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CREATING EXCITEMENT ABOUT HEALTHY FOODS.

Designing a healthy 'Snack Packs' unit for Prep students

As a qualified Dietitian and Nutritionist, and current Masters of Teaching and Learning (Primary Education) student at James Cook University, I set out to explore how best to combine my two areas of interest--Nutrition and Literacy Education--during my recent 5-week practicum experience with the Prep class at St Michael's School. St Michael's is based in the remote community of Palm Island, off the coast of Townsville. All of its 100 currently enrolled students identify as Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander or both. St Michael's caters for learners from Prep to Year 6, and offers a comprehensive curriculum inclusive of regular opportunities to engage in cultural activities such as storytelling, dance and art. St Michael's also provides an optional twice daily meal and/or snack for students and staff through their school Tuck Shop. On average 50% of students partake in this school nutrition program. This convenient reality provided a unique context for me to design a unit reflective of the Australian Curriculum: Design and Technology's content descriptions and the Literacy general capability.

I designed a unit entitled 'Snack Packs' as a catalyst to increase students' health literacy along the lines of ACARA's literacy continuum where Prep students were both interpreting and composing nutritional texts through listening, reading and engaging with purposeful activities. The 'Snack Packs' unit was designed to foster the behaviours and dispositions that would assist students to become effective learners who are confident and motivated to use their literacy skills to identify, access and consume healthy foods within their school and community. As a Dietitian, I have had the opportunity to work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities (herein referred to collectively and respectfully as Indigenous), and understand that health outcomes vary significantly when compared with non-Indigenous Australians (Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet, 2017). It is also well documented that childhood is a critical period in which inequalities in health begin to emerge. Thus, my unit set out to increase health literacy, with the overall goal of encouraging healthy and balanced eating and impacting their lifelong wellbeing.

The unit was completed over a three-week period. It commenced by increasing students' awareness and consumption of healthy foods by introducing them to specific nutritional and food terminology. The unit gave students the opportunity to design solutions to a simple problem within their community. Further, the project required that students work in conjunction with important stakeholders including the school's administration staff and Tuck Shop Manager.

Students were engaged in a series of five lessons that took them through the following key steps:

* Navigating, reading and viewing the 'Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Guide to Healthy Eating' (Australian Government, 2015)

* Understanding how visual elements create meaning in the guide and that foods come in different food groups including fruits, vegetables, meats (and alternatives), dairy foods, and grain-based foods

* Interpreting, analysing and classifying foods as 'everyday' or 'sometimes' foods

* Describing the difference between things they 'want' and things they 'need'

* Identifying important sources of foods in their local community, including bush tucker foods

* Tasting familiar and unfamiliar healthy foods and indicating preferences for their Snack Packs

* Understanding the importance of encouraging families and peers to make healthy food choices

* Convincing the Tuck Shop Manager to include healthy Snack Packs in the Tuck Shop

* Designing labels for healthy Snack Packs

Understanding 'everyday' and 'sometimes' food options

The first lesson offered the students the chance to go on a 'treasure hunt' in their classroom, where different food and drink options had been hidden, and each student found one item. Following completion of a giant puzzle of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Guide to Healthy Eating, and an explicitly taught lesson where the students classified their found food item in one of the food groups. Drawing on the guide, students analysed and identified whether the food items were an 'everyday' food option that they could enjoy regularly, or a 'sometimes' food option that they should have occasionally.

Students used the knowledge gained from classifying different foods and drinks in their decision-making processes around their 'wants' and 'needs'. During this lesson, students completed a worksheet where they cut and paste images into one of two columns: 'Things I want' or 'Things I need'. The literacy features of this learning activity included a word knowledge element whereby students were observed using familiar vocabulary related to their everyday experiences. Through this activity students developed strategies and skills for acquiring a wide topic vocabulary related to healthy eating. Regardless of reading abilities, the students used letter recognition skills to identify the beginning sounds in the words 'want' and 'need' and thus assist with their classification. Most students correctly identified that although they might want chocolate cake, their body needs other important sources such as vegetables and water for survival. The students came together at the end of the activity to share one of their images from each of the columns, further demonstrating an ability to use language to interact with their peers.

Prep students designing healthy 'Snack Pack' for the Tuck Shop

Using 'Powtoon', I designed an animation as part of a TED-Ed lesson to 'hook' the students into the next activity in my unit, creating healthy 'Snack Packs' for their school community. I produced the PowToon to assist students in understanding the different types of text structures that are used within health to present information, explain relationships and support points of view when it comes to encouraging families and peers to make healthy food choices. This animation described a locally-appropriate context reflective of the students' lifeworlds, characters and language. It also guided them through the four steps to go through to design their healthy 'Snack Packs', explicitly related to ACARA's literacy learning continuum:

1. Learn about healthy foods (comprehending texts)

2. Taste healthy foods (understand, analyse and evaluate information)

3. Meet with 'Aunty Ruby' [Tuck Shop Manager] (describe health products, information and services)

4. Create their own healthy 'Snack Packs' for the Tuck Shop including labels (composing texts)

At the end of the animation, students were posed a question, 'What do you think Preppies, are you ready to make a Snack Pack?' to which the entire class responded with an emphatic 'YES!'.

The interactive food tasting lesson commenced with the students engaging in a form of mindful eating meditation. They sat with eyes closed and were provided with a small piece of strawberry. Students used their different senses in a guided exercise to slowly engage with the strawberry, including touch, smell, and finally slowly tasting the unknown food. This activity was the precursor to trialling many other food items and was used to demonstrate the importance of engaging with foods with an open-mind. To further explore the learning area topic, students were encouraged to describe the different foods they were tasting with their learning partners. One student, for example, was overheard describing the celery sticks to their peer as 'crunchy'. Throughout the exercise, students verbally expressed whether they enjoyed the food, and then used a food preference sheet to reflect their preferences for their 'Snack Packs' by indicating Yes or No after each trial.

Following tallying the class' food preferences, a graph was created and presented to the students on the Interactive White Board. The students recognised that the foods that had longer lines were foods they preferred. This information was later shared with the Tuck Shop Manager. During this meeting, the students discussed the processes they had undertaken to learn about healthy foods and decide on their collective favourite foods for inclusion into a healthy 'Snack Pack'. When offered the opportunity to ask questions of the Tuck Shop Manager two students asked, 'when are our "Snack Packs" going to be ready for the rest of the school?' and 'how are we going to put our label on the "Snack Packs' " container?' As the students were listening to, responding to and generating questions, the literacy features of this learning activity demonstrated a deep understanding and comprehension of the concepts associated with the 'Snack Packs' unit.

Conclusion

The students demonstrated their knowledge and understanding of healthy foods during the 'Snack Packs' unit through a variety of formative tasks and a final summative literacy assessment piece where they designed a label for their chosen Snack Pack. Through appropriate sequencing of learning material, students demonstrated a growing confidence in the subject matter with each lesson developing on ideas and concepts previously discussed, and concluding with a yarning (or dialogue) circle whereby all students had the opportunity to share their thoughts and learnings. The final task saw students presenting their ideas through the design of multimodal texts. With this task, they intentionally communicated more than one idea at a time by including appropriate images for their labels, and presenting their labels to their fellow peers by explaining the reasoning behind their choices.

The process of teaching this unit with the Prep students, seeing their literacy skills develop, accompanied by their excitement learning about, tasting and finally designing and labelling healthy Snack Packs for their school community was a wonderful journey. This project shows potential for future Design and Technologies units that integrate cross-curricular opportunities across all of the General Capabilities, particularly the Learning Continuum of Literacy, while addressing a community-relevant issue such as health and wellbeing.

References

Australian Government, National Health and Medical Research Council, Department of Health. (2015). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Guide to Healthy Eating. Retrieved from https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/ default/files/content/The%20Guidelines/final_igthe_a3_ poster_-_lr.pdf

Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet. (2017). Overview of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health status 2016. Retrieved from http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/ health-facts/overviews

Henryks, J., Brimblecombe, J., & Bidstrup, G. (2017). Supporting healthier food choices in remote Indigenous communities: Developing a food choice app. Journal of Food Products Marketing, 23(6), 609-620. doi: 10.1080/10454446.2015.1048028

Acknowledgements

I would like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the Bwgcolman people of Palm Island, to their elders past, present and emerging, on whose land I was welcomed for this enriching student placement. I would also like to acknowledge the support and guidance of my Subject Coordinator, Professor Chris Walsh, who encouraged me to share my findings with the Practical Literacy community and who provided feedback on my draft manuscript.

Katherine Cacavas is a final year Masters of Teaching and Learning student at James Cook University. She has a strong passion for working with indigenous communities to improve education and health outcomes. She can be contacted on kat_cacavas@hotmail.com

Caption: Figure 1: Students engaged in watching the Powtoon video

Caption: Figure 2: Student working on designing a 'Snack Pack' label

Caption: Figure 3: Completed 'Snack Pack' label design

Caption: TEDEd video: Snack Packs--Design and Technologies
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Author:Cacavas, Katherine
Publication:Practical Literacy
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Feb 1, 2018
Words:1789
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