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June 13, 2017

Exploring Cultures, Entrepreneurship, and Design Through Project-Based Learning

How does creating your own restaurant become an exercise in more than entrepreneurship? Our Yerba Buena Upper Elementary educators transformed it into a unique opportunity for students to learn about different cultures, persuasive writing, math, design, geography, and biomes. The eight-week effort culminated in students conceptualizing, creating, presenting—and inviting their parents to eat in—their own restaurants.

The Unit Emily created with segments for each phase of the learning arc.

Educator Emily Greenberg dove into her passion for project-based learning as a vehicle for teaching core skills in this multi-tiered project. It began as an extensive research project about different cultures, dating back to their ancient civilizations, and their ecosystems. In its next phase, students took deep dives into a specific country of their choosing to conceptualize how to bring the culture to life via a pop-up restaurant. In the final phase, they executed their restaurants, serving delicious food and a view of each country’s rich history to parents, educators, and friends.

‍A set of Cards with specific assignments make up each segment of the Unit.
‍ A sample Card Emily created with step-by-step instructions and objectives.

Using the AltSchool platform, she created a student-facing Unit that described the scope of the project and broke it down into topic-based sections. She then provided students with task-by-task Cards to complete, which allowed them to have agency and become self-directed in their learning. The Unit made resources available to students at their speed and readiness, so their learning became much more autonomous. It also allowed Emily to tag milestones that aligned with the skills she was teaching, assess how students progressed, and pinpoint learning moments at each phase of the Unit.

Cultivating an Exploration of Different Cultures

As part of their initial deep dive, students were asked to consider how food influences the culture of a nation—geographically, ecologically, and politically. To better understand this, they selected a country and researched its geography and history dating back to ancient civilizations to understand what they ate and how the nation’s past shaped its modern cuisine.

Understanding Ecosystems and Their Impact

In order to understand how the ecosystem plays a key component in shaping culinary customs around the world, the students simulated their country’s ecosystems in jars and replicated its growing conditions in planters to cultivate local crops. By creating these ecosystems, they explored how photosynthesis, carbon cycling, food webs, and other ecological practices all work in harmony to support their biomes. Armed with this knowledge, they developed ways to work environmental awareness and sustainability into their restaurants’ business models.

Building a Team and a Vision

Once students developed an understanding of the history of their country, its geography, and how its cuisine evolved, they moved to the conceptualization and design phase of the Unit. The first step was to write a funding pitch describing their restaurant’s concept, business model, and what the money raised would go toward. Adding to the hands-on experience, students visited local restaurants to get an inside look at how a successful restaurant operates.

Groups then assigned roles to each member—a Chief Financial Officer, head chef, sous chef, and host—and their eateries began to take shape. Together, they created budget sheets, designed and wrote menus, and built restaurant signage. Groups further put their design and architectural abilities to the test, creating blueprints and building scale models of their restaurants.

Bringing a Restaurant to Life

For the last stage of the two-month project, the students brought their restaurants to life in a final showcase. They transformed rooms in our Yerba Buena campus into the restaurants they had conceptualized, complete with their handmade signage, menus, and, of course, delicious food. They experimented with recipes and received feedback from other groups before settling on their two favorites to serve alongside a presentation about their country, its ancient civilizations, and its rich culinary history.

“Creating projects that combine multiple content areas, ignite individual passions, and allow students to grow as learners and as people is what I want to do as a teacher,” Emily said. “I was so glad that this project hit that mark—and produced some delicious results!”

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