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Food Allergy Alternatives with FOSS

Natalie Yakushiji, FOSS Professional and Leadership Developer, Lawrence Hall of Science
March 04, 2014 | Program News

It used to be fairly rare to have students with food allergies, but now it is not uncommon to have multiple students with food allergies in a single class and for those allergies to possibly be severe. While almost any food is capable of causing an allergic reaction, eight foods account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions in the United States: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. Allergic reactions range from mild (hives, sneezing, coughing, or gastrointestinal distress) to severe (respiratory distress, tissue swelling, and anaphylaxis). Any contact with the offending food could trigger a reaction whether it is ingested, touched, or contracted through cross contact.

So what do you do if one or more of your students have food allergies, and how do you modify your lessons if those allergies impact instruction? First, be informed. Find out which of your students suffer from food allergies, the severity of their conditions, and the treatment plans the families have in place. Second, bone up on your “Food Allergy 101 facts.” A good place to start is the FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) website: www.foodallergy.org. This site not only provides good basic information on food allergies, but there are also resources directed specifically to dealing with food allergies in a school setting.

Cucumber seeds

Cucumber seeds

Cucumber plants in hydroponic tank, 7 weeks old

Cucumber plants in hydroponic tank, 7 weeks old

Marketmore 76 cucumber, 7 weeks old

Marketmore 76 cucumber, 7 weeks old

Poona Kheera cucumber, 7 weeks old

Poona Kheera cucumber, 7 weeks old

For most allergies, physical avoidance solves the problem. As long as the student doesn’t touch the culprit food, item he or she will not exhibit any reaction. However, this is easier said than done. For those children with severe allergies, even minute contact, such as one child touching it and then touching another object that is then picked up by the allergic child, could trigger a severe reaction. In these situations, it is best to not have that food item in the class at all.

FOSS is very concerned with the health and safety aspects of all students using our curriculum, as well as their scientific intellectual growth. We carefully choose materials that statistically have a low hazardous risk for students and include safety warnings where appropriate (e.g., latex allergy warnings for rubber bands, rubber stoppers, and balloons). However, low risk does not equate to zero risk. We recently heard from a teacher who had concerns with teaching the Structures of Life Module to her third-grade class because she has a student with extreme sensitivities to legumes (such as, beans and peas; note that peanuts are also legumes).

In response to her concerns, we worked with her to identify some alternatives to the beans and peas used throughout Investigations 1 and 2. And of course, in true FOSS fashion, we tested out the substitutions ourselves and found the ensuing experience equally as rewarding as the original. Following are some alternatives that we recommend.

  • Investigation 1, Part 1: Seed Search—Students open bean or pea pods to discover the seeds inside a pod. They count and graph the number of seeds in their pods. Legume alternatives: large grapes with seeds, small apples, or tangerines with seeds.
  • Investigation 1, Part 2: The Sprouting Seed—Students sprout a variety of seeds (including bush beans and peas) in group minisprouters. Teacher sprouts additional seeds in the class sprouter. Legume alternatives: large radish or cucumber seeds.
  • Investigation 1, Part 3: Seed Soak—Students open up lima bean seeds that were soaked overnight to locate and identify the parts of a seed. Legume alternatives: corn seeds (the seed coat is a little harder to remove) or pumpkin seeds.
  • Investigation 2, Parts 1: Germination—Students compare the four types of seedlings they germinated in the minisprouters. Legume alternatives: radish or cucumber seeds.
  • Investigation 2, Part 2: Life Cycle of the Bean—Students take some of the bean seedlings from their minisprouters (or from the class sprouter if necessary) and grow them hydroponically to follow the seedling through its life cycle. Legume alternative: cucumber seeds. The cucumbers grew rapidly and vigorously. The fruit, although smaller than if growing in soil, was healthy and sweet.

We understand the seriousness of food allergies in the classroom (visit FOSSweb for a wheat-free alternative to mock rocks). Should you have concerns with your own classroom situation, please contact us at foss@berkeley.edu. We will be happy to work with you to explore possible alternatives for your class.