Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Omnivore's Dilemma as Inquiry-Based Learning

"What should we have for dinner?" is the essential question driving Michael Pollan in his latest book, The Ominvore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. His narrative of how he explores that question is an excellent model of inquiry-based learning -- in adults, in the real world, on a topic that definitely addresses the big 'so what?' criterium.

Did you know that food production burns almost 1/5 of the petroleum consumed in the US? Just as much as cars consume... "And how could it come to pass that a fast-food burger produced from corn and fossil actually costs less than a burger produced from grass and sunlight?" By the way, his website provides access to all of his articles over the years, many of which contain ideas pulled together in this book.

I would love to see such a book re-written for upper primary and middle school students (much like Eric Schlosser took his Fast Food Nation and re-wrote it as Chew on This with Charles Wilson -- not to mention the movie just coming out).

Pollan tunes in, finds out, sorts out, goes further, make conclusions, takes action, and then shares and reflects -- in continual loops (to use Kath Murdoch's model of inquiry -- though any one could be used, e.g., the Big6, PLUS, etc.) -- about food chains, a topic included in many curricula.

Having kids see that adults get excited about big questions and pursue them is so important. Unfortunately, I haven't seen all that many primary school teachers who are committed to inquiry projects of their own -- or perhaps I should say I haven't seen many teachers share their outside passions within the school. Perhaps in my new school come August I'll provide display space in the library for teachers to do just that -- share their reading interests and personal ongoing inquiries.


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