Where Does Bread Come From? Taking Bank Street Abroad…

April 24, 2010 at 8:16 am Leave a comment

posted by Liezel de La Isla ‘99, Prague International School teacher

For the past few years, I have been developing a curriculum on Bread and Bakeries with my colleagues at the International School of Prague, Czech Republic. This is a unit I was very familiar with as it was the first unit I ever taught when I became a head teacher at the Brooklyn Friends School and then had the opportunity to teach it again when I worked at the Sidwell Friends School.

One of the challenges I have found in teaching abroad is developing curriculum based on Bank Street’s framework. It can be tough to locate resources in your local community to support your study, when you are new to the country, don’t speak the language fluently and are still developing your understanding of your host country’s customs.

The children who attend I.S.P. come from all corners of our globe. For most of my students, English is a second or third language. Although our classroom can reflect so many diverse qualities, I did notice, as well as my colleagues and I am sure this happens to you was how the kids love to eat and talk about food! Bread is an important staple in the Czech Republic, and it was also an important staple for 75 percent of my Kindergarten class.

In my dramatic play area, I would observe children setting the table with a tablecloth, arranging plates and silverware, cooking and serving one another. Then at snack time, the children would be comparing their yogurt flavors or their juice boxes and croissants. At lunch, they talked about whether the food looked good or not and why they didn’t like to eat the kinds of vegetables that were served.

Then one day, I asked the children if they knew where their food came from and to be more specific where the bread they ate came from? A few said they got it at the store. Another bunch said their mommy gave it to them. But when I asked them where they thought the bread truly came from, they had no idea that it came from a plant.

Thus our investigation began! We had already been doing some baking in the class, so the children were somewhat familiar with the ingredients, but when I showed them some wheat berries their answers were all over the place. Then I gave them some pictures of tools used to grind wheat and they really had no idea. We gave the children opportunities to plant the berries, work with mortar and pestles and an electric grinder as well. We challenged them to create 4 cups of flour from the berries so we could make pretzels.

We enticed the children further by taking them to some local bakeries around town. We were very fortunate in this area, for most Czech bakeries were not accustomed to school visits and we were often told that the law said they could not have us as guests in their work kitchens. However, we were lucky. We found a bakery with an American manager, who told us the story of how she had decided to become a baker. When she was a little girl, she had visited a bakery on a school trip and since then knew that she wanted to grow up to be a baker. She toured the kids around the work kitchen, where got to see commercial ovens, mixers and huge containers holding the ingredients. They learned more about yeast, the baking process and how the bread was then sold.

We arranged for the children to visit a Pizzeria, where once again we were lucky to have two fine restaurant owners allow the children to see the kitchen, make their own pizzas and learn about a fire brick oven. We then had the privilege, due to a school family connection to visit a bread factory. This was an amazing opportunity for the children to see factory-sized mixers, ovens and conveyer belts carrying crates of bread moving all around us. They also had the chance to see the breads get loaded onto trucks and to this day when they see one of those trucks they know what is inside and where it came from.

At the end of the unit, we took all our new-found knowledge and developed a classroom bakery. Each of the three kindergarten classes had a bakery operating in their classroom for three days the last week before our winter holiday break. The children decided on the things we needed for a bakery, what to bake, the jobs, how much it would cost and then where the money would go. For three days, the children sold bread to the school wide community from pre-schoolers to high schoolers to faculty, they had customer after customer. The halls were just inundated with the perfume of freshly baked cinnamon rolls, banana bread and chocolate chip muffins. Our customers even had the chance to see the children baking in action. The instructions were written out in pictorial form on cards so that the kids could manage independently. When it was finally over, the kids also realized how much hard work it took to make and sell bread to a community.

For the past 10 years I have been experimenting with different ways to develop curriculum for early childhood, and using Social Studies as my vehicle, has often led to creating a meaningful and exciting study in such a natural manner. However, I do find it challenging at times to do this when teaching abroad. I have had to get to know my new city quickly, discover ways to translate information in the native language to my students in English, our language of instruction and understand what is okay and not so okay to do with students when I take them out on field trips. The one thing that I do know is how important it is for children to connect with their community in order to understand their world better and that is especially so in an environment like mine, where some of the children don’t always have much contact with their local host country. The study of breads and bakeries was done a few months ago, but the kids still make comments about the study, refer to what they have learned and they now know that bread does come from a plant!

Joanne Liezel de La Isla is a graduate of the Museum Education program. She has taught in several Independent Schools in NYC and Washington DC. For the past 5 years, she has been teaching at the International School of Prague in the Czech Republic. This is her second international school. Joanne Liezel presented the Bread and Bakeries project at the Apple Education Leadership Summit in March of 2010.

Entry filed under: classrooms, community, constructivism, curriculum, diversity, early childhood, integrated curricula, international education.

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