The printing press. Democracy. The internet. Citizen Science.
Each of these educates, connects and empowers people. They are extensions of our hunger to learn, share information and create solutions. Opening science to more people creates a virtuous cycle that strengthens science and empowers citizens. Citizen observations greatly expand the data base for scientific studies. In turn, this expanded knowledge and understanding of science empowers citizens to take an informed role in shaping the choices in their communities and world. Smarter science, smarter citizens, smarter world.
A full room of teachers and informal educators discussed a wide variety of science projects and activities yesterday at the NOAA Environmental Science Training Center in Oxford, Maryland. We saw how citizen science projects are enriching learning, connecting people to their environments, and empowering citizens to protect their health and communities. From students helping to identify species and habitat ranges in Maryland, to volunteers reporting sewage leaks in Baltimore, to people reporting the weather and changing seasons to better understand climate change, science is becoming more participatory and collaborative. Knowledge is power. Citizen science offers a path to strengthen scientific studies while empowering citizens with knowledge of scientific protocols and a deeper understanding of their environments and choices.
Students can learn STEM by growing and studying in gardens
STEM Learning in the Garden
As teachers and administrators search for ways to improve student performance, they should look in the garden.
Learning in the garden is real, alive and surprising. Here discoveries of “bugs!” and “worms!” are shouted out and children run to the discoveries. Suddenly the questions aren’t coming from the teacher; they are coming from the students eager to observe, learn and understand their world.
The gold of classroom learning is the“Ah Ha” moment when the student makes a discovery or connection. The garden is full of “Ah Ha’s” but it also has the “Umph” moments of exercise, the “Yum Yum” moments of tasting and the “We Did It!” moments of accomplishment. While say we are growing a garden, we are really growing children who become stronger through exercise, healthier through better diets, and more powerful with their learning and actions.
Dig out one shovel of soil and you have a lesson in geology, archeology, chemistry and biology.
Why is the soil here different than the soil two feet down or over by the wall? What is this rock and how was it made? Where did that piece of tile, metal or root come from? What was here before? Can you see the roots, insects and larvae in the soil? What do they consume? How does water percolate through the soil?
What do plants need from the soil?
Here are questions about chemistry, biology and botany. How can we test and amend the soil to provide the right combination of nutrients for this plant? What crops and rotations can replenish the soil?
What will we plant?
Here are questions about how we use and value plants. Where did these plants come from? How have they been used for foods, medicines, spices, teas, baskets, building materials and clothes and dyes? How foods become part of our cultural identity. How we can grow and distribute food to create healthier families, profits or materials?
Where will we plant?
Here are questions that involve the rotation earth around the sun, an understanding of the soil, drainage, sun exposure, the needs of particular plants, the design of the garden and paths. The garden is a world that our children can help build.
How will we tend the garden?
Here are questions about the needs of different plants, different seasons and different helpers. School gardens are a perfect opportunity to create collaboration among students, parents and teachers as they work together. Who will tend the plants during the summer?
How will we share our produce?
Here are questions of sharing and earning that go to the core of our ethical and economic systems. How much do we give away? Do we sell it? How can we provide nutrition to mothers and newborns so our children grow up without learning disabilities?
Want common core observations and analysis? STEM learning?
In the garden students observe and interact with complex systems:air, water, sun, temperature, soil, plants, insects and animals. What are the needs of our plants and how can we create the right combination of conditions to create better crops? Our children learn to observe, test, create solutions and improve outcomes. Perhaps the best lessons are that a garden is never done and that there is always next year.
Plant a seed and watch it grow.
This simple act reveals the awe of life and our responsibility to care and nurture living things.
Longer Reach of the Teach
Numerous studies show that outdoor education improves test scores for children. But when you see the bright eyes and smiles of children who are excited by their discoveries and accomplishments you will truly understand the importance of this learning. Students who are bored in class can come alive with the real learning and active work of a garden. You will be amazed at how well your garden will grow your students. This is learning as fresh and tasty as a pea plucked from the vine.
Excerpted from a speech by Kelly Klinefelter Lee, a teacher at Benjamin Franklin High School on December 18th, 2013. She spoke to a group of students and citizens protesting the planned construction of the largest incinerator in the United States in a Baltimore neighborhood already among the most polluted areas in the country. You can see video of her speech and the protest at www.coolgreenschools.com.
The American philosopher and educator John Dewey said, “The only freedom of enduring importance is the freedom of intelligence, that is to say freedom of observation and of judgment exercised on behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worthwhile.”
When you come to school here at Ben (Benjamin Franklin High School) your teachers work to make you critical thinkers. Yes, reading and writing and calculating are important.. but we are also preparing you to be voters and parents and community members and maybe even someday, office holders.
I’d argue that our most important goal as teachers in a democratic nation is to teach you to use your intelligence and your skills to understand your world, to analyze the problems you observe in your community, to evaluate the decisions being made by your leaders and to use your voices to object when you object.
There is much to object to in the case of this incinerator. If built it would bring hundreds of trucks of trash imported from other counties and states into this community every single day. That trash will burn and turn out mercury, and lead, greenhouse gases and particulate matter into the air that we breathe. As young critical thinkers, you are looking at this situation and asking the right questions.
Aren’t there better and cleaner ways to make power for our city?
Don’t we owe our earth better stewardship?
And why is the incinerator coming to our neighborhood?
You students know that the children who will breathe the incinerators pollution are already asked to bear a bigger burden than most. You know that the children of this community are more likely to be food insecure, more likely to be housing insecure, more likely to be the victims of crime than other children in Maryland. You know that the children in this community have been disproportionately affected by economic crisis and by government cuts. You know that the children in of Brooklyn-Curtis Bay go to under resourced and underfunded public schools and you know, Destiny, you just told us that these children already breathe some of the dirtiest air in Maryland and that their young bodies pay a horrible price for this. So this is not just an environmental issue. It is a social justice issue.
It is a moment when our learning community has to ask our leaders– we must– why does this incinerator belong here, why does it belong here, in this community?
This is a cause that is intrinsically worthwhile to which we must develop our minds and our hearts and our best efforts. Students, thank you for sharing your time and passion in the service of your community.
We are blessed by your offerings and we are grateful for your leadership.