Honor exceptional teachers and school leaders by nominating them for EL Education’s 2022 Educator Awards by June 30th!

Food for Thought: Illuminating Standards Video Series

Sixth grade students in Chula Vista, CA created a professional-quality, whimsical and useful cookbook of healthy foods, with recipes and photographs. The project was a culmination of scientific and social studies, including visiting a community garden, growing and harvesting food, and cooking. Illuminates Mexican Science standard: “Students should be able to connect scientific knowledge with other disciplines in order for them to understand scientific phenomena and natural processes. They should also be able to apply this knowledge in different contexts for it to be socially and environmentally relevant.”


In the last two decades of the ‘standards movement’ in American public education, many educators have concluded that ‘teaching to the standards’ and project-based learning are incompatible. Ron Berger (Expeditionary Learning) and Steve Seidel (Harvard Graduate School of Education), co-directors of The Illuminating Standards Project, wondered if this conclusion is true. Indeed, they speculated that long-term, interdisciplinary, arts-infused, community-connected projects may well be one of the best ways to actually see what state standards look like when fully realized in the things students make in school—to make the standards visible. Three questions frame the work of The Illuminating Standards Project: What does it look like when state standards are met with integrity, depth, and imagination? How can we use standards to open up and enrich curriculum, rather than narrow and constrain it?How can we use student work to raise the level of our understanding of standards and our dialogue about them? 


Collaborating with Berger and Seidel on The Illuminating Standards Project, over 30 students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have explored these questions by choosing projects from the student work in Models of Excellence and considering the ways in which those projects did—and didn’t—meet specific state standards. Further, they examined how the student work illuminated the standards—and vice versa. Many of those students created short films and many of those films are presented here.We invite you to watch these films, and we encourage you to use them as the catalyst for discussions with your colleagues about the relationship between your commitment to meet demanding state standards and approaches to designing powerful learning experiences for our students.


- [Narrator] Why does learning in schools so rarely change the way students live their lives? Why does school seem to be so disconnected from the way the world really works? What if a science project could actually make this different? When I first read the cookbook, Food for Thought, created by students at High Tech High Chula Vista in San Diego, California, I was surprised by the book’s beauty and professionalism, but especially, by the thought that students could create a real product using their learning beyond the classroom. I realized that if we want our students to connect and apply their knowledge in multiple settings, we must create learning experiences that reveal the way we truly experience life. As a Mexican educator, I believe that this project allows us to open a wider conversation and consider international perspectives on standards and curriculum. According to the Mexican science standards, students should be able to connect scientific knowledge with other disciplines in order for them to understand scientific phenomena and natural processes. They should also be able to apply this knowledge in different contexts for it to be socially and environmentally relevant. Projects like Food for Thought are an example of how interdisciplinary, hands-on learning experiences can be created. Over the course of a semester, a group of students, led by their teacher, Ali Hernandez, created a cookbook of healthy recipes for kids. From cover to cover, the book is 100% student-produced. Students created the recipes, took the photographs, and were responsible for the book’s production. In order to create this impressive book, students had to engage in multiple activities. They built a compost pile to learn about decomposition and planted vegetables in their school garden to understand growing cycles. They watched documentary films, visited an organic farm, and analyzed food advertisements to identify some of the elements that influenced their choices. Students created their healthy recipes and calculated the nutritional content of one serving. Finally, they learned how to take professional photographs and design the book.

- It doesn’t happen, but every once in a while, educators will say, “I don’t know if our kids can do this.” So I think that what allows this type of project work to be done is our culture. The work that we do, I absolutely think, can be replicated at other schools, but it’s a question of will and it’s a question of what type of culture you’re willing to set up at your school that enables this type of work to happen.

- You may think it’s hard, but it’s not. You just have to put the work into it.

- [Narrator] The project allowed students to connect their knowledge with other disciplines by merging subjects like Earth and science, math, and even art. Besides academic competencies, students learned useful life skills, like taking professional photographs, editing, designing, cooking, or even growing plants.

- I would say a lot of what we learned for life skills was introductions to things that most sixth-graders don’t have a chance to get.

- [Narrator] Food for Thought also allowed students to apply their knowledge in different contexts, raising social and environmental awareness. By engaging in this project, students became aware of the effects that food choices have on themselves and also on the environment.

- Three years ago, a year before this project, I never would have looked at my food. It’s more like, okay, if mom bought it for me, it’s okay. But now it’s like, huh, could I make healthier decisions? So it gives you that second thought on, maybe I shouldn’t eat this.

- I think this project, one thing I love about it is that the knowledge was transformed. They learned about healthy eating. They learned about fractions, which was one of the math components of the project. And they transformed that knowledge into a cookbook that some of their family still use to this day.

- [Narrator] Food for Thought went physically and metaphorically beyond the classroom. The cookbook does not only provide healthy recipes for kids, but also suggests a recipe for how powerful learning can be achieved anywhere. Combine two cups of effort and hard work, one cup of good classroom culture, and half a cup of teacher work. Add 10 sprigs of professionalism, 5 drops of outside connections and experiences, one teaspoon of bravery, and one tablespoon of confidence. Sprinkle fun moments, but also include a lot of time for reflection. When you mix it all together, students will be able to engage in the creation of meaningful and relevant work that will help them understand the world in which they live in in a deeper, more connected, and authentic way.

Read More

Created By

EL Education

Resource Downloads

Please log in to access the downloadable resources.



Grade Level