Agriculture is crucial to all societies, yet most middle school students have few opportunities to learn about it, beyond its origin in the Fertile Crescent. Most U.S. students attend urban or suburban schools, isolated from agriculture. Many students have no idea what a potato, tomato, bean or pea plant looks like, let alone what is needed to sustain it. Ironically, many of these students are descendants of immigrants who brought with them and cultivated old country plants, which gave some comfort in a foreign land and have contributed to contemporary America’s menu and landscape.
Student engagement with agriculture and gardening can not only fill a knowledge gap but also tap in to the affective domain regarding enjoyment, fulfillment, ethics and aesthetics. In school gardening, students will discover relationships between biotic and abiotic factors, the role of cycles such as water, carbon and nitrogen, variables in plant productivity and how best to control them, data collection and dissemination techniques, and uncertainty in scientific investigations. Produce can serve as a springboard for studies in nutrition, cooking, economics, or community service via donation to a soup kitchen, for example. School gardening offers abundant opportunities for authentic learning and assessment.
Don’t have the time or the resources for a full outdoor garden? No problem. Try any of these indoor gardening ideas to whet your students’ appetites.
“To know a plant, grow a plant” is the motto of the Wisconsin Fast Plant Program, a science education outreach program from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fast Plants are in the mustard family, are small, easy to grow, and affordable, and have an incredibly short life cycle of about 40 days. From the activities page, we recommend Growth and Development and The Population Explosion.
Creating Herb Gardens: Inspiring Aromatic Adventures
Basic information on how to grow herbs in the classroom is included as well as science and history curriculum connections.
Tulipmania – Growing Flowers to Share
In this activity, students cultivate bulbs, and then practice philanthropy by giving the blooming plants to a community organization or persons of their choice. (This resource of part of the Learning to Give collection.)
Exploring Classroom Hydroponics
This guide features a synthesis of information from hydroponics experts and from people who have explored hydroponics with children in classrooms. It presents basic how-to information, suggestions for helping students discover concepts through investigations, plans for simple hydroponics setups, and stories from classrooms where students and teachers have investigated this growing technique.
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