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The Takeout Curriculum

by Laurie Block Spigel

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(This article first appeared in the NYCHEA newsletter)

This idea was stolen from Pat Martinez, an award-winning kindergarten teacher, who became inspired as she walked to work. It is an example of a unique curriculum created not from the teachersí or studentsí interests (our most reliable sources), but from their immediate environment. Just try to imagine doing this in rural Wyoming! Its beauty is multi-fold: itís fun, it can teach every required subject, and itís absolutely FREE! Designed for the K-1 level, this is perfect for anyone on the threshold of learning to read and write.

  • Step One (phys. ed. and social studies): Get to know your neighborhood by walking everywhere. Collect take-out menus from as many different restaurants as you can find in a one or two week period. This is a lot of fun!
  • Step Two (geography/art): Draw a map of the area or of a given block, showing north.
  • Step Three (math): Count your menus. Sort them. How many categories can you find? Make a bar graph. Are there more pizza menus or more Chinese menus?
  • Step Four (language arts and social studies): Examine the menus. Are the restaurant names in different type or colors or languages? Can you read (or sound out) the names? How are the menus folded? Are they separated into appetizers, entrees and desserts? Meat, fish and vegetables? Pizza and pasta? Are the prices always in a column?
  • Step Five (writing): Create your own menu with your favorite foods (at least two or three). Use inventive spelling if you are learning the phonetic sounds of letters. (This method has kids writing before they can read. You can learn more about word construction at this age by writing "a Mrkn Fud mnu" than copying down "American Food Menu." ) Fold the paper however you like, make up your own restaurant name or menu title, menu format, and your own prices.
  • Step Six (art): Illustrate and color your menu.
  • Step Seven (science and health): Make a dish from your own menu. Discuss heat convection, temperature for melting cheese (if making pizza or a tuna melt) or boiling water (if making macaroni & cheese), and safety precautions. Or focus on nutrition and how to select a balanced meal from a menu.

When Ms. Martinez was transferred to the third grade, she graduated from take-out to restaurants. Her students ate out in different neighborhoods, mapping their routes through Manhattan. They studied the history and geography of Korea and ate Korean-style barbecue in midtown (Korea-town). Anticipating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day they ate real soul food at a church on 125th St. in Harlem, celebrating African-American history in more ways than one. They ate at their favorite local pizzeria. Students always came prepared with a list of questions for the owner or manager, ranging in topics from the origin of the food and recipes to restaurant management. They wrote up their interviews afterwards (organizing research from a primary source), and compared them. They drew pictures of storefronts in each neighborhood, noticing the different cultures. They polled their taste-testing opinions and graphed the results. A cost analysis and nutritional analysis of the meals (food groups, perhaps) would fulfill additional goals in math and science/ health. Sadly, this third-grade curriculum is not free, but it is delicious!

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