"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."
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.
To prepare her students for carving out a garden site in the schoolyard, middle school teacher Joan Dungey in Yellow Springs, OH, invited them to reflect on and write about their favorite childhood places. Students next shared their memories with a partner; then each pair presented highlights to the rest of the class. "I found it interesting that nearly all of the students recalled some sort of peaceful natural spot where they had played or explored the world as youngsters," notes Joan.
Kids Gardening and the National Gardening Association actively work with schools and communities across the country to provide educational resources and build gardens to promote health, wellness, and sustainability.