Liana’s second guest post – The Sustainable Table

Liana Gooch teaches at Toorak College with me and is one of the hardest working people I know. She was part of our PLP group and has really tried to embrace new technologies into her teaching practice. She holds the position of Academic Enhancement Coordinator, and goes out of her way to try to create interesting learnng opportunities for the students at our school. I asked Liana to share with you the inquiry project she ran at the end of last year with our Yr 8 students. It was called ‘The Sustainable Table’ and I can vouch for the fact that it had our students immersed in a learning experience in the final days of the school year (and we all know how hard it can be to hold their attention at that time, when reports are written and there are no assessment tasks to complete!). This is Liana’s second guest post; it’s wonderful having a colleague willing to share her work with others.

So, take it away Liana!

The Sustainable Table – creating a recipe for the future

It may not be so apparent but your dinner table is the reflection of how well you apply the sustainability of food resources.  Have you ever wondered how far that apple that you’re eating has travelled or felt guilty about the amount of food we waste?

The two questions above were just part of the collection of thoughts Year 8 students at Toorak College have considered over the last two years in the highly successful inquiry ‘What does the sustainable table look like’?

Motivated by the global food shortages and related price hikes in 2008 which saw desperate people in developing countries such as Haiti resort to rioting, we were keen to develop an inquiry which not only informed students but developed some practical strategies which they could apply to their own lives.  There were two key objectives of the inquiry:

– How can we shift our students’ awareness and understanding of sustainability as being a practice not just being observed at a global or national level, but one that can occur in their individual lives as simple as changing some of their practices in the kitchen?

– Just as important, how could we as teachers ensure our delivery of the concept of sustainability is both inspirational and engaging so that students would be keen to adopt these practices from a young age?

The answer came in the form of an inquiry which would culminate in a sustainable afternoon tea which would not only demonstrate the students’ understanding and application of sustainable cooking practices for their guests, but would create an innovative platform for them to inform the wider school community about their findings.

The inquiry involved a successful partnership between several disciplines – Food Technology, Humanities, English and Science.  In the past we had conducted many inquiries between English, Humanities and Science so it was exciting to bring Food Technology on board. We wanted a project which students could get their teeth into, and the work conducted on cooking sustainably in Food Technology classes proved a perfect stage to initiate the project, and then merge with the concept of sustainability from a Humanities perspective. Students had been working with Giselle Wilkinson’s book ‘The Conscious Cook’ which provided students with  a range of insightful and practical approaches, ideas and recipes to assist with becoming more sustainable in the kitchen.  Students have been extremely fortunate to have had Giselle Wilkinson present ideas about food sustainability in the launch of the inquiry. Students acquired formal writing skills in their English classes in the preparation of invitation for guests to attend a sustainable afternoon tea.  During the introduction, a Science teacher explored the idea of food wastage experienced from paddock to plate.

Blended through this project was the commitment to the Toorak Attributes in which students were developing and demonstrating the ability to become more Community minded and Communicative and Innovative in their inquiry work.

Running over two days, students were initially exposed to a variety of ideas which they would then explore through their own inquiry depending on their choice of topic.

  • There are different cultural attitudes towards the choices of food we make.
    • The choices of food and cooking methods we apply can have a huge environmental impact
    • There are some sustainable choices to be made related to cooking which can reduce their environmental footprint.
    • There are a number of issues related to social and environmental sustainability and food.
    • Individual small actions can still make a huge contribution to sustainability.

Some examples of topics explored by students were: genetically modified food, feeding the world, food miles, fair trade, animal rights, food waste, pesticides, water sustainability, greenhouse warming.

Students became enthused about their inquiry upon discovering what their task entailed over the two days:

  • The preparation of an annotated page of recipes for a recipe book to inform people about strategies to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle in the kitchen.
  • The creation of a placemat related to their inquiry to inform people about sustainability and food.
  • The organisation and preparation an afternoon tea which is composed of sustainable snacks made by the students.
  • Preparation of an oral presentation about aspects of their inquiry to their guests.
  • The development of an appreciation for sustainability.
  • The development of literacy and communicative skills.

The scope for developing leadership and communicative skills was enormous. Each group had to work industriously and creatively to not only inquire about their topic but also to prepare invitations, recipes, place mats, an oral presentation as well as a themed table setting (following a demonstration by the Food Technology teacher of some creative and innovative approaches). Careful consideration had to be taken in the selection of their materials used for their table setting and meals.

The morning of the afternoon tea saw students cooking up a storm of activity. The rooms were filled with an array of inquiry products receiving finishing touches, coloured serviettes, clattering trays, food goods being transported to kitchens, flower arrangements and fluttering tablecloths.

The fruits of the students’ labour could be seen in the form of some inspiring presentations and products created for their inquiry. A real sense of achievement was sensed as guests wandered around the room and was seated to enjoy their afternoon tea while learning about sustainability.  Finally, the students were able to take a copy of all of the groups’ annotated recipes to continue applying the concept of sustainable living in the kitchen at home.

All in all, both students and teachers thoroughly enjoyed this engaging and thoroughly practical experiential approach to inquiry.

I hope you can see the effort and commitment shared by everyone involved in this project; teachers and students alike. Perhaps you can take some of this and adapt it for your own school. Liana would love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment if you can. : )

Guest post: Liana’s making Wikis (with the help of Year 7)

You know that feeling when you think things aren’t happening, but then all of a sudden you realise that your efforts are starting to pay dividends? Well, that’s what’s happening at my school (Toorak College) now. I feel like we are making inroads. Kids are using Nings and Wikis and it’s becoming the norm. There isn’t the questioning that used to come with the introduction of new ideas. Teachers are starting to take on board what I’ve been rabbiting on about and they are seeing how effective the learning can be using collaborative tools.

Liana Gooch teaches at my school and was part of our PLP group. Here is her guest post. Take it away Liana!

Coming from a country in which bush fires do not feature as a significant hazard as they do in Australia, the events of February 7th 2009 have left an indelible mark on the memories of myself and my students.  It was extremely heart breaking to view the images of destruction and loss experienced by those people involved in the Victorian Bushfires. As well as the human cost, it is also essential to consider the havoc wrecked upon nature. A lot of creatures were helpless to escape the fury of the flames and many that did manage to survive have suffered immense injury. 

When it came to consider a unit of study related to endangered species with my year 7 Humanities class, I was determined to create a research unit that was not only compelling but also relevant. Students would usually choose to explore overseas endangered species but coverage of the Victorian Bushfires’ impact upon many already endangered species alerted me to taking a more local focus. In the back of my mind I also was concerned about the potential lack of knowledge regarding their own state’s endangered species. My suspicions were confirmed when I surveyed the class about identifying the state’s animal symbol, the highly endangered Leadbeater Possum – only one student was able to identify it. Thus, the inquiry ‘ How can we protect our backyard?’ emerged. 

Another focus of this inquiry project would be to expose students to a range of technological tools that would be easily transferrable across their range of subjects. Working with Jenny Luca and Megan Davies, we decided that a wikispace would be an ideal medium for students to post and convey their research to the rest of the world. While the students knew I would be assessing their page, they knew that this inquiry was going to have to be authentic due to the wikispace being open to the public. Students were taught how to manipulate many of the tools available on the wikispace and a lot was learnt through the process by trial and error. As students were working collaboratively it made sense to use Google Docs which allowed students to simultaneously work and edit a written piece together on different computers. It also eliminated the age old problem of when students are absent and have the written piece with them thus hindering a group’s progress. This tool proved invaluable and it has been exciting to observe students use this tool for other projects since this inquiry.  Jenny also taught the students about a range of websites where students would be able to use copyright free images for their pages. Another skill gained was the ability to write comments using the pins of Google Maps. One student produced her own clip of a journey through the affected Kingslake area and used voice thread to create her own commentary.  Students found the application of technology to be an effective tool which made the learning process a lot more interesting. ‘It is a lot of fun and instead of being boring the work was challenging and interesting so it made it a lot easier to work. It is a great way to become more familiar with internet tools and skills.’ (Hayley) 

 I wanted students to actively engage with concepts we had explored earlier in the unit related to sustainability. Students were initially exposed to Dr Seuss tale of The Lorax’ which made many of the complex components of sustainability easily attainable. A reflective component of their inquiry which would test their understanding of some of the big ideas would require them to reflect upon how the Lorax would perceive and comment upon the causes and effects of the Bushfires as well as  the ensuing actions to reduce their impact.  Following through the list of aspects to be explored students would be able to explore a range of both primary and secondary resources ranging from newspaper clips, you tube videos, podcasts from experts and contact with applicable organisations. Students constructed questions to inquire about the actions taken by their selected organisation’s actions to assist with affected animals. Many students were extremely excited about receiving information directly from organisations especially when a lot of the information could not be directly found in the range of resources available online or otherwise. 

The inquiry took about three weeks in total during which time students were completed engaged and engrossed in their research. There were several occasions when it was actually difficult to get the students to stop working! It took considerable time to do my initial research and creation of the inquiry assignment. I also had to learn some of the new technological tools before I could launch the project, however the benefits of undertaking a project with which many of the students were so connected were immense. Their understanding of endangered species in their own backyard and the critical role that humans play has been significant. ‘it shows that we have to be aware of sustainable development and reducing our resources for the future. The Victorian Bushfires has decreased the amount of trees, land, homes and animals, and that reduces many resources for the future.’ ‘This project has made me think about animals in a completely different way then I had before.’ Rather than just producing an assignment which would only be viewed by the teacher, themselves and family, Students were courageous as they gallantly rose to the challenge of creating commentary which was up to scrutiny by the public.  It was also extremely encouraging to hear students comment about taking social action as a result of this project. One student has become involved in adopting a koala and to date, our class are considering fund raising to either help adopt an endangered animal or contribute to a wildlife fund. Another student is starting to consider a career path related to the care of injured animals. To me, this is what learning that is inspiring should be all about – making authentic, meaningful and relevant links to the world around us.

Well done Liana and well done Year 7. You’ve created a rich resource for others to use and you’ve learnt some new skills in the process. Make sure you visit their wiki.