Digital media and cooking may not seem like an obvious match, but in Spoons Across America and their innovative food education curriculum, the New Learning Institute has found an ideal partner for implementing project-based learning that emphasizes 21st century skills.
Through its Days of Taste and Dinner Party programs, Spoons Across America works to bring the joy of good food to elementary and middle school children. The Spoons workshops seeks to give kids an alternative to fast food, processed foods and unhealthy habits of eating by teaching them to appreciate and enjoy fresh, local and seasonal food. Children who have never been to a farm and who have little experience with fresh fruits and vegetables are taught how to recognize, select, prepare and serve fresh food, under the guidance of some of America’s top chefs.
Because NLI’s digital media programs are designed to work with any curriculum, they easily enhance and expand the Spoons program by giving participants a medium though which they can investigate the subject matter, organize their thoughts and publish their discoveries to others. Together, Spoons Across America and The New Learning Institute have created an exceptional example of successful partnership, which has produced exciting new opportunities for young people.
The Dinner Party Project
One of Spoons Across America’s signature programs is the Dinner Party Project. This discovery-based curriculum is designed specifically for 4th and 5th graders to teach them the basics of healthy eating, and the joys of community social interaction. The five-week program culminates in a meal and dinner party prepared and run by elementary school children for their family and friends.
In a series of workshops and lessons, under the guidance of top food professionals, the students organize an evening of food and entertainment. They learn about taste and nutrition, and the importance of fresh, locally-grown foods. They have lessons in the basics of food preparation, and experiment with recognizing and combining tastes. They plan and design a menu and create invitations, integrating the culture of their community into every aspect of the event.
In the Spring of 2008, The New Learning Institute partnered with Spoons o bring their Dinner Party Project to fifth graders at P.S. 132 in Manhattan, New York. The NLI digital arts professionals worked with Spoons and also with school faculty members and administrators to integrate the digital arts curriculum into every aspect of the Dinner Party Project. For example, under the guidance of Gracie Mansion Executive Chef Feliberto Estevez, the students in the program learned to preplan and organize their work for the dinner party over several weeks. At the same time, the NLI team helped the students learn the same time management skills in planning each stage of the production of their digital stories.
In addition to Chef Estevez, Spoons brought in the entire Grace Mansion team to lead the students in preparing their dinner party. Beginning with the basics of taste and nutrition, the food professionals led the young people through a series of lessons designed to cover the entire range of skills needed to mount a successful event. The students learned to plan, write and design a menu along with a schedule of activities for the party. The lessons emphasized integrating the tastes and culture of the community into the plans for the dinner. At P.S. 132, which has a largely Dominican student body, the young people chose “Carnival” as the theme for their event and integrated that into their selection of food, the design of the invitations and their choices for entertainment and activities.
At each step in the process, the Institute worked team with the students to record their learning experiences in preparation for creating their own digital stories. At the same time, the NLI team also shot professional video, interviewing key partners at each stage of the program and documenting the practices and teaching methods for future use by Spoons.
The NLI team also worked with Pierre Dulaine, co-founder of Dancing Classrooms in the Schools, a program that builds social awareness and self-esteem in young people through ballroom dance. He was the subject of the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom and the fictional feature film, Take The Lead. Dancing Classrooms had previously worked with the students of P.S. 132 and now integrated their curriculum with the Dinner Party Project.
To further enrich the learning experience of the program, New Learning Institute brought in editors from the Penguin Publishing Young Readers Group. These publishing professionals worked directly with the students, teaching them the basics of story structure and writing techniques in preparation for writing their digital stories.
The Dinner Party itself was a huge success. The event was to serve as the graduation or “moving up” ceremony for the fifth graders. In honor of the occasion, the students invited their extended family and friends, including grandparents, uncles and aunts. On the afternoon of June 6, they decorated the cafeteria of the school while the Gracie Mansion team prepared the dinner. Over 150 people attended the party, which was covered by the local press and included an awards ceremony and a dance performance by the students, after which the guests, the faculty, administrators and the NLI team joined the students on the dance floor.
After the successful dinner party, The New Learning Institute completed a digital storytelling workshop with the students in the program. The students used images they had created in the workshops before the dinner party and from the dinner itself. Under the guidance of the NLI team, they added their own narrations, learned to select and edit images, build a digital story using advanced editing software and produce a finished video with music, credits and special effects.
These digital stories help the young people to build on the foundation of their experiences in the Spoons program and served as educational material in the classroom and for other students. They left the Dinner Party Project not only with a wealth of new understanding and insight about food, nutrition, personal development and social interaction, but with a solid beginning in digital media and 21st-Century Literacy, including critical thinking skills they will need in all their future learning experiences.
By partnering with Spoons Across America, the staff at P.S. 321, Chef Estevez and dance instructor Dulaine, The New Learning Institute was able to help extend and deepen the learning experience for the students in the program. Together, the partners created a rich and advanced educational environment that introduced young people to new and important realms of knowledge, skill and self-esteem.