Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cool (Cocoa) Beans!

My students started out their year learning about communities, plants, and farm-to-table. It was a really fun way to start the school year and we spent lots of time in our school's garden observing and exploring. This knowledge also served as the foundation for our second big unit on chocolate and culture. We've just wrapped everything up, and I thought I'd share some highlights.

Essential Questions:
  • How does chocolate get to a store?
  • What affect does the environment have on a culture?
  • What affect does a culture have on the environment?
  • What does Fair Trade mean?
  • How does the chocolate industry impact our community?
A Few of our Favorite Activities:

Chocolate History
We practiced writing non-fiction summaries by reading short sections from The Story of Chocolate. We supplemented this book with a few others (Smart About Chocolate and Chocolate: Riches From the Rainforest) which helped students add more details, cross-reference facts, and synthesize information from multiple sources. Learning about chocolate across many centuries also provided us with lots of practice reading and thinking about timelines.

From Bean to Bar
Students researched the process in which chocolate is made, putting the steps in order from bean to bar. We also paid special attention to the location of each step, either completed in the natural environment or in a factory, as well as the types of jobs that might be required in the process (farmer, exporter, shipper, factory worker, marketing director, grocer, etc.)

The Chocolate Giants
Students read biographies about Milton Hershey and The Mars Family, using graphic organizers to take notes. From there, students created a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the two big chocolate powerhouses.

Culture Investigations
Before winter break, students investigated what elements helped form a culture. The iceberg lesson is a great one for this. From there, I split students into smaller groups to investigate a top producing cocoa bean country and discuss some cultural elements from that country. Our grops were: Cote D'Voire, Ghana, Brazil, Ecuador, and Indonesia. This was their first attempt at a big group research project, and perhaps a tad overwhelming for my second graders. I'll definitely change some things here the next time I do this. In any case, it was a great conversation-starter for nonfiction text features, citing resources, and finding information efficiently.

Hot Chocolate Experiment
Over winter break, I read an article that said hot chocolate tasted better in orange cups. When I shared the article with my students, we decided it would be fun to replicate the experiment at our school. Students initially worked in three teams - researchers, surveyors, and experimenters. The researchers created a hypothesis based on information about how color affects mood and food perception, surveyors created a Google Form for participants to complete after the taste test, and experimenters created a script and set expectations for how the experiment was to run. We invited another classroom and about 15 teachers to be our participants. It was a great project to take on, and provided many opportunities to hone research, graphing, and scientific process skills.

By the way, our study showed that most people preferred the blue or green cup over the orange or red. We also saw relationships between the number of people that chose blue/green cups and stuffy noses (were their taste buds affected?) as well as a feeling of calmness after drinking from the blue cups.

Fair Trade
Global Exchange's downloadable book is just fabulous and allowed me to present a very heavy topic in an easy to understand way. Great conversations that really impacted kids' thinking.

Theo's Chocolate Visit
Theo Chocolate is a local company from Seattle, sourcing only organic and fair trade cocoa beans. When we couldn't afford a field trip to their factory, they kindly sent a representative to talk with my students. It was an incredible experience and students got to see firsthand the impact of the cocoa industry in our own community. We crushed cocoa nibs and even tasted some of their products! In the afternoon, students created their own new flavors of chocolate bars to send to the company!

Our discussions about culture and chocolate certainly led to some great conversations. We hit on some pretty difficult topics and accomplished some lofty goals. This was a very engaging unit for kids, addressing a topic that they enjoy while touching on many standards across the curriculum. This has been such a fun unit, and I know it'll be a go-to in the future. 

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