At one of my schools, I asked my students what they thought would make the school better. Their responses were quick.
Some issues the kids brought up included:
- better toilet paper in the bathrooms (small, crunchy rectangular pieces of paper)
- trays for hot lunches so they are less likely to drop them (nobody wants to drop their food)
- to get rid of the ants in the classrooms (they come and go like any ant problem)
- more sports teams, like baseball, after school (any volunteers?)
- more books in the library (and a bigger library if we get more books)
By chance, we had a staff meeting a couple of weeks later to discuss a new focus on positive behavioral strategies in difficult areas at the school. I think our choices had been narrowed down to just two areas, the lunch room and hallways/bathrooms. The latter won the vote, but it got me thinking about the list my students had created. They had lots of stories about dropping their lunches on the floor, and they were surprisingly passionate about it. I thought, maybe if we do one small thing to help the kids with lunch room problems, it could alleviate stress without distracting from our focus on hallway/bathroom behaviors.
I told my students that I would email our principal about their desire to have lunch trays. In the email message, I let him know that the kids were interested in having lunch trays to reduce the chances of dropping their lunches. He replied quickly with a great idea, have the kids ask the ladies who manage lunch what they think about having lunch trays.
And that is when the #LunchTrayProject began.
First, all of my classes contributed to a master list of pros and cons of having lunch trays. I was impressed with my students’ abilities to think of the problem from many perspectives including environmental and economic.
As you can see from the picture, the kids have defined the problem and are now working on their research. My classes created a list of interview questions and a small group of students used them to interview our school lunch manager.
Why don’t we have lunch trays? Do you think we need lunch trays?
Did something bad happen in the past that caused us to not have lunch trays?
Do you have any alternative solutions to this problem?
Do we have enough money for lunch trays? If we do, would they be reusable or recyclable?
Do you think having lunch trays will cause problems?
My budding researchers found out that we don’t have lunch trays because the food is self-contained in plastic wrapping. Nothing is open or has to be scooped into anything. They also found out that the lunch manager didn’t think there would be any problems with the students having lunch trays.
Unexpectedly, the lunch manager wasn’t able to answer all of their questions and directed them to the office manager. The office manager let the kids know that cost would be an issue if the school decided to use lunch trays. Currently, the school does not have a way to wash reusable lunch trays. My students have come to the conclusion that the idea of using lunch trays may not be the answer, but if they keep researching and brainstorming they may be able to come up with a novel idea to positively change how we do lunch at school.
The research, however, does not stop there. I have been sending a few students to the cafeteria during third grade lunch. For ten minutes, they tally how many times they see lunches dropped. The kids have recorded numbers as high as 28.
There’s more. My classes also compiled a list of student survey questions. I worked with the kids to type a survey and made copies for them to take to their classes. My students volunteered to present the survey to their teachers and classmates. They got their classmates to complete the surveys and turned in the results right away.
Our goal for next week is to sort out the data so that it is meaningful and tells a story about the problem the kids are having at lunch.
Then we will have an ultimate brainstorming session, which will hopefully lead to innovative ideas that we can try out on a small scale. Once we find something that works well, the kids can present the idea to the school and implement their plan to make the process of getting hot lunch a more manageable experience.