"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.
Here are some suggestions from classroom teachers to spark student understanding and investigations of weather and climate.
Make rain! Have students cut the top off a clear plastic soda bottle about one-fourth of the way down the bottle. Pour some boiling water into the bottom part of the bottle, then place the bottle top back on upside-down so the mouth of the bottle points to the water. Ask students to predict what will happen when they put ice in the hollow of the upside-down bottle top. Watch what happens.
Are you aware that Pilgrims considered tomatoes an abomination on a par with dancing, card playing, and theater going? Did you know fried peas were sold to spectators in lieu of popcorn in ancient Roman theaters? How many of you knew that the humble potato helped fuel the Industrial Revolution?
Ask your students whether they've ever seen flowers on grasses. You might inspire a fruitful debate.
Fall is a good time to challenge students to explore outside and look for signs of grass flowers. You may first want to reveal that grasses are not pollinated by birds, bees, or other insects, but by the wind. Have students brainstorm some of the likely differences between flowers that need to attract pollinators and those pollinated by wind.
A creature's habitat is a place where individuals of that species or type can usually be found. It contains all the components the organism needs to survive.
At the most basic level, all wildlife require food, water, shelter from predators and the elements, and safe places to raise their young. Consider asking your students to brainstorm and create a list of things humans need to survive. Then try creating a list for other animals and one for plants. How do the lists compare?
"When our new school was built, my fourth, fifth, and sixth graders were drawn to the birds and other wildlife that gathered in the wetland areas in the schoolyard," says Montessori teacher Penny Szczechowski from Ann Arbor, MI. So when the idea of creating a garden came up, they knew they wanted theirs to be a place where wildlife could come to find shelter, water, food, and places to raise young.
The school's name, Grandview U'uqinak'uuh Community School, reflects the region's rich cultural heritage. Now, the "Spirit of Nature" schoolyard proudly does the same. Graduate education student Illene Pevec and landscape architecture student Tracy Penner brought together students, parents, teachers, and community members to turn an underused, muddy, 1-acre field into a multigenerational, award-winning garden that celebrates and preserves local cultural history.
Six-legged garden creatures sparked such curiosity for Karen Armistead's first graders in Apopka, FL, that they were a natural science focus. But a requirement that students create writing portfolios prompted Karen and the school media specialist to think even more broadly.
"We decided to use the garden as the context for their writing and reading by developing a six-week unit on plant/insect interactions," explains Karen.