"Which granola bar did you like better?" asked Jefferson Middle School ELA teacher Norm Arthurs to his eighth-grade students during a recent taste test of organic versus non-organic food products. "I asked you to be systematic and think about certain factors such as: freshness, texture, specific flavors, aroma and sweetness. Who preferred 'A' and who preferred 'B'?
The class overwhelmingly preferred granola bar 'A.'
"Which one do you think is the organic granola bar and which is the non-organic?"
Jefferson Middle School eighth-graders, Jacob Carbajal and Ethan Sobczak, test organic versus inorganic granola bars in Norm Arthur’s ELA class to go along with their study of “The Omnivoreis Dilemma,” a literary, nonfiction book that explores where food comes from and about making decisions about what food to buy and eat.
"I think the non-organic was granola bar 'A,' said a student.
"You are right, it was Quaker Oats brand. The organic granola bar was Cascadian Farms brand. How do we know about Cascadian Farms?" asked Mr. Arthurs as he held up the organic granola bar box.
"It's in our book," said another student.
"That's correct. It's one of the farms that Michael Pollan writes about in the book we are reading," said Arthurs.
Arthurs, along with fellow ELA teacher Lori Nystrom, created a blind, taste-test experience for their students to go along with their ELA module. The module revolves around, "The Omnivoreis Dilemma," a literary, non-fiction book that explores where food comes from and about making decisions about what food to buy and eat. Students tested organic versus non-organic products.
"Doing an activity like the taste test today is great because I like hands-on activities," said Jefferson Middle School eighth grader Ashlan Davis. "If you just write a paper or listen to a lecture you don't always get what the person is writing about in the book but doing an activity helps you understand. I was surprised to find out in the book the way the animals are treated in the Industrial Chain. I never really thought about it before, or really thought about how the food chain works, until I read the book. We are asked questions about the book that make you think critically, not just believe anything the author tells you. We will need to do our own research project and we'll not only use the book but other tools. These types of skills will be really important once we go to college and then work."
During this ELA module, students closely analyze arguments to determine whether sufficient, relevant evidence was used to support the claim an author or speaker makes. The ELA module also addresses several different standards, but the two most prominent are: determining the central idea of a text and analyzing its development over the course of the text and determine an author's point of view or purpose.
"We felt that a more tactile experience would have a greater impact for our students than simply reading the book, so we came up with an activity to allow our students an opportunity to personally experience some of the themes from 'The Omnivoreis Dilemma'," said Arthurs. "Having a personal connection to the text makes the reading and the associated work relevant for them. If students do not buy into the relevancy of what they are supposed to be learning and experiencing, then each lesson becomes an uphill battle."
In the first part of the module, students build background knowledge about what happens to food before it gets to the consumer, and the different choices the consumer can make when purchasing food while analyzing Michael Pollan's arguments and the evidence he uses to support his claims in the book. The second unit focuses on researching as a group with a final unit having students engaging in an independent, robust research project requiring them to present their own claims on food sustainability with sufficient, relevant evidence.