Building Scientific Literacy: A Farm-to-Table PBL


Students must learn to read, evaluate, discuss, and write about real-world science issues. Some educators feel that practice is the best way to become a proficient reader, thinker, and communicator. While building knowledge from textbooks is important, teachers today are less likely to use class time in this manner. Instead, many science teachers engage students in reading through informational text.

In this Farm-to-Table themed project-based lesson or PBL, students consider the journey food takes before it gets to their plate. After reading informational texts and other sources, students evaluate the various authors' points of view and identify conflicting evidence. Finally, they make a claim, support it with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, address counterclaims, and share findings with others.

Nonfiction Text
You can hook students with high-interest literary nonfiction such as the Young Readers Edition of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  Before students read, ask them what they know about where food comes from and how it gets to our tables. This site provides plenty of questions to help introduce the book, generate discussions, and suggest student products. Remind students that Pollan presents one point of view and that other writers offer opposing perspectives.

The Assignment
The goal is to think about food—where it comes from, along with its nutritional value—and to take a stand on a food-related topic. Students must support their insights with evidence and share their product with others. To do this well, they must understand the perspectives and motivations of other stakeholders. That means identifying credible sources of information and data. In addition to using data to support their claim and solution, students must understand how the data was collected and what it represents.

After selecting a topic, students create a research question. They may need help generating a compelling question. The next step is gathering background information—either by exploring the internet or using trusted sites provided by the teacher.


United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
World's Largest Lesson
Data Depot
Birke Baehr: What’s wrong with our food system?
Pamela Ronald: The case for engineering our food
From Farm to Table: Nat Geo Live
Your Food, Farm to Table
Debunking the Myths: Finding Success in the Organic Marketplace
Food Biotechnology Videos
Organic Eggs vs. Conventional Farm Eggs

Synthesize Claims and Evidence, Evaluate, Revise, and Share
To track workflow and progress, Michelle Woods and other instructional coaches use Agile methods where students work collaboratively in teams. The primary role of the teacher is project management. Each team member quickly summarizes what they did yesterday, what they will do today, and if they are experiencing any obstacles in a stand-up meeting or scrum. Student leaders serve as Scrum Masters. Teachers and students track the project’s progress with sprints using Trello or sticky notes. Student products could be essays, videos, magazines, brochures, infographics, annotated maps, or some other form that achieves the objective. Teachers and students can even showcase digital student work.

Want to learn more about PBL or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals?

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About Author

Ada Lopez

Ada’s goal is to help improve children’s lives. Her inspiration to develop technologies that enhance teaching and learning comes from her years in the classroom. Ada taught high school biology in South Florida and middle school science in North Carolina. She earned The National Braille Press Hands on Award for co-authoring Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn.


  1. This is not only a powerful recipe for effective teaching, it also offers rich suport
    for teachers interested in a foundation for a service learning project.

  2. Glasher Robinson on

    Initially I felt that designing a PBL unit was daunting but after reading Ada Lopez's post on Building Scientific Literacy: A Farm-to-Table PBL I was motivated to try it. My students completed many of the lab activities that I normally used for the Biosphere and Human Impact Unit in my Honors Earth and Environmental Science class. I was able to incorporate chapter excerpts from the book The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan but there were a few of books and articles we utilized to emphasize the literacy component. One of the highlights of my unit included a field trip to NC A&T Cooperative Extension Farm, Food Lion, The Fresh Market, the Moose Cafe (local farm to table restaurant) at the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market. We will participate in a community garden activity with our local community partner, Macedonia Community Center, students are creating sustainable dishes for a Project, and students will have a guest panel of 4 individuals that work in the agriculture field. We will conclude the unit by watching the Lorax movie.

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