On the bottom shelf of my pantry, next to the pasta but in front of the quinoa, there is a bag of rice. I think it’s probably brown rice, but maybe not, you cannot make good risotto with brown rice. Up until a month ago, that was probably the most interesting thing I knew about rice because, well, it’s rice–not the most exciting, engaging, or interesting of the staple crops. But, one day a teacher emailed us and asked if we had an innovative way of integrating the exploration of culture into her third-grade classroom.
We did not.
We told her that we would have an idea for her by the end of the week.
It turns out that rice is not only a wonderful medium for broth, garlic and parmesan, it’s also a stunning conduit through which students can explore culture, science, and several handy ELA skills. (Plus, we can easily toss in a wholesome helping of real-world math to taste.)
We broke our Innovative Cultural Exploration of Rice into three lessons.
Our rice lesson recipe:
Part one (fascinating fact about boring stuff.)
After surveying well over 150 3rd graders we have found that here in our little northwest corner of the world most of our students come to third grade complete with 3 solid facts about rice;
- You eat it.
- It’s white. Except when it’s not, but even then it kinda is.
- You have to cook it in water.
This means there is an abundance of great info patiently sitting out on the web waiting to be gathered and shared by rice expert wannabes.
Armed with a Chromebook and a trusted search engine like Kidrex the typical class will need just less than 20 min to come up with a board of sticky note facts.
-Rice is grown on every continent except Antarctica.
-The Chinese word for rice is the same word used for food.
-Rice is a symbol of fertility.
-Rice is an annual plant the grows 2 to 3 feet tall.
-Nearly half of all Rice students come from out of state.–It turns out not all facts about Rice are actually facts about rice, you have to think about what you are writing.
This activity is guaranteed to offer too many teachable moments for the typical classroom. Learning conversations about vocabulary, the difference between fact and opinion, culture, geography, and…fertility are all posted and ready to be harvested.
In the 21st-century information comes in myriad forms. So, the kids need to find facts in graphs, videos, pictures, and interviews with rice farmers.
Those other sources (especially the videos) sprout even more authentic questions, conversations, and learning. It’s funny how curious finding information can make a learner. Once given the chance to share a fact and seeing or hearing someone else share, the whole room wants to find something else that no one knew. That desire to share in what is learning is why we teach students about informational writing. None of the students read essays about rice. But all of them were exposed to a multitude of other ways we use writing to share information.
Now to plan for part two. The STEMed rice challenge.