One of the recommendations we try to emphasize when talking with school garden leaders is the importance of linking the garden program to existing teaching objectives. Sustaining a garden program becomes an incredible challenge when teachers view the time spent gardening as an addition to their workload rather than a tool to teach required curriculum. I know from my own personal experiences that reaching this level of understanding is not as easy as it may sound.
Fortunately, KidsGardening has some resources to help. Last month, we talked about our GrowLab, Growing Food and The Growing Classroom curriculum books. This month, I want to share more details about Math in the Garden.
Math is topic that can be a struggle for some students conceptually and yet is a subject that must be mastered to be successful in school. As Math in the Garden author Kathy Barrett shares, one of the best ways to help kids understand mathematics is to make the process less abstract and give “children practical experience applying mathematics to real life situations.”
Math in the Garden was written through a collaboration of The University of California Botanical Garden and the Lawrence Hall of Science and funded by a National Science Foundation grant. It is an engaging curriculum using a mathematical lens to take children on an education-filled exploration of the garden. Its 36 activities and extension ideas hone math skills and promote inquiry, language arts, and nutrition. All were extensively trial-tested by formal and informal educators and youth leaders nationwide.
I am a huge fan of this book. The lessons can be used with or without an outdoor garden space and most use supplies you can find in a grocery store. It includes an incredible collection of unique and inventive activities that you won’t find anywhere else. It is easy to use in a classroom setting or in a more informal setting like a community garden or after school program.
One of the educators who participated in the pilot testing, Barbara Kurland, passed along to us that the activities were “practical- kids used math to do something ‘real.’” In addition to enhancing their math understanding, she believes an important benefit of the curriculum is that the lessons provide the children with “skills they can apply to the rest of their lives such as measuring, organization and using tools.”
One of the experiences that stood out in Barbara’s mind came after delivering the lesson on symmetry using leaves and fruit (activities “Find that Line” and “Symmetry Inside Fruit”). At the end of the lesson, one of the children approached her to let her know that they learned about symmetry at school, but “we just used shapes cut out of cardboard – this is so much more fun and interesting. I never thought to look in the real world for symmetry.” For Barbara, this was a sign that by “seeing it come alive in the garden, the children got it.” For instance the “Area and Perimeter of Leaves” activity introduces students to alternative measuring tools such as using beans to measure and compare leaf sizes ultimately teaching them about the value of creative problem solving strategies.
So, if you are struggling with find a way to connect your garden to the core curriculum at your school to show that your garden program is a valuable use of precious instructional time, Math in the Garden may be a solution for you. Click here to download a sample activity, “Flowers: Graph and Graph Again,” from Math in the Garden. You can get your own copy of this innovative book through Gardeners Supply Company.