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, 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. These sites provide plenty of classroom activities and 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 their compelling question. The next step is gathering background information—either by exploring the internet or using trusted sites provided by the teacher.

Here's a quick list of Curriculum Pathways resources students may incorporate.


VLab: Stream Ecology

VLab: Stream Ecology – Use Internet Explorer to view this resource.
Energy Flow in Ecosystems
Recombinant DNA Technology
Analyzing Commercial Fishing Catches
Genetically-Modified Foods
Food Chains and Biological Magnification
Lab: Isolating DNA from Foods
Analyzing Your Nutrient Intake
The Kingdom Protista

Social Studies
The Amazon Rainforest
Sahara Desert
The Columbian Exchange
Ancient Middle East: Mesopotamia
Industrial Revolution: Protesting the Corn Laws
Islands of Oceania

Data Depot
Barley Production
Cattle Inventory
Certified Organic Farms
Chicken Production
Corn for Grain Production
Cost of Food at Home
Egg Production
Fish Mercury Levels
Rice Production
U.S. Citrus Acreage and Value by Crop
Wheat Production

English Language Arts
Writing Navigator Series

Yerba Mate

Data Gathering with Independent and Dependent Variables
Algebra Course: Graphing One-Variable Data
Algebra Course: Analyzing One-Variable Data
Algebra Course: Two-Variable Categorical Data
Algebra Course: Two-Variable Quantitative Data

Other Sites with Videos
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.  Agile is an iterative approach to software development. 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 student track the project’s progress or 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.

Here are some other ways that SAS Curriculum Pathways can help you develop engaging project-based lessons.


About Author

Ada Lopez

Ada Lopez develops science resources for Curriculum Pathways. She recently earned The National Braille Press Hands on Award for co-authoring Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn. 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.


  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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