A new educational software application under development at the University of Illinois brings the topic of climate change to middle school students to show them how their dietary choices affect the planet.
The Food for Thought app displays a dinner plate that students fill by touching the computer screen and dragging their food selections onto the plate. As students create a meal, the app graphically tallies the nutritional data and carbon footprint associated with each food item and with the overall meal, such as the amount of calories in a salad and the amount of water that would be used in growing the lettuce.
‘The Food for Thought app teaches children about the carbon footprint associated with the foods they eat.’
"There are two learning goals here: Make kids aware of the causes and impacts of climate change, and help them become data literate -- that is, knowledgeable consumers of the media," said curriculum and instruction professor Emma Mercier. Mercier's research team videotaped groups of students from University Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois, as they explored climate change issues at the local and global levels.
"Using food as the focal point for promoting awareness of climate change was really brilliant," said University Laboratory High School science and engineering teacher Sharlene Denos, whose students participated in the activities.
"Seventh- and eighth- graders don't have control over what cars their families buy or whether they retrofit their homes, but they are in charge of their food. The thought process with the app is one that they can take with them to the grocery store. It's something that can really empower the students to keep thinking about environmental issues and keep the conversation going with their families and friends."
Developing technologies for teachers to use in teaching children about climate change is important because climate change is associated with more than 40 percent of the disciplinary content in the Next Generation Science Standards for kindergarten through 12th-grade education, Mercier said.