"My students had always disliked math," reported a fourth grade teacher from Hartford, CT, "but when we started a classroom garden, they eagerly figured out how many hours to leave our lights on, measured and graphed growth rates, and predicted when their vegetables would be mature. Their excitement about growing things helped their math skills soar."
Wildflowers like goldenrods, field asters and sunflowers produce lots of seed in fall and are very easy to grow in spring. (image by Jessie Keith)Growing plants from seeds pictured on bright packets is great fun, but have you considered the potential for excitement and discovery in collecting and planting unknown treasures from the meadows, overgrown lots, or woods in your school environment?
Herbs...the green flecks in spaghetti sauce, the soothing late night teas, the dried mixtures that keep the bathroom air fresh. But did you know that many prescription medicines contain drugs derived from natural herbs? Or that many perfumes and other fragrances are made from the oils in herbs? Herbs have been used for at least 5,000 years by all cultures for cooking, medicine, crafts, and cosmetics. Many herbs are easy to raise in the classroom.
Assume your eagle-eyed classroom observers notice a collection of those sucking little pests, aphids, on the leaves and stems of your classroom garden plants. What should you do? The horticultural guide, GrowLab: A Complete Guide to Gardening in the Classroom, will tell you not to worry -- (a.) pesky pests won't necessary spell the end of your indoor garden plants, and (b.) you can control aphids to a point using a soapy water spray or wash.
"I want my second graders to begin to think and act like scientists," reports Durham, NC, teacher Sarah Meyer. "When they're exploring plants and other garden elements, for instance, we discuss how scientists carefully observe objects, then draw what they see, not what they think they see. I typically challenge the students by asking, 'Can we help people who haven't before seen a (flower) better understand what one is?'" Students' garden journals feature such drawings, along with questions, observations, and descriptions of investigations.
"My fourth and fifth grade special needs students are captivated by things they can nurture and interact with," reports Joan Gould from Athens, GA. "The kids had been watching and feeding birds for some time when we learned that purple martins provide natural control of insects," she adds. When Joan brought in plans she'd found for "gourd houses" that attract and shelter these avian helpers, students were eager to go to work in the school garden.
"By involving the local community in donating time, ideas, resources, and funds to our school garden project, we've been able to do more than we ever could have imagined doing alone," reports middle school teacher Joan Dungey of Yellow Springs, OH. The students and teachers who wanted to launch the gardening project first invited interested community members to join them in developing short- and long-term goals for it, then to create an action plan for moving forward.
Whether your young scientists are conducting indoor plant experiments ("What conditions promote the best bean plant growth?") or outdoor habitat research ("Which plants do different types of butterflies prefer?"), they'll need to practice accurately gathering and organizing their data. By learning how to represent their data so patterns are revealed, students will be able to make better sense of their experiences.