Posts Tagged ‘school gardens’

Using TP rolls and salad containers to sprout seedlings

Got a bunch of TP rolls and plastic containers you’re not sure what to do with? Here’s a great posting from a fellow blogger complete with wonderful pictures. I couldn’t do any better myself, so take a look. The main thing is you’ll need a place to put those plugs once they sprout because they won’t last as long as if they were in a coconut fiber pot or peat pot. Caught it on the FB page for Bloem Living, which usually sends just fabulous photos but today had a bonus!

So creative — water bottles become a greenhouse

So creative — water bottles become a greenhouse

Now, if I could get the land for this at school, wouldn’t this be a cool project?

Let’s “Mix it Up” with a School Garden to promote engagement

This story explores the evidence, said to be lacking, that our brains have particular “learning styles.” This message is still taught in teacher school. How about we teach children by “mixing it up” as this story promotes. As 2014 approaches, trying something new that’s really old might become vogue again. Why? Because all schools cannot all be “above average” by 2014. And even if a school as a whole tests proficient, certainly there will be groups left behind in the Annual Yearly Progress measures. Gardens would help “mix it up” and bring something new into the learning environment. We can teach standards through gardening. It doesn’t give the repetition that you can get in a classroom, but sometimes less is more when they are really paying attention.  On the other hand, how can I work in gardening when I have 33 fourth-graders in the class that I soon begin long-term subbing. I am looking forward to it, but yowza! IMHO, this story pushes it overboard, based on what I have seen teaching. We have preferences for how we remember details, or get engaged in a topic. And in what kind of environment we are talking about the brain operating? Brains working in a class of 33 is nothing like one brain working one-on-one with a teacher and/or assisted by computer learning or something else hands-on.

Organic farmer to speak at Community Gardening Conference

Don't forget to RSVP

Tom Willey will be the guest speaker at conference Sept. 3.

Tom Willey, of T&D Willey Farms, will be the lead speaker at the upcoming Community Garden Conference Sept. 10 in Fresno. Tom and Deneese run a 75-acre farm in Madera, according to their website They have been farming since 1980 and their farm became a certified organic operation in 1987. One look at their plantings, click the Year-Round Crops button to the left, reveals a diverse collection that follows the Mediterranean seasons of the San Joaquin Valley. I look forward to hearing what he has to say. Other topics will include starting a community garden, planning a plot, and keeping a school garden. We’ll also tour the Peach Community Garden. Bring your cameras in case you see an idea you’d like to steal or a plant you’d like to grow!

Teaching How to Read a Seed Packet

A student's work

My students learned how to read a seed packet by writing titles or summaries for the parts of information on the packet. This ties into the sixth grade standard RC2.1 Identify the structural features of popular media (e.g., newspapers, magazines, online information) and use the features to obtain information. Now, it’s not the listed “for example” sources, but the same idea — How do I find meaning in the words in front of me? By using the titles and the arrangement of the graphics.

How I organized the materials: I copied fronts and backs of seed packets — flowers and vegetables — on my color printer at home. I precut them out using the table cutter at school. Kids flipped them over, and I came by and put a glue dot in each corner — faster than passing out glue sticks, listening to complaints about ones that are dried up, don’t work, out of glue, etc. They could arrange them on their own page, as long as there was room to write some information.

How I introduced the concept: First, I showed a web page that I had posted on my own FB page. This got attention because they couldn’t believe their teacher was hip enough to be on FB! That was my first laugh. Then I clicked over to I used this to introduce the idea that there is information, organized a certain way to help you find what you need to know. The red outlining of the pieces of the packet reads easily to little thinkers on the big screen. Then I reminded them they were learning a standard, and introduced the standard. Fourth-graders were impressed they were learning sixth-grade skills.

How I taught about their packet: I modeled, used “think alouds,” and asked students to share out they would guess based on what they saw.

None of them had read a seed packet before, but a few had seen them. I modeled what to write on on their papers using the digital overhead projector, while “thinking aloud” about how the info was organized. I also used the real seed packets under the camera, so they got the feel of the packet since they had only copies.

Examples of my think alouds: “These letters are all capital letters, and the type size is the largest, so that tells me this is the most general information about what seeds are in this packet.” “This picture shows me what the plant will look like full grown, not when it’s just sprouting, not when it’s half-grown, but when it’s done.” “This graphic on the back is a planting guide. It has categories on the top that are shown with little graphic icons — the sun is a symbol for how much sun it needs, the scissors are a symbol for when you can harvest.” “The words below tell the answer, so for Cilantro, I can harvest All Season.”

My lessons learned:

Use seed packets from the same company so that the information is organized in the same way. For a large group, it is too confusing to use different companies packets. I mostly used Cornucopia seeds bought at Target, partly because the graphics were easy to read. I also had some Renee’s Garden and Burpee Signature but should have stuck with just Cornucopia. At the time I put it together, I was thinking that I wanted them to see how much variety there is in what seed packets look like. But for teaching, they need to be more similar so the kids can follow more easily.

Add some odd plants into the mix, for your kids who might rather be doing something else. I picked plants students had eaten, for familiarity. Next time, I will pass out some weird-looking food seeds for students not into this, to raise their interest. Purple carrots, for example. That might mean using only Renee’s Garden seeds, which are more expensive!

The kids enjoyed this activity, even though I feared they might be bored. Why? Because they got to handle glue, and had materials in color. They felt like they were building something with their seed info posters, like they were cracking the code!

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.

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