"If we want students to become better scientists, problem-solvers, and thinkers, we have to give them opportunities to design investigations to answer intriguing questions," explains teacher Diane Hren from McLean, VA. A school greenhouse provided a context for her students to do just that. With an eye toward engaging students in exploring how different factors affect plant growth, she presented her eighth grade class with a problem and challenge.
Your students may have memorized the parts of a flower, but do they conceptually understand the role of flowers in relation to plant life cycles, pollinators, and agriculture? One way to gain insight into what students know, to assess what they've learned, and to help them organize and represent concepts and meaningfully evaluate their own growth is to have them create "concept maps."
When Christine Staskiewicz invited a local farmer and hydroponic grower to talk to her fourth grade students in Westport, Massachusetts, about growing herbs in their GrowLab, she had hoped the students would be inspired to try raising herbs hydroponically and in soil. This project blossomed into a year-long, multidisciplinary herb-growing business that featured lessons in plant needs, hydroponics, economics, marketing, and cuisine.
The article, The Eyes Have It, explores these unassuming, yet historically and nutritionally important tubers. Here are some additional ideas for curious minds.
In your outdoor garden (or large containers outdoors), experiment with different methods of growing potatoes -- in trenches, on top of soil covered in hay mulch, in piles of compost, etc. Design experiments to determine the best conditions, spacing, and ways to treat your potato crop. Consider bringing the nutritious harvest to your local food shelf or soup kitchen.
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.
"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.
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.
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."
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.
Kids Gardening and the National Gardening Association actively work with schools and communities across the country to provide educational resources and build gardens to promote health, wellness, and sustainability.