Wisconsin News

Assignment: Education - Off the Tray, Into the Student - Part 1

Onalaska High School Math Students Calculate Food Waste

ONALASKA, Wis. - School lunch options are now a little different for students.

"This year it's required that they take at least a half cup of fruits or vegetables," said Sandra Riley, Onalaska School District math department chair and lunchroom helper. "And that's okay. We can certainly watch that, but the first intuition was, well, what will the kids think of that."

"Some students will just take them and give them to their friends to eat," said Megan Brewer, Onalaska High School senior. "And some students... it does end up as waste."

The school district has been collecting formal data on the amount of waste at each of its five schools since October. Riley says the data has been eye opening.

"Among the first data we looked at were a lot of whole fruits being thrown away," said Riley. "It's like, 'oh... wow.' The amount of waste sometimes makes you pause."

So, naturally, Ms. Riley saw these statistics as an opportunity for the students to form their own study on how much food is being wasted.

"I knew that my AP stats students are always looking for real good interesting information," said Riley.

As part of AP Stats, students are required to be involved in a research project. Three of Ms. Riley's students gathered research on food waste through a project they now call Off the Tray, Into the Student.


"We call it OTIS," said Riley. "It's more friendly if it has a name."

OTIS is providing the students with a real-world opportunity to practice data collection skills.

"We take the trays back here," said Brewer. "Every 13th tray. then here we scrape off all the fruit and vegetable waste and then we throw away the rest and then we count the trays so we know on average how much is wasted."

The students also learn the importance of a survey when conducting research.

"Can you just circle your three favorite fruits and your three favorite vegetables," said Brewer.

"We're hoping to determine what are the favorite and the least favorite fruits and vegetables so we know what to serve at lunch," said Maria Bertrand, Onalaska High School senior. "And whether serving favorite fruits and vegetables creates less waste."

Once the students complete their research, they can analyze their data to see if they have conclusive results.

"The ideal outcome would be an idea that they could carry to the school board and report on their findings and have a written paper," said Riley. "Ultimately, I call this a mini dissertation experience."

And it's giving students a unique opportunity to take something that is nutritious for their bodies and make it nutritious for their minds.   

"When you get the book examples, there are numbers that just happen to work out perfectly, but like for this experiment you're seeing this is real life," said Brewer. "You're going to have things that are going to throw you off. Your answers aren't going to come out perfect. And it's just learning to deal with those situations."

"The real life experience... there's just nothing like it," said Riley.

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