It Starts with the Basics ... STEM Lessons and Healthy Food

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October 18, 2022

This is the second in a series of guest blogs by the 2022-23 Michigan Regional Teachers of the Year. Bill Boerman is a fourth-grade gifted/talented teacher at Woodbridge Elementary School in Zeeland.

About four years ago, I was working in a middle school classroom teaching STEM, and I had one of those ‘Ah-ha’ moments as an educator. I came to realize that my afternoon classes were struggling much more than my morning classes, so I asked a question.

“Nobody has to, but if you’re willing to share, raise your hand if you didn’t eat lunch today?”

About ⅓ of my students raised their hand. I followed that up with asking, “How many of you didn’t eat breakfast today?” I was met with about another ⅓ of my class. Not surprisingly, the ones who hadn’t eaten were the ones who struggled the most. When they were asked if they would be willing to share why, the most common answer I received was, “The food is disgusting.”

From this, I did an experiment. I took about 100 apples from our school cafeteria to my afternoon classes. The apples were eaten by the end of the day by the same kids who were not eating. In talking with them further, I realized I had students who had never had a strawberry before, were not able to identify a raspberry and who lacked some of the basics of nutrition.

From here, an endeavor began to bring some of those basics into the classroom. The journey started with hydroponic grow towers (grant funded) and progressed to students designing and building a greenhouse (community funded). From there, we were able to purchase a mobile kitchen (community funded) for students to learn the basics AND valuable math and science skills at the same time.

I’ve included a few pictures, along with specific ways that nutrition became part of the environment at our school.
  • Students created their own business selling fresh herbs from the hydroponic grow towers to teachers. They learned the science of pH testing, monitoring growth rates and the concept of supply and demand.
  • Students used our mobile kitchen to design their own healthy recipes. They used items from our greenhouse and worked in collaboration with MSU Extension. Their final meals were served to our administrators.
  • Students filled out job applications and were interviewed for jobs in our greenhouse. They worked through the summer as our greenhouse was open to the community. About 200 people harvested free produce this past summer!
  • Students harvested food in the fall to take home to their families. Many students needed modeling on how to pick produce (i.e. an entire class of mine did not know how to pull an ear of corn off of the stalk).