A student brought pickles in for a snack early in the semester, and another student mentioned that pickles are made from cucumbers. Most of the students, not being too fond of cucumbers, found this hard to believe. They wondered how the taste of a cucumber could be transformed to the taste of a pickle. They theorized about different ingredients that were necessary, like salt to give it flavor or green food coloring for the color. This sparked a semester long investigation in pickling, food, and food preservation!
Our pickling experiment has expanded drastically! Our classroom has been learning about the process of pickling and the methods of food preservation. On top of their understanding of the transformation of food during the pickling process, the students have recently expanded their discussion to include identification and description of the term “food preservation.”
Earlier projects focused on the prompt of “what would a world with no refrigerators be like? What would we do to keep food cool in an environment with no refrigerators?” The children created drawings and sketches to communicate their knowledge and understanding of this prompt. We were so excited to see that their illustrations anticipated the concept of root cellars!
To build upon this concept of pickling and refrigeration, the children drew illustrations of the chemical changes food undergoes while being pickles in salt or vinegar, as well as illustrations from a week long laboratory study where we hypothesized, tested, and researched how strawberries decompose differently under varying conditions: uncovered and refrigerated, uncovered and not refrigerated, and soaked in vinegar and unrefrigerated. The lab report includes a problem, hypothesis, materials, procedure, results and a conclusion. Towards the end of the experiment, the children were invited to view and compare the samples of the refrigerated strawberries and the vinegar-soaked strawberries under a microscope. Their drawings of these observations were incredibly detailed. The students recorded the cellular walls and noted how they were stil intact in the refrigerated strawberries and illustrated the absence of the cellular walls in the vinegar soaked strawberries.
After this, the children began a discussion on other methods that can be used to cook, and the topic of boiling foods took prominence. Their discussion on boiling foods led us to make strawberry and raspberry jams! After sampling both the strawberry jam and raspberry jam on a slice of bread we baked ourselves, one student declared that it was so delicious that, “they taste store bought!”
Our goal with this project is for the children to learn about different food stages, learn the steps of the scientific process, and express their knowledge of the things they are learning in multiple ways. In the Reggio Emilia approach, we engage students in creative and meaningful learning activities and encourage them to express their knowledge in several different ways. For example, if we discussed a topic, the next step is for the children to draw, write, paint and/or sculpt their knowledge and understanding of the discussion. This particular science experiment included a lot of collaboration and teamwork amongst the children. Everything from the idea, what to test, the hypothesis, how to test it, and the discussion of the results to reach a conclusion was lead by the children.
While it may be easier to see what the children are learning with this activity, we want to emphasize how they are learning. While we’ve been investigating the concept of pickling and food preservation for a few weeks, the children became interested in another type of food preservation: refrigeration. In order to feed their curiosity, we asked them thought-provoking questions that formed a creative foundation and fostered even more questions from them! These questions and illustrations introduced a problem that no one knew the answer to. Instead of simply telling them the solution to their question (or giving them a textbook to read about it) the children came up with an experiment that included all five steps in the scientific process. Moreover, in order to further their understanding once they reached a conclusion about their experiment, we encouraged the children to draw, sketch, and paint their interpretation of the results! The act of expressing their knowledge in various ways gives children a greater sense of competence and deepens their understandings of the concepts.
“Those skilled at play have more ability to realize alternative possibilities and assign meaning to experiences; those less skilled in finding order when faced with ambiguity get stuck in defending things the way they are.” –E. Jones