School

Grassroots Learning

The rapid disappearance of native prairies in the Midwest inspired a local farmer to help Ellen Wellborne's sixth graders in Nerstrand, MN, explore a local prairie up close. Students examined and compared different layers of prairie soil with woodland soil, then grew barley in samples of each soil, reports Ellen. "Students expected the woodlands to have deep, rich topsoil, but were shocked to see how much better the plants and their roots grew in the prairie soils," she adds. "This prompted them to want to further explore the history and ecology of the prairie."

Measuring Up, Metrically Speaking

"My students love to grow plants, they are excellent caregivers when motivated, and they also love contests," reports Nashville, TN, teacher Nancy Johnson. "I combined these facts with the need to teach my fourth graders the metric units of height, weight, and volume by setting up a contest to see which small group could grow the 'biggest' plants." Nancy provided the lima bean seeds and soil, and students discussed how to keep the race fair. They realized that they'd have to keep all growing conditions the same, Nancy reports.

Rapping Up a Unit

"I wanted a fun and meaningful way to culminate our ecology unit, and to assess my seventh graders' understanding of some of the concepts we covered," reports Rochester, NY, teacher Laramie Brown. Taking inspiration from a "Decomposition Rap" song created at Hidden Villa Environmental Center (CA), she challenged her students to create some raps of their own.

Growing Language Bridges

"Is a great day of growing to my plant," writes Manuael Maya, a Peruvian student in Lee Gough's English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) language training program in Arlington, VA. Lee, science resource specialist for the ESOL program, looks for appealing, high-interest, concrete contexts for teaching English language skills and building confidence in non-native speakers. "Plants and gardens truly engage and involve kids," says Lee. "Many of our students have emigrated from rural farming communities and have a lot to offer to our explorations of plants and gardens."

Catch Them Thinking

"Early in the year, I suggest classroom plant investigations, model how to develop predictions about what might happen, and help students set them up," reports second grade teacher Diane Gore from Durham, NC.

Thematic Gardens Measure Up

Challenges with basic math concepts -- perimeter and area -- dogged many students at a K-5 school in Leeds, AL. On another front, the faculty was looking for inspiration on how to use gardens to enrich learning in different disciplines. "As we considered both challenges, we hit on a solution that might help boost students' grasp of math and engage them in learning across the curriculum," explains enrichment teacher Shirley Farrell. "First, I shared what I knew about the concept of square-foot gardening, then we brainstormed possible growing themes."

Migrating Seeds

Alaskan Students Seek Seed Swap

"You can imagine how short our growing season must be here in Anchorage (AK)," reports teacher Glenn Oliver. "But my second through sixth grade students don't let that get in the way of our gardening."

"We just have to do things a little differently, such as raising certain crops inside our greenhouse," he adds. Not a bad choice. Those Alaskan summer days pushed his students' greenhouse-grown corn to 13 feet! (Consider sharing this with your students, then exploring what, besides being in a greenhouse, could account for such phenomenal corn growth.)

Food Stories: A Drama Unfolds

"After I attended a nutrition and gardening workshop, I was tempted to enrich our school garden project by challenging each student to conduct in-depth research on a particular food crop for one month in the spring," reports Aiken, SC, teacher Belinda Yonce. "When I revealed to my fifth graders that I wasn't sure they could handle the challenge, my hesitancy was all the motivation they needed!" The class gathered a variety of vegetable seed packets, then each student chose a crop to explore.

Citrus Fest: A Food Inquiry

"Each year my fourth and fifth graders brainstorm a variety of plant foods, then choose one type as a focus for in-depth investigations," reports Brighton, MA, teacher Rita Holder. "This year, citrus fruits inspired their curiosity." The unit began with students exploring a medley of citrus fruits - orange, tangerine, grapefruit, citron, lemon, ugli fruit - and several citrus fruit plants donated by a local plant shop. Students' initial observations and comparisons yielded a range of questions and ideas about what citrus fruits have in common, Rita reports.

Cultivating Nutrition Awareness

"When one of my fifth graders delightedly exclaimed, 'I can't believe I ate a radish!,' I knew my efforts to use our school garden to expand kids' healthy food choices were a success," reports Tucson, AZ, teacher Michelle Tuchek. "The class conducted a wide range of garden-based nutrition activities, but the biggest catalyst for students' making healthy food choices was their enthusiasm about nurturing, harvesting, and eating their own garden plants."

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Last updated on 04/23/2014
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