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learning approaches 


authentic assessment

Project-Based Learning: Home-Grown Spice Blends


In this  year-long cross-disciplinary project, students incorporated plant science with product development as they created a home-grown culinary spice blend.


Students began their school year by preparing outdoor garden beds for the winter, and then as the weather cooled, students chose an herb or spice blend to produce and market. They discussed their taste preferences, debated recipes, and browsed seed catalogs. They also brainstormed how to complete their project within the nine-month school year, most of which did not overlap with the region’s growing season. The students then started growing seedlings indoors, eventually transplanting them into outdoor beds as the season warmed. Toward the end of the school year, students harvested and dried their herbs, blended their mixes, researched food labeling requirements, and created packaging, ultimately producing a fully-realized prototype. They also wrote marketing copy, drafted slogans, and even created logos. Because of state regulations around commercial food production and sales, the students did not sell their products, but they did take them home to share with their families.


The authentic summative assessment for this project was the final product itself: a fully-realized spice blend, complete with packaging, that was ready to eat, in addition to a marketing plan, all of which had been driven by students’ individual choices.


This project was built on a constructivist model, with the teacher offering scaffolding to help the students create their own knowledge as they went through the process of creating a spice blend from scratch. For example, the students didn’t necessarily have the background knowledge they needed to grow the plants from seed, but with some guidance from the teacher, the students created systems to compare what conditions were best for their plants, and to co-create knowledge about why those conditions were best. The project also reflected some of the principles of andragogy, including that adults need to have input and influence on the content and process of their learning; this was appropriate for these high school seniors who needed to feel that they were being treated as adults in their learning environment.

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