Making the jump from garden to Living Classroom

8 Feb

Science is everywhere you turn in a school garden, from the photosynthesizing leaves to the armadillo-style pill bugs that help break down leaves into compost.

But unless a teacher is already comfortable in a garden, he may need guidance in using it as an outdoor classroom where kids can get their hands dirty.

Before you start offering a teacher guidance, though, consider this: Teachers are already overwhelmed. Their task is to teach an ever-changing curriculum to a mixed bag of children, so that every student can pass a year’s worth of tests. How well they achieve that task affects the standing and funding of the school (and maybe even their own jobs, given the trend toward teacher evaluations that take test scores into account).

So think about how to make the school garden relevant to their goals. Because if it’s not relevant, why in the world would a teacher disrupt her routine to take students outside to a garden, when she could stay in her comfort zone?

That’s why I’ve started calling the George Watts garden a “Living Classroom.” The message: It’s not just a beautiful space. It’s a space where kids can move freely as they’re engaged in meaningful, hands-on science, math and literacy lessons that mirror the standard course of study.

(Just for the record: There’s nothing wrong with simply having beautiful spaces or letting kids explore nature independently or introducing kids to the idea of growing their own food. Some — not all — people believe in the value of those things. But if the goal is to get classrooms outside in the first place, it helps to tie the garden to something universally important and measurable, like learning science.)

I’m also filming short videos to show how some teachers are delivering hands-on lessons outside, to spark ideas among other teachers and to give parents a behind-the-scenes look.

In the short videos that follow, you’ll see Lower Elementary teacher Lauren Vejvoda lead third graders through an experiment that shows how good soil can be lost when rain and wind cause erosion — and why kids should care. (I posted the text for this lesson earlier.)

My favorite part: When kids make the connection between having healthy soil and making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

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[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCjfP26jlM4&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

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