STEM Learning in the Garden

I grew this! 
Shows girl with carrot.
I grew this!

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
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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.

Will Science Kill Us or Save Us?


Will Science Kill Us Or Save Us?

The record so far is…Yes.

Nice invention, da Vinci, but if the plane flies, how would you shoot it down?
Great theory, Einstein, but how can we use it to make bombs that could destroy the world?
Nice process, Haber, it can help produce food to quadruple the world population.
So how can we use it for gas warfare and explosives?
Interesting demonstration, Edison. How many enemy soldiers did you say your machine could electrocute?
Even our vaunted Nobel peace prize, was established by Alfred Nobel who established over 90 armament factories in his lifetime.

So the jury is out on science and its getting more interesting by the moment.
Because it appears that we have been participating in man’s largest experiment– without noticing for the first 150 years.
This climate change experiment is particularly interesting for two reasons.
First, we are experimenting upon the entire world in ways that could have drastic consequences.
Second, we are trapped inside it.
Seems like this would create incentives for good outcomes and rapid results don’t it?
Once we experimenters realize that we are inside of the experiment we would immediately start altering the conditions to ensure that we and our planet live long and prosper, right?

Happy music plays, everyone hugs, movie ends. Goodnight, thanks for coming!

But…..
It is not quite going that way, is it?
You see this experiment involves a small zoo of lab animals. We have white mice, chickens, monkeys and sloths.
The white mice are wearing lab coats and pointing to charts of steadily dire temperature readings and photographs of melting ice sheets. They are standing on tip toe atop reams of data and squeaking as loud as they can to be heard . “It’s bad! Must change!”

The reaction among the rest of the animals is mixed.

The Big Chickens that own coal and oil companies are running around screaming “The sky isn’t falling! The sky isn’t falling! And the sea won’t rise!” They are very adamant that smoke from their products won’t harm us, just like the tobacco companies were very adamant that their cigarettes wouldn’t cause cancer.

The Scared Chickens with insurance companies have put money on the high water lines and they are squawking up a storm. With greenhouse emissions on the increase, insurance is becoming a very risky business. Payouts for flooding and extreme weather events endanger their golden nest eggs. These conservative guys are running the numbers and they do not like the odds.

The Monkeys have grabbed the car keys and are stepping on the gas. They like it fast and cheap and have their eye fixed on their bank account, the next quarterly return and their bucket list. They will fly across the world to view the melting of the last glaciers and put the images on flicker so their great grandchildren can have a glimpse of what was. But they won’t insulate their homes or put up a solar panel. Storms keep wiping out beachfront properties? Rebuild! Let’s Keep Dancing Until the World Ends!

The Sloths are hanging listlessly in the branches of government sending emergency aid to an increasing number of disaster areas, allowing oil pipelines and exports of oil, gas and coal. Money to improve energy efficiency or to switch to renewable energy is just a few inches from the sloths reach and he is pondering whether it’s worth the effort.

So with these animals running the zoo, things have not gone well.
Since the Kyoto Protocol world greenhouse gas emissions have risen by an average of two percent each year.
Of the ten hottest years recorded since 1880, nine have occurred in this decade.
The word from government isn’t “avoid” or “protect” any longer. It’s resilience.
Resilience is the new “Duck and Cover” from the Cold War where children were taught to hide under their desk in case of a nuclear exchange that would destroy life on earth. It means that we are willing to spend far more to try to patch a broken world than it would cost to protect it now.

If a foreign army or terrorist group attacked a square foot of American soil, we would sacrifice our lives and treasure to reclaim that soil and bring the invaders to justice. But what do we do when it is us attacking our planet with our needless carbon emissions? Who do we gas, bomb or electrocute then?

Scientists can no longer be patient, quiet or neutral as this war is waged upon our world.
Our future demands that we play a deep role in realigning human endeavor with our natural world.

Once we pretended to be the controllers of the world, somehow above and apart from nature.
But we now know that we are woven inexorably within the web of the living systems of our world.
Incentives that allow the few to profit as they poison our earth, our air and our bodies can no longer be tolerated.
The true costs of dirty energy should not be paid with the health of our citizens and the future of our world. Shifting the costs of pollution onto governments and citizens is not true capitalism or free enterprise but plunder and folly.
Scientists, health experts and economists must now join together to demonstrate the true costs of pollution and the economic viability of renewable energy.

And let’s join with some good lawyers.

As scientists we collect and analyze data using sound scientific principals and standards.

Lawyers call this evidence.

Just as tobacco companies had to pay for some of the health costs of their products, the coal and petroleum industries should pay for some of the damage they have done to our air and our health. They should carry insurance and bonds against future health and damage claims.

This will change the economics of pollution. No longer will those who pollute the air and water remain free of the health, economic and social costs that they create for others to bear. And the money from these payments will help develop and implement clean and truly cheap energy sources for our world.
At last, our free enterprise system will be able to choose energy, technology and industry that is truly efficient and sustainable.

In this experiment we are not chained and blindfolded like Houdini, but free to move inside the invisible box of our atmosphere like Marcel Marceau to create solutions that will protect us and our world. Let us not miss this critical moment to create a non-smoking planet.
It is time for science—for us– to save the world.