Colourful bowls mark how many grains of rice students have donated to the hungry by playing Freerice. Copyright: Melissa Foor
Melissa is a middle school teacher in the United States. If you walked through her school, you might notice colourful cut-out bowls of rice decorating the hallway. Why? Trying to teach her students new study skills that would stick, she discovered something powerful about her students to tap into: their desire to help others in a big way. She shared Freerice.com with her colleagues and was inspired as one classroom set a school goal of raising 1,000,000 grains of rice. Along the way, she noticed that the grains of rice donated for every correct answer got her students excited about learning and propelled them to discover new subjects – like foreign languages. Not only did study skills become a habit: so did making a difference on hunger.
We reached out to her to learn more and here’s what she had to say.
How did you learn about Freerice?
Two years ago when I was doing after-school tutoring, we found the link to Freerice.com and began using it. The kids seemed to think it was great that something fun that they were doing helped support a good cause.
What inspired you to use Freerice in the classroom?
The thing that impressed me the most about Freerice.com is that getting a correct answer actually achieves something greater: it helps feed hungry people throughout the world. I invited other teachers to start using it in the classroom. However, the class that really took the time and did an absolutely incredible job was the Life Skills Classroom in our middle school led by teacher Ellen Schaeffer. The inspiration to reach a goal of 1,000,000 grains of rice started with them.
How did you know it would work well for your students?
The thing that I love about working with students is that deep down they really do have this desire to help others in a big way. They want to impact their world and feel as though they are making a difference. When students were on Freerice, what really motivated them was the number of rice bowls they could fill. That’s what inspired them to work hard.
How did you incorporate it into the classroom and into your teaching?
I have travelled to Haiti and most recently went to India in February of this year. I was able to show our students through pictures exactly the types of situations that they were helping when playing Freerice. We also watched the videos on Freerice to see exactly what their efforts were going towards. The Life Skills classroom counted out different amounts of rice (10 grains, 100 grains, 1000 grains) and talked about serving sizes (1/4 c. = 1000 grains) and how much 1,000,000 grains of rice really is and the impact that would have. Our students placed rice bowls in the hallway of our school for each 1,000 grains of rice that was earned so that they could visualize how many meals they were able to provide.
What were your goals as a teacher when you introduced your students to Freerice and WFP?
The goal was to provide an alternate, fun means of helping improve basic skills such as multiplication, vocabulary and grammar, and to do so in a way that would help others in the process. I was hoping to inspire them to make a difference in their world, while learning at the same time.
How did your students respond to using Freerice?
Probably the most inspirational thing that happened was the morning I came to school and found a twenty pound bag of rice in my doorway. This bag of rice was huge and I had no idea where it had come from. Later that day, a student approached me and said, “Did you get the bag of rice that I put in your door?” I was stunned. He had walked to school carrying that huge bag of rice the whole way from his home. He knew I was going to be going to India soon and wanted to give the rice to me so that I could share it with the hungry people living in the slums in India. I literally had tears in my eyes and it made me know that at that moment, he understood what Freerice was all about. He was willing to sacrifice something of his own to share with others. It was a beautiful moment that I’ll never forget.
How have you seen Freerice help your students learn?
The areas where we noticed students growing the most were with the multiplication facts and English vocabulary. Those were the two areas that seemed to be utilized the most with the students in the Life Skills and Learning Support classrooms. What was also interesting, however, is that many of the students wanted to try other things like learning German and Spanish! They thought that was great! It gave them an opportunity to learn a little about something they otherwise would not normally have been exposed to.
Has using Freerice given your students an interest in learning more about hunger?
These students have been so inspirational to me. They would get so excited when they would reach their next goal and would ask me in the hallway, “Did you see Mrs. Foor? We got to 800,000! We’re almost there!” They were very interested to see my first-hand pictures from Haiti and India; that yes, hunger is a very real problem. It made them aware of how much they have and that doing something small like answering questions can make a difference in someone else’s existence. It has definitely given me more of an interest in finding out more about hunger. I now follow WFP on Twitter to get updates on where they are currently helping hungry people around the world. Our interest has grown just as much our students’.
What advice would you give to other teachers who would like to teach hunger and Freerice?
We all have those 5 to 10 minutes of free time on occasion when a lesson ends earlier than we thought; or those times when students say they “have nothing to work on” in study hall; or when students need to improve their multiplication facts or learn their elements on the periodic table. Freerice is a perfect tool to use during those times. I would definitely suggest trying it out, putting it in your “bag of tricks” and reaching for it when you need something extra for your students to work on during down-time. It has absolutely made an impact in the lives of our students, and for us as well.