Challenges with basic math concepts -- perimeter and area -- dogged many students at a K-5 school in Leeds, AL. On another front, the faculty was looking for inspiration on how to use gardens to enrich learning in different disciplines. "As we considered both challenges, we hit on a solution that might help boost students' grasp of math and engage them in learning across the curriculum," explains enrichment teacher Shirley Farrell. "First, I shared what I knew about the concept of square-foot gardening, then we brainstormed possible growing themes."
"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.
"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."
"Imagine the kinds of looks my second graders must have gotten when they asked the grocery store clerk if they could clean the onion skins out of the vegetable bin," reports Cambridge, MA, teacher Bisse Bowman. "But the foraging was fun for them because it was part of our exploration of using plant colors to dye cloth."
What does it really look like in the classroom when a teacher is supporting student inquiry with plants? In developing a visual library of effective teaching strategies, we videotaped progressive segments of a four-week-long potato inquiry in classrooms at the Indianapolis, IN, Center for Inquiry at Public School 92. In the process, we asked teachers to reflect on their teaching styles as they helped students uncover answers to their questions about potatoes.
"I believe that inquiry-based learning gives students more ownership of what they learn and how they learn it," reports third/fourth grade teacher Cheryl Zelenka from Grants Pass, OR. "By finding out what students already know about a given topic and what they're curious about, then giving them an opportunity to dig deeper, I'm able to promote independent thinking and memorable learning experiences on a much deeper level," she adds.
A million of them could live in an acre of soil. They can "eat" their own weight in soil and organic waste every day. We're hearing more and more from classrooms using nature's recyclers to engage, motivate, and spark investigations and understanding of key life science concepts. Here are highlights from some schools that have gotten hooked on worms.
"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."
"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."