Does McDonalds Have a Farm? (1 of 2)

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Students will be able to 1) reflect on the connections between agriculture and ecosystems; 2) describe the health, environmental, social, and economic impacts of agriculture; 3) work independently and collaboratively to develop an evidence-based answer to a personalized guiding question.

Big Idea

Much of what we eat comes from a “food industrial complex.” How might we define the costs and benefits of this system through comparison of agricultural techniques?

FRAME: Agriculture Through Blended and Personalized Learning

NOTE : As described in the UNIT FRAME, for teachers preferring shorter units, this lesson sequence might mark the beginning of an "Agriculture and Sustainable Design" unit.

Students have just completed a community food survey and aquaponics farm tour and food label DESIGN CHALLENGE.  From this experience, students gained familiarity with food resources in Sunset Park, community-based design solutions to the industrial food system, and the limitations of food label redesign as a catalyst for change.  The purpose of these next two lessons is for students to dive deeper into critical analyses of the industrial food system through the lens of agricultural practices.  How have agricultural practices changed over time?  What are the costs and benefits of traditional agriculture?  What are the costs and benefits of modern agricuture? What are promising future agricultural practices that might mitigate the problems caused by traditional and modern agriculture?  Students are circling back to a broader systems perspective.  They have expended significant cognitive effort grappling with the nature of food systems at the neighborhood level; in this lesson they move back towards the 30,000 foot view.

Many activities in these lessons utilize a blended learning framework.  Students leverage technology to pursue personalized understanding of various agricultural practices, but also have opportunities to discuss concepts and practices skills with peers.  As with the previous FIELD STUDY and DESIGN CHALLENGE  experiences, a central focus of these lessons will be the incorporation of engineering design thinking into content mastery.  Students will be expected to apply understanding of content to real-world problems.  For teachers unfamiliar with blended learning, this coursera course might be of interest.

By the end of this lesson sequence, successful students will have met the following objectives: 

  1. reflect on the connections between agriculture and ecosystems
  2. describe the health, environmental, social, and economic impacts of agriculture
  3. work independently and collaboratively to develop an evidence-based answer to a personalized guiding question.
  4. publicly communicate key ideas of industrial agriculture's impact on the health of the environment
  5. demonstrate proficient understanding of concepts related to industrial agricultural and environmental health through a problem set style assessment

RESOURCE NOTE: The attached resource is a prototype activity guide that might be used or modified for students.  This guide loosely follows the sequence of activities in this lesson.  However, because this lesson design requires students to pursue personalized learning pathways, the attached guide would be impossible to use in a classroom without modification.  It serves primarily as an example of different types of learning activities that might be used with various students for this lesson.

ENGAGE: Guiding Questions

15 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students choose from a list of essential questions to establish a personalized learning pathway.  This question will serve as the lens through which students will meet the objectives for this lesson.  The teacher supports students’ choice of question through modeling, small group consultation, or an individual conversations. Additionally, the teacher can collect data related to students' interests.  By the end of this activity, students should have a question that they are excited to answer and a tentative, preliminary answer to that question.

What will the students do?

First, students individually engage with this short presentation about the environmental impact of industrial agricultural practices and choose one of the following guiding questions to answer throughout this series of lessons:

  • Where does our food come from? How is our food supply dependent on ecosystems?

  • How do current agricultural practices affect public health, social justice, the environment and the economy?

  • What can be done to address the current problems facing agriculture?

  • How does an industrial approach to agriculture compare with organic and sustainable approaches?

  • If the prevailing practices in agriculture continue, what kind of food system can we expect in the future?

  • What kind of agriculture should we strive toward, and how will we get there?

Next, students have structured conversations with their table groups.  Each member shares the question chosen and then describes the logic behind that choice.  Group members then either confirm or challenge the sharing students’ choice.  Given the reasoning for the choice, is the chosen question the best fit?   

Finally, students develop an initial answer to the chosen essential question with an understanding that it will be modified.  They will then describe what they think they need to explore t0 fully answer the chosen question.  What is your initial response to your chosen question?  What do you need to know answer it fully?

What will the teacher do?

The teacher will complete the following tasks:

  • Model how to use the slideshow resource.  Such modeling will depend entirely on the needs of a particular class.  In my experience, the most imporatant teacher move is  to explicitly think aloud.  I find this interesting because… sentence structures help support students ability to make personalized meaning.  

  • Support students’ structured conversations.  Effective support includes whole class modeling as well as observation of groups and corrective intervention when necessary.  A culture of student-driven facilitation is vital for these conversations to be successful.  An important teacher move, therefore, is to consistently share authority with students throughout  the year.  In my classes, table groups have designated facilitators that rotate throughout the year.  These facilitators practice consverstation protocols with me after class and facilitate an academic conversation nearly everyday.

  • Collect information about student interests.  At minimum, a teacher should know the essential question each student has chosen; understaning the reasoning for that choice is even better.  With this information, a teacher is better able to support student learning in the next learning activity.

EXPLORE: Agriculture

35 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students gather information, ideas, and concepts to answer the chosen essential question.  Teachers support students’ individualized learning pathways through a blended environment.  By the end of the the 35 minute activity students should be able to update responses to the chosen essential questions; teachers should have had a individual conversation with every student group and helped all students selected resources best suited to the chosen essential question.

What will the students do?

Students pursue an answers to a chosen essential question through self-paced exploration of the following resources.  In order to make this process as efficient as possible, students are encouraged to work with a partner to check for resource alignment.  Does this resource meet my need of being able to more fully answer the essential question?  Does only one part of this resource apply?  Might another resource be better for my needs? As a classroom norm, students must ask all members of a group for assistance before reaching out to the teacher.

  • RESOURCE 1: Agriculture and Human Nutrition-LINK
  • RESOURCE 2: Traditional and Industrialized Agriculture (READING)
  • RESOURCE 3: Modern Agriculture Effects-LINK 1  LINK 2
  • RESOURCE 4: Modern Agriculture Alternatives-LINK

What will the teacher do?

Effective blended learning instruction is a cultural practice developed over time.  For this activity to work, teachers need to have established effective blended learning practices.  These practices should extend to basic computer use, cybersecurity and cyberbullying, user-friendly content curation, systems for tracking student work, and student work habits that support students’ persistence.  Absent this culture, this activity will fail.

That noted, the key teacher move in this section will be redirecting students to resources that are best aligned to a chosen essential question.  In many cases, this will mean accessing additional resources that may be most appropriate for students.  This real-time curation becomes easier with practice.  Data collected from the ENGAGE activity will also help teachers accomplish this task.

EXIT: What I have learned is...

5 minutes

What is the purpose of this EXIT activity?

As an EXIT activity students update responses to the question during the ENGAGE activity.  Time permitting, students share out responses with their groups and group members provide corrective feedback to the presenting student.  During the next lesson students will develop "flash publications" about a topic related to industrial agriculture's impact on the environment.  This EXIT activity pushes students to practice the skill of developing and presenting an evidence-based explanation in a low-stakes environment.  In other words, this EXIT is essentially a scaffolded activity that prepares students for the type of work that they will do next.