"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."
"We had already enjoyed conducting GrowLab curriculum activities and felt ready to expand our growing experiences to some new areas," reports Wichita Falls, TX, teacher Linda Bishop. Her fourth grade students decided to try hydroponics (growing plants without soil). First they did some research, then contacted a local commercial hydroponic lettuce grower for advice. With his support, the students designed a PVC pipe and pump setup for growing lettuce hydroponically in their school greenhouse.
"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."