Top Chef and the Common Core

Have you ever had a completely random inspiration for a lesson? Something that makes you think, “My students would love this,” despite being totally unrelated to the classroom?

There’s a specific section in the Common Core writing standards that focuses on researching to build and present knowledge. This is something my 6th graders and I have worked with the entire school year, as it’s not a set of standards that you hit once and move on (are any?). In general, my 6th graders are expected to conduct research projects of varying length. They use multiple resources, both print and digital, that they deem credible and relevant. Finally, they must present their findings in a way that is articulate and informative.

My students love diving into larger-scale research projects, both independently and in groups. While reading the Linda Sue Park novel, A Long Walk to Water, they planned a (pretend) trip to Sudan (researched accommodations, travel, culture and customs, and itinerary) to help improve the livelihood of Sudanese people. They’re currently working on a group project where they are creating a biome encyclopedia- researching a variety of characteristics and aspects of various ecosystems on our planet and then presenting that information to their peers. Nothing engages and inspires my students more than allowing them to explore and discover, then share what they’ve learned.

Let’s come back to the random inspiration discussion from earlier. My husband and I are big reality TV fans. The Bachelor, Survivor, American Idol…you name it, we watch it. Ok, my husband watches exactly zero of those shows, but what we do agree on is our love of the show, Top Chef. One of our favorite parts of each episode is the Quickfire Challenge. If you’re not familiar, basically the chefs are given a cooking task with specific parameters, and are required to complete it to the best of their ability in a very short amount of time; usually around 30 minutes. It’s adrenaline filled and exciting. I watch in awe as these chefs produce dishes that would take me multiple attempts and at least a whole Saturday to accomplish.

How does this relate to my classroom? A few weeks ago I found myself with an awkwardly placed, (and unplanned!) small chunk of time with my students due to a last minute schedule change. Obviously there are always assignments that my students could work on- but having just finished a pretty rigorous reading lesson, I could tell my kids needed a bit of a jolt to their systems. I had planned on teaching a lesson the next day on environmental factors that can have a negative impact on various ecosystems, however inspiration hit me in that moment, and I made quick adjustment.

Introducing the Quickfire Research Challenge! I hurriedly organized my students into small groups, presented each group with an environmental factor (flooding, acid rain, over-fishing, natural disasters, etc.) and gave them exactly 20 minutes to research the topic, find out how it can negatively impact our environment, and come up with at least one solution to the problem. On top of that, they had to create some sort of visual within that time to aid in presenting their findings to the class.

“Ready, set, go!” I said to them, and was met with blank stares of disbelief and one or two, “you’re joking.” I immediately prompted that time was ticking, and at they jumped up and got to work. For the record, I have fantastic students. They’re clever, creative, and kind to me and each other. However, I have never seen them work as efficiently or in sync with each other as they did during those 20 minutes. They were the epitome of engaged in the task, perfect examples of delegating and working as a team, and I could tell the adrenaline was pumping. Their products were more than impressive, especially considering the conditions of the assignment.

Did they produce the most comprehensive research? Absolutely not. They did, however, completely answer each question I asked them. It was obvious that they learned. I gave each group two minutes to share their findings with help of their visual aids (mostly posters, a couple PowerPoints), including where they got their information and how they knew it was reliable. All things that align with the CCSS researching standards that I focus on so much. As we often do in my classroom, I asked them to reflect on the task, process, and final product and got nothing but rave reviews about all three. I will absolutely be keeping the Quickfire Research Challenge in my back pocket….who knows what will inspire me next?

Feel free to share your think-on-your-feet teaching strategies below!

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Brooke Carlyle Perry’s story.