In Ground

Cultivating, Cross-Culturally

"Our city of San Antonio is a culturally diverse melting pot," reports Master Gardener Vernon Mullens. "Since foods can be a window on cultural understanding and appreciation, we're attempting to open that window with an after-school kid's garden that features foods of ethnic groups from around the world that live in our city." Vernon reports that they've borrowed the African word Sankofa, which means "Go back and fetch it," since participants will "go back and fetch" information and explore and discover through plants something of the cultures that make up their community.

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."

Reaping Rewards

How Gardens Grow Kids

"When my kindergarten students move on to new classes, their teachers are surprised and delighted that the kids have such great skills and content knowledge," reports Carmel, CA, teacher Sarah Coburn.

Ecosystem Explorations

"Our sixth grade curriculum required us to cover concepts dealing with growth needs, adaptations, and ecosystems," reports Pocatello, ID, teacher Mary McAleese. "So we decided to bring in some live plants to explore up close." Since the classroom was short on light, Mary solicited donations from local plant businesses of tropical plants adapted to low-light conditions on rainforest floors. Before long, the students transformed the classroom into a 40-square-foot rainforest -- a centerpiece for plant and environmental studies, complete with a floor-to-ceiling canvas backdrop.

Nutritious Lessons

Snack Food Garden

"A parent volunteer in my multiage class was appalled with the sugary snacks he saw the children eating during mid-morning break," reports Wesminster, VT, teacher Irene Canaris. "As a farmer concerned about children's awareness of healthy eating, he offered to help us create a 'snack garden' that now nourishes the entire class throughout the school year."

Corn Queries

"My students had been reading about Native Americans and noticed the many references to corn and its range of uses," reports Cambridge, MA, third and fourth grade teacher Marianne Moll. "This inspired a series of questions about corn: Where did it come from? How did it grow? How was it used? So I drew on the students' curiosity, helping them to organize their questions and encouraging collaborative investigations."

Ethnobotany: The People-Plant Connection

"As part of our plant studies, I invited my fourth and fifth graders to brainstorm all of the items they could that contained corn," reports Tucson, AZ, teacher Michelle Tuchek. "They came up with a lot of ideas -- corn chips, cornmeal, popcorn, and more." Michelle then brought in a variety of labels from cereals, cosmetics, canned fruits (with corn syrup), and so on, challenging students to look for evidence of corn, then to group the items according to the number of corn-related products each contained. "Students were amazed at just how prevalent corn products were," she relates.

Courtyard U.S.A. Garden

Kindergarten classes at Carmel (IN) Elementary School cultivate flowers in Alaska, while fifth graders tend cotton and peanuts in the Deep South. They're not national travelers but participants in an ambitious "Courtyard U.S.A." garden project. Faced with the specter of expensive landscaping for a renovated school courtyard, teachers and PTO members brainstormed a more educational use of the courtyard.

Seeds to Go

Saving and Sharing Treasures

"Late one summer, my first graders noticed that the lettuce plants in our school garden were getting taller and sending up flowers," reports Westfield, IN, teacher Nedra Hoard. "So we took our hand lenses, observed what was happening, and eventually noticed that seeds were forming where the flowers had been."

Following Fall

Leading with Leaves

"My fourth graders love selecting trees to adopt and explore in depth each year," reports Grand Rapids, MN, teacher Jan Ferraro. Last year a colleague from St. Olaf College and I brainstormed how to develop a technology-based project that integrates our interest in trees while also addressing curriculum standards," she added. The result of their collaborative musing? An Internet-based fall phenology project designed to help students explore changes in the seasons, collect and grapple with data, and share and communicate their experiences with others.

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Last updated on 04/23/2014
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