Literacy in Food and Environment (LIFE): A Food-based Science Curriculum Teachers College Columbia University

525 West 120th St. Box 137
New York, NY 10027
(212) 678-3480
Isobel Contento, Ph.D., Project Director
Angela Calabrese Barton, Ph.D., Co-investigator
Pamela Koch, Ed.M., R.D., Project Coordinator

A major national science education goal is to promote scientific literacy for all Americans. As society moves into the twenty-first century, existing stark inequalities in the science education of urban minority children continues, reducing urban minority children's opportunities to achieve the goals of scientific literacy. To make scientific literacy a realistic goal for children living in urban poverty and to increase their understanding of important issues concerning the natural environment, it is essential that these children have opportunities to experience science as inquiry in connected and culturally relevant ways, that their teachers develop a knowledge of the content, culture and discursive practices of science; and that their parents and other caregivers be supported in their own efforts to interact comfortably and knowledgeably in science. At the same time, a major national health goal is for people to eat healthful diets to reduce risk of chronic disease. Children also need the knowledge, skills and practice to make dietary choices that will lead to nutritional well-being. To be nutritionally literate requires that students understand the sources of their food, the impacts of food production and marketing practices on the environment as well as the effect of food on their personal health. Inner city children thus have important nutrition and health literacy needs as well as scientific literacy needs. Consequently, the project proposed here is to transform inner-city children's -- and their teachers' and caregivers' -- experiences with food and their natural and social curiosities about the origins and production of food and the consequences of its consumption, into a new model of science education that uses the intellectual and social dimensions of food and nutrition to help figure out how the biological world works and at the same time increases their understanding of the relationship between diet and health and ability to make meaningful decisions about their food choices.

The specific aims are:
1. To develop and evaluate a new inquiry-based hands-on science education model (classroom curriculum and outside activities) for inner city school students, grades 4-5.
2. To develop and evaluate an in-service education program for teachers to improve their comfort level with teaching inquiry-based science and assist them in implementing this food-based science curriculum.
3. To develop and evaluate a workshop series for parents and other caregivers, that will aim to improve their science and nutrition literacy along with preparing them to work in conjunction with teachers in the implementation of the curriculum in the classroom.

Plans for 1998-1999 school year (year 2 of this Phase 1 project): The 45-lesson, classroom curriculum is being finalized this Fall. The curriculum is now five modules: 1) food production, 2) from farm to store, 3) eating: nourishing the body, 4) handling waste and pollution, and 5) food choices: looking at food in a new way. Each module has a key question that is the basis of the scientific inquiry the students, teachers and parents will do throughout the module. Additionally, the modules are made up of one or more units and each unit goes through one rotation of our four-part learning cycle: exploring/discovering; experimenting/reflecting; building theories/construct; and applying to life. This lesson series will be implemented from January through May, 1999 in 10 classrooms. We will conduct a process evaluation and quantitative and qualitative student outcome measurement will be conducted on students in the 10 implementation classrooms along with students in 10 comparison classrooms. The teacher in-service series will be conducted and evaluated with the 10 classroom teachers implementing the curriculum. The parent workshop series will be conducted and evaluated with 20-30 parents recruited from the implementation classrooms.

Supported by NIH Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA RR12374)

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