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.

Dipping Into A Pond's Ecosystem

"My inner-city first graders had little experience with and access to wildlife or habitats," reports Terre Haute, IN, teacher Todd Warren. But that didn't stop them from hatching ideas and questions about what forms of life they might like to see in their small courtyard.

Herbs Across the Curriculum

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

Worm Activities for the Classroom

The True Measure of a Worm

Challenge students to guess the length of an earthworm, then try using a ruler or tape measure to determine the actual size. Ask, What problems do you encounter? After watching how earthworms move, why do you think it's difficult to measure their true length? What is it about their bodies that might cause them to seem to shrink and grow? How do you think this helps them move through soil? Draw bar graphs comparing an estimate of a worm's length with its true length, both when stretched out and when shortened.

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Last updated on 12/16/2014
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