teachers of other classes should brief students about the project.  This will require a meeting of about 15 minutes to explain the nature of the project and the purpose of student presentations.

Regardless of the level of preparation, presentations to a live audience are not always perfect.  Presenting students will be nervous.  Audience members may be board or hostile.  As such, teachers of audience classes should be "bought in" to this work.  A short meeting with the host teacher is highly encouraged to share information about the project and expectations for the presentations.  A teacher ally is extremely helpful for this project.

NOTE: Timing for this section is approximate.  In my classes, this work took approximately two periods.  One period was spent on presentation development and the other period was used for presenting and debriefing.  Presentations and discussions took about 15 minutes per group.

WORK SAMPLES: Redesigned food labels prototypes

Here are four examples of prototype food labels.  Each takes a unique design angle; all attempt to incorporate the impact of food on the environment and human health.  Most of these labels were variations of the label featured in the New York Times.  Groups tried a number of different approaches in these in-process prototypes.  

Student audiences were consistent with two pieces of feedback: 1) many of these labels seemed cluttered and overwhelming; 2) consumers need training in how to read these labels.  This second point came up in EVERY feedback session.  Students realized that no matter how well-designed a new food label might be, if it contains foreign information, nobody is going to benefit from it.  As such, a key insight of the presentations was that any community action plan will require an education component.  Consumers must be taught how to read new food labels in order for labels to be effective.  Students in my classes rightly pointed out that this itself is a major hurdle because redesigned food labels provide information about costs that have been hidden for so long that educating the public will require a substantial investment of time and repeated exposure to new ideas such as carbon footprints.

NEXT STEPS: Food labels for the social good

Because the community action plans were not easily developed, students engaged in a modified debrief activity.  Rather than a community action plan, students were asked to select one idea from the debrief discussion to develop as an alternative to the redesigned food label.  What would be more effective?  Why?  Using a R.A.F.T. model, students would take on the Role of a concerned high school student and target an Audience of community leaders.  The hypothetical leadership body could be city government, the high school cabinet, local business leaders, and so on.  Students will use the Format of a short persuasive letter.  The Topic will be strategies for moving Sunset Park towards a more sustainable food system.  At minimum, this letter should answer two questions.  What is your new ideas for changing consumer behavior? Why do you think this idea will work?