Problem solving is hunting. It is savage pleasure and we are born to it.

Houston, we have a problem.

Sometimes I like to bring my laptop to the cafeteria and work on administrivia amid students enjoying this unstructured social time.  During a recent visit, a fourth grader struck up a conversation with me.  “If we are trying to use less plastic, why are they serving us carrots in these plastic bags?” he inquired. “And really, who eats this many carrots?”  Other students enthusiastically joined in with his line of reasoning, sharing other observations about how school cafeteria practices are failing to align with our school-wide efforts to reduce waste.

Beaming with pride for the insight and thoughtfulness of these students, I sent off an email to share these concerns with the district manager of nutrition programming.  The response we received indicated that our cafeteria carrots are a product issued and packaged by the U.S. government.

Ball in our court.

So, what are next steps for student learning related to these queries in a school that promotes a maker culture?  

Bring students together to share the information provided by the nutrition program director.  Invite them to generate questions.  For example:

  • Why do the carrots come from the government?
  • Why does the government package them this way?

Have the students pose the inquiry as a problem to be solved. For example:

  • How can we help to reduce use of plastics and food waste in our cafeteria?
  • How can we get the government to change packaging processes?

What more information do they need to understand the problem?  How will they get that information?  For example:

  • Who makes decisions about packaging?
  • What could be alternative packaging options?

Brainstorm ideas to solve the problem. Invite all ideas, big and small.  For example:

  • Make sure that we recycle all plastic in cafeteria
  • Create a food share table for left overs
  • Develop persuasive presentations to share with U.S. officials
  • Identify other vendor opportunities
  • Design a new packaging system

Build a solution.  For example:

  • Design for food share table
  • Prototype for new packaging

Share.  (Authentic audience?!?)



Share some more (Authentic audience?!?)


Note:  The design process is not linear.  Honor that students may find their entry points at different stages in the cycle.

Key to promoting the maker culture is seeking opportunities to expand upon student learning getting them working on problems that they have identified.  Teachers– facilitate and enjoy the ride.



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