School gardens can take a variety of shapes and sizes. These barrels are placed outside each classroom and can easily complement lessons.An ordinary mixed vegetable, flower, and herb garden provides endless possibilities for explorations across the curriculum. Many schools have also chosen to create special thematic gardens to focus and inspire garden adventures. Consider the possibilities of a Native American garden, for instance, for making connections to social studies and beyond.
"In the beginning of the school year, I ask my fourth graders to bring in any kinds of seeds they find outdoors, then we plant them and observe what happens," says teacher Tom Murphy from Farmington, MN. When students discovered that garden seeds like marigolds sprouted quickly, but few seeds from native trees such as walnuts and oaks began to grow, the stage was set for a year-long investigation. "Students wondered why the tree seeds didn't sprout," says Tom.
"As a way of encouraging students to observe deeply and to inquire about the natural world, I gave groups of them peanuts in shells to observe," reports multigrade St. Louis, MO, teacher Doloris Pepple. "I asked them to do just two things at first-to write down everything they could possibly observe, and to list all of the questions that their observations generated. Students came up with a range of excellent questions." The longer and more fully they observed, she notes, the more detail they noticed, and the more questions emerged. Could it grow through the shell?
The rapid disappearance of native prairies in the Midwest inspired a local farmer to help Ellen Wellborne's sixth graders in Nerstrand, MN, explore a local prairie up close. Students examined and compared different layers of prairie soil with woodland soil, then grew barley in samples of each soil, reports Ellen. "Students expected the woodlands to have deep, rich topsoil, but were shocked to see how much better the plants and their roots grew in the prairie soils," she adds. "This prompted them to want to further explore the history and ecology of the prairie."
"My students love to grow plants, they are excellent caregivers when motivated, and they also love contests," reports Nashville, TN, teacher Nancy Johnson. "I combined these facts with the need to teach my fourth graders the metric units of height, weight, and volume by setting up a contest to see which small group could grow the 'biggest' plants." Nancy provided the lima bean seeds and soil, and students discussed how to keep the race fair. They realized that they'd have to keep all growing conditions the same, Nancy reports.
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."
"You can imagine how short our growing season must be here in Anchorage (AK)," reports teacher Glenn Oliver. "But my second through sixth grade students don't let that get in the way of our gardening."
"We just have to do things a little differently, such as raising certain crops inside our greenhouse," he adds. Not a bad choice. Those Alaskan summer days pushed his students' greenhouse-grown corn to 13 feet! (Consider sharing this with your students, then exploring what, besides being in a greenhouse, could account for such phenomenal corn growth.)
"Early in the year, I suggest classroom plant investigations, model how to develop predictions about what might happen, and help students set them up," reports second grade teacher Diane Gore from Durham, NC.