"During a workshop with group of teenage girls, we told them they would be working with graphs," shares Math in the Garden Project Director Jenny White. "Groans filled the room. Then we distributed plates with an array of flowers and asked them to pick an attribute and make a graph of their flowers. The attitude and enthusiasm for the activity soared. Girls began making comments that they had 'never made a real graph before' and 'this graph is really beautiful.' As they progressed to making symbolic and then abstract versions of the same graphs, one teen summed up the group's attitude when she said, 'I never knew what those "x's" meant on a graph before. Now I do.'"
Jenny was using the activity "Flowers: Graph and Graph Again" (download it below) from the curriculum guide Math in the Garden. "I have always loved math and math puzzles. I thought how wonderful it would be if we could use the beauty and enthusiasm for plants to help people get over their fears and apprehension of mathematics,” she says. A retired Associate Education Director of the UC Botanical Garden, Jenny began recruiting colleagues who were experienced curriculum developers and loved gardening and outdoor learning. Together they collaborated on a guide educators could use "to strengthen and improve mathematics understanding and skills through exploring the world of plants in their gardens."
Math in the Garden, funded by a National Science Foundation grant, is the result of this effort. It uses a mathematical lens to take children in Grades K-8 on engaging learning explorations of the garden. Building on children’s natural curiosity and sense of fun, the 36 activities cover a wide range of topics from pattern and symmetry to measurement and geometry. They not only hone math skills, they also promote inquiry, incorporate language arts and nutrition, and encourage teamwork. All were developed to support mathematics and science standards and were extensively trial-tested nationwide by formal and informal educators.
School Programs Manager Barbara Kurland finds that the curriculum is an excellent resource for helping educators "incorporate gardening activities across the curriculum. Although the book is written to be used in an outdoor garden, "the lessons are useful to teachers even if they don't have the resources of a school garden" - a concern in urban settings.
In addition to the glowing reactions from students, Math in the Garden also garners positive feedback from teachers and administrators. Teachers tell us that their students develop real mathematical understanding as a result of this curriculum.
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Download "Flowers: Graph & Graph Again," a FREE lesson plan from Math in the Garden.
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