Archive for May, 2011

Day One of the Weeklong Gardening Class

Whether you’re pondering teaching a unit on gardening, or an isolated classroom activity for science, I hope you find my experience useful.

Our PRIDE Time rotation of classes in the last hour of the day meant I was teaching a mix of grades 4, 5 and 6. Once I saw my actual class size — 32 — I knew I would not do all I’d planned (see prior post, when I thought I’d have about 28).

What I learned Day One:

  • My hour class was really 45 minutes, after taking out roll, resolving students being in the wrong class or not on my roster, and walking us to the bus pickup by 2:30. (Our whole school is bused in.)
  • Rules of behavior and garden rules can be funny. Taught the 5 Simple Rules, using the hand motions of the Whole Brain Teaching system, Taught my garden rules borrowed from Lots of laughs at my What Not To Do — eat dirt, make stabbing motions with garden trowels, dangle a worm behind a girl’s head and then call her name so she turns around and screams, etc.
  • Signing a behavior contract was worth it. I had no problems with new students. I had proof they knew how to act right. I asked parents to sign the first week, but about a third never returned the paper. So on week two I just had kids sign it.
  • If I’m going to have them keep a journal of their garden learning, I need to explain the tradition of Garden Journaling first. Otherwise, it’s just paper. Next time, first show a copy of the old Farmers Almanac. Explain how it was invaluable in the Olden Days before the Internet. Nowadays, we journal to remember all the things that happened that might affect what we choose to do next season. I’m not sure this is worth it for only a weeklong class. Better for two weeks or more.
  • Forty-five minutes means two activities. Before this, I had only done gardening activities with groups smaller than 20. Learning rules and two half-activities — prepping our seed germinators, and walking to the garden — was all we had time for.
  • If you need photos taken, get another volunteer adult or a responsible kid to shoot them while you lead something else. Have kids write their name on a sign and hold it below their head to ID because you won’t know their names since they’re coming from other classrooms. I dropped this activity.
  • If you intend to use grown plants to teach, plant early, plant staggered, and overplant to plan for destruction by pests. I didn’t introduce the Great Sunflower Project or bee pollination to this audience. My Lemon Queen sunflower seeds went in about two weeks too late.  Then, squirrels snapped the seedlings off for lunch on about half of what I planted. If I end up another school with scads of squirrels and rabbits,  I will first plant in cups and then transplant when the plants are less attractive. I will likely do the count myself in June or July, just to see how the process of collecting and submitting bee activity data works.
  • Think of every activity in steps of preparation. That way, if you have 5-10 minutes left in class, you can use it to set up the next day’s activity. We did this Day One when we did set up our seed sprouting activity for Tuesday.
  • Use retractable Sharpies to label pots or bags, use retractable Sharpies. Just 3, so you get them all back — to prevent graffiti. Passed out ziplock sandwich bags to each kid. They labeled name and room number, then passed the marker down. No missing lids or time spent trying to get the lids back on. This detail alone saved me about 5 minutes. They looked at my window every day during recess to see how their seeds were doing.
  • Build anticipation for the next day’s activity. On Day One, we didn’t have time to measure corn, so we took time to just look. We didn’t have time to put seeds in our sandwich bag germinators, so we wrote names on bags and put in paper towels.
  • Have a back-up container for planting because whatever you ask kids to bring, you won’t get enough. I asked for a 2-liter soda bottle for our transplanting project on the Last Day. I got 5 from 32 kids! Some kids didn’t know what a 2-liter was even though I showed them. Clear plastic cups with gravel on the bottom for drainage worked fine. Offer to buy gravel from bags that have torn and been repackaged for half-price. Our local Lowes garden assistant offered this once I told him it was for school. $2 paid for gravel for 68 students’ cups.
  • Lastly, if you can avoid it, don’t plant anywhere near a Dumpster. Our tiny garden is on a  strip of land between the fence and landing for  trash disposal into the Dumpsters. Lucky for me, given the sunflowers issue, the custodians had planted corn there earlier. So instead we had corn to measure. It’s easy to use because there are no roots to fight, but gardening anywhere near trash disposal is a bad idea.

And from there, we walked to the bus.

On the way, one 6th grade boy told me, “Mrs. Friday, I’ve never grown anything. This is gonna be fun.”

That was all I needed to hear.

Seat of my pants

I teach 6th grade in Fresno, California. Many of my students have no gardening experience. Others have parents who do agricultural work in fields. Still others have parents who keep a small home garden.

To keep our darlings motivated in these final three weeks of school, we intermediate teachers are teaching “electives” for the final hour of the day. In this time, we can teach how we want. Wow! While others are leading such varied efforts as Aztec dancing, percussion and the Art of Collecting, I am teaching Gardening. There are so many options, and I start tomorrow. We teachers literally have had about three days to think about exactly what we will do and how. My group — 4th through 6th graders — will be with me for one week.

So Day One is sizing up as:

  • taking roll since there will be a lot of faces I do not know;
  • preview of the week and list of items they need for future garden projects;
  • rules of behavior while in garden and consequences for those who cannot handle it;
  • introducing students to the Great Sunflower Project and its goal for garden citizens like us to count bees (maybe by June);
  • passing out a garden log sheet to personalize with their own gardening experience, before we go out;
  • measuring height and describing sunflowers planted two weeks ago as seeds alongside the computer lab;
  • taking mugshots, so to speak, of each student for use in an undetermined garden  project;
  • and from the website, a seed sprouting project in plastic cups, except we will use plastic ziploc bags and tape them to the window to keep warm. I wanted something hands-on for the first day that they could follow thru the week. Will we get all this done in an hour? Guess I’ll find out!
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