The Eyes Have It

Throughout history, they've been alternately maligned as food fit only for animals and revered as "apples of life." They're down and dirty and terrible unassuming, yet these often misunderstood vegetables kept Incan civilizations thriving, helped fuel the Industrial Revolution, triggered mass population shifts, and are now one of the world's four most important food crops. They are also used to produce paper, adhesive, biodegradable plastics, and even cosmetics.

Garden Business Partnerships Bloom

"There are so few young people interested in going into horticulture today," said Forest Lake Greenhouses owner Lisa King. "Our industry needs good employees...and the future of the world rests on young people understanding the natural world." When nearby Savannah Grove (South Carolina) Elementary School scheduled a summer science camp, Lisa and her husband Tim were invited to share their knowledge and love of plants with fifth graders.

Truants Tend Tomatoes

Lou Meyer teaches a self-contained classroom of fifth through eighth grade students in an Opportunity School Program at Sutter Middle School in Sacramento, California. Students are in his special program not because they are incapable of doing well in school, but because they have severe behavior problems. Most are on probation, have high truancy rates, and don't get along with others in regular classrooms.

An Aromatic Curriculum

The "Mini-Greenhouse Herb Factory Gardeners" is the class name chosen by Elba's students. They're immersed in an "herbal curriculum" -- a multisensory, interdisciplinary approach to learning about different cultures through studying the role of herbs. After interviewing their parents and inventorying the types of herbs used at home, students bring herb samples and recipes to class. "The fun and cultural exchanges begin," says Elba, "when students raid their kitchens and come back with herbs and tales of how they're used in their homes."

Plants and Soil: The Nutrition Connection

Students sometimes believe that plants get their "food" from the soil. Scientists, meanwhile, understand that plants manufacture their own food -- simple sugars -- using energy from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide from the air.

Soil Sleuths

The following time-honored activities can provide springboards for engaging students in exploring soils and how they "act."

Getting Started with Soils

Before beginning a soil unit, ask students to draw or predict what they would find in a sample of soil. Then bring in or have students collect samples of soils from different settings: a building site, a garden, woods, and schoolyard, for instance. Invite each small group of students to examine a sample with hand lenses, toothpicks, and other tools, then describe the soil's color, texture, moisture, and smell. Ask students to identify, describe, and record the different materials they find. What evidence of plant and animal life do they see?

Biosphere in a Bottle

What insights can a jar full of mud and water give us about life on planet Earth? Can an ecosystem within a jar teach us about the Earth's biosphere? Consider inviting your students to set up windowsill or GrowLab investigations to explore these questions.

Praying Mantid Activities

Keeping praying mantids thriving indoors was a challenge that consumed Fran Bosi's elementary science students in Bayside, NY. Wanting to closely observe the creatures in the classroom, they had obtained mantid eggs from a science supplier during the winter when spring still seemed a remote possibility.

Herbs Across the Curriculum

With their rich historical backstories and uses, herbs can inspire cross-disciplinary activities for school gardeners. Some examples follow:

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Last updated on 01/22/2015
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