More than a Veggie Patch: School Gardens Help Teachers, Students With STEM
“The idea of having a community garden is nothing new. It’s a popular way to promote sustainability, healthy eating and camaraderie. But one organization has found it’s also a powerful way to improve teacher effectiveness and boost student interest and engagement in science.
REAL School Gardens, a nonprofit organization with offices in Washington, D.C., and Texas, partners with companies and nonprofits to bring learning gardens into low-income elementary schools. Schools are selected through a grant application process, says Jeanne McCarty, the organization’s executive director, and students use math and art to develop a design for the garden. A few weeks later, they come together with REAL School Gardens staff members, corporate volunteers, parents and teachers to bring the ideas to life.
The gardens are currently installed in more than 90 schools in Texas, McCarty says, and there are plans to expand to several more schools in the District of Columbia area in the coming school year, including Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School, Barnard Elementary School and Bridges Public Charter School.
“I saw a golden opportunity to actually bring what was happening outside of the classroom into the school day,” McCarty says. “Our whole mission is to create learning gardens that grow successful students, so we focus heavily on the learning garden as a space to do that, a way that kids can get real, hands-on experience outdoors that is linked to what they’re studying in the books.”
While science is an obvious application for the gardens, McCarty says, teachers have also found the spaces useful for teaching math and language arts…”
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Gaining Steam: Teaching Science Through Art
“Breaking down the walls between art, hard sciences and math, a new crop of educators is designing curricula that allow these subjects partner with one another, encouraging holistic learning.
Across the country, teachers and administrators are coming to a similar conclusion: art informs science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and vice versa. Consequently, they are pioneering new methods of teaching that combine disciplines which have been isolated from one another under traditional educational models. And they are just getting started.
Andover High School in Massachusetts, for instance, teaches geometry through the lens of art. Through a scavenger hunt at a local museum, math and art students come to understand that scale in geometry is the same thing as perspective in art, says Meghan Michaud, a teacher at Andover High. Her school is in the second year of a 10-year plan to marry art and STEM.
This approach is “about 21st century learning skills,” Michaud says, and preparing kids “for whatever college or career is ahead.”
In Annapolis, Md., 8th grade students at Wiley H. Bates Middle School learn about Mexican mosaics and math at the same time. The students study traditional turquoise mosaics and create their own versions with bits of paper. Their classmates then collect sample sizes and use them to predict the number of tiles used in the artwork.
Studying and observing the art first, without the fear of getting something wrong, encourages confidence and risk-taking in the classroom, says Laura Brino, the art integration specialist at Bates Middle School…”
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