Some of those connections are simple, like writing about the gardening experience. Whether the writing happens on paper or on a device, the writing and the gardening can have deeper learning for the student if we bring in the real world components. Perhaps there is an area of the schoolyard that has become an eyesore, where students could generate solutions and implement them. This would require thinking, collaborating, planning, writing, discussing....not just on a piece of paper for the teacher to read, but in a format that would be presented to the school principal, and possibly to a parent group, school board, or division administrators. There are a multitude of digital tools for conveying ideas to a group of people, from impressive poster/chart tools to blogs to videochats (Skype, etc.). Perhaps they need to send out an electronic survey to gather opinions or ideas or garnish support for their garden. Pictures of the garden spot, drawings of improvement ideas, and charts of needs to accomplish the transformation could be compiled in a digital story. Even if the approval process to make your garden happen is simple and does not require these tools and processes, the learning experience can be enriched by real life applications, that might also involve technology.
Tamra Willis, director of the Environment-based Learning program at Mary Baldwin College, talked to the group in the afternoon about curriculum connections. She reminded us to keep the learning at the forefront of all our planning. Beware of cool activities for activities' sake...make sure the activities support the learning goals. Also decide what evidence you will have of the success of those learning goals. When students present to an outside audience through blogs, blended digital and personal presentations (like to school board, parent group, administrators, etc.), or through other methods, the students are more vested in the learning process, and learning is deeper. We spent some time working in groups on some possible Big Ideas for the various situations back at our schools.
Later, as the students are learning about plant growth in their garden, they may need to take measurements and record them, or monitor experiments to compare data and learn about optimal conditions for their plants. From the five senses to caterpillars and life cycles to historical crops (think Three Sisters) to writing riddles and poems to math galore...the possibilities for connection and real life learning are boundless in the garden. It is very exciting to see plants sprout from seeds or see plants transplanted and thrive. The librarian in me, too, knows that there are boundless personal stories that will happen with everyone of those connections. Not to mention that there are many stories, as well as nonfiction books, in the library that connect to many things that could be learned in the garden experience.
Raised beds on the campus by the buildings with vegetables and flowers were so visually inviting and so functional that they made me want to do this at school and at home. Our workshop instructors talked about changing these beds to be taller to give better access to students with limited mobility.
1) Start with a thin layer of compost
2) Cover the area with a double layer of cardboard, overlapping the pieces a few inches
3) Wet it down well
4) Add about a three inch layer of mulch
Do this in the Fall, and by Spring, you should be able to dig a hole through to add small plants. You could also use a geotextile sheet (weedblock fabric) with this method.
Direct seeding for some plants (in soil that has been enriched with compost and protected through the winter with some sort of mulch) was more familiar to me. Read the seed packets to learn when to plant, how far apart to plant, and how deep to plant. General rule of thumb, plant the seeds twice as deep as the seed is wide. We planted some lettuce that will hopefully grow and be used by the VSDB cafeteria on their salad bar.