The curriculum connections have taken a lot of effort. This is not because there aren’t a lot of curriculum connections, but because there is so much out there and it’s difficult to sort through it all and make it fit in with the NY state curriculum and our garden plans. Basically, we’ve developed our own curriculum. Often curriculum connections arise from the work going on in the garden. It’s important to keep your eyes open to possibilities. Because of this, it’s not the same every year. Opportunities pop up. It’s also necessary to be open to having experiments last for several years. Here’s what we’ve done so far.
- Soil analysis: In the ICSD, soil analysis is in the seventh grade science curriculum. While they did soil analysis, they learned about soil nutrients, soil critters, reviewed pH, and learned about the different soil textures. Each group dug its own sample from the proposed site and did a complete soil analysis. Each student wrote up an analysis to put in their garden journals. Lately, we’ve included nutrition and composting in this lesson.
- Seed structure/function: We did a lab (student designed) to see how seeds work. This was an inquiry unit where students developed their own understanding of how seeds work. For 3 years we saved seeds. Seed saving has several curriculum connections, genetics, reproduction, plant structure/function and scientific process. Many of the seeds, hybrid corn, for example, but half the fun is finding out.
- Evolution of seeds: In this short lab, students compared different crops with their seeds to gain an understanding of their relationships. They learn that seed structure is a better indication of phylogeny than the adult plant.
- Crop selection: To select their crops (seeds need to be ordered by late February), students had to learn about companion planting, sowing and harvest times. We developed a packet with charts and discussions for students to use while selecting their crop pairs. Midway through, master gardeners and cafeteria workers came in to hear students’ plans and comment on the feasibility. Our cafeteria workers came in the first 2 years to tell us which crops are good for the kitchen. Since then, we've given up on this because our kitchen will cook anything we bring to them (even the hot peppers). Students had to take take information from many sources to make a decision about their crop pairs.
- Genetics/evolution (Artificial selection): As a whole class, starting in 2013 we started selecting for larger sunflower seeds, so students measured the selected and unselected sunflower seed sizes. The plan was to plant them in Spring 2014 to see if they are larger. Unfortunately, birds are more intelligent than 7th grade science teachers, so we weren't able to get a successful crop of sunflower seeds the next couple of years.
- Sustainability: There are many sustainability connections with the garden. Though we are not certified organic, we keep the garden unofficially organic. We collect food scraps from the cafeteria and leaves from the school yard to make enough compost to serve all 46 plots. Students learn about soil amendment with compost and natural pest control using plant pairs, crop rotation and keeping weeds growing around the perimeter.
- Writing: Students are given lots of opportunities to write about their garden decisions in a journal. These journals will be saved and used by next year’s classes.
- Seed Saving: Seed saving is an activity that is rich in curriculum connections. In addition to general thinking and science skills, students need to understand plant reproduction and the different types of pollination and genetics. They need to understand the difference between hybrid and pure bred. Students collect seeds from different crops in the garden. They are given seed packs from the seeds they harvest. The seed packs show the students if they're heirloom, hybrid or open pollinated. Students prepare the seeds, packsge them and write a lab report explaining whether the seeds are safe to use (will they breed true).
- Garlic experiment: Two years ago, we collected and weighed the garlic grown from volunteers that grea in a crowded patch. These were compared with the garlic grown with a spacing of 6 inches. Naturally, the spaced garlic was larger. We planted both types of garlic in 4 different plots to see if they stunted garlic would catch up with the spaced garlic. This year students will weigh and count cloves on 3 groups of garlic (spaced, crowded and 2nd year crowded) as a comparison (after making a hypothesis). This will be a nice way for students to go through the scientific process of asking a question, collecting and graphing data, making a hypothesis and writing a conclusion. The conclusion will include a discussion of nature vs nurture.
Access to worksheets: If you’d like worksheets associated with these or other lessons, feel free to ask (firstname.lastname@example.org).