Teachers gather round during a lesson on school gardens.

“How many pollinators did you see while you were working in the garden just now?”

This was one of the discussion-generating questions asked by Whitney Cohen, education director of LifeLab, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Cruz, Calif., as she stood in a circle with 13 teachers from Bellingham Public Schools on a recent September afternoon.

The group was gathered together in the garden at Whatcom Middle School as part of a Life Lab workshop called “Next Generation Science in the Garden.” Through hands-on workshops that they take on the road, Life Lab provides educators with information in garden-based learning.

The visit by Cohen was coordinated by Common Threads Farm and School Garden Collective, a community partner to currently 15 schools in Bellingham Public Schools. The professional development day for teachers was designed to demonstrate how school gardens can be used for teaching of the next generation science standards (NGSS).

The teachers attended a full day of activities and lessons followed by a 3-hour collaborative planning session. In the planning, participants explored how NGSS in the garden can be integrated into each grade level’s scope and sequence. These lesson plans and teaching strategies can be implemented immediately in their classrooms.

Common Threads Farm has begun work with Sarah Walker, the district’s science teacher on special assignment (TOSA) to think systemically about the garden as a context for teaching life and earth science. As Lifelab’s Cohen stated during the workshop “We would never try to teach technology without computers, so why do we try to teach earth and life science without earth and life?”

“Some schools are already using gardens in diverse and interesting ways,’ says Walker. “At Shuksan, garden work is integrated into an extended learning class. At Whatcom, the garden is connected to 6th grade science and students also learn about cooking their garden harvest. Birchwood elementary has connected their garden to International Baccalaureate Units of Inquiry.”

One of the teacher participants was Geneva Elementary kindergarten teacher Aubrey Merritt who appreciated the time spent at the workshop. Without a lot of garden science experience, the training gave her “solid ideas and starting points” to start using the garden in her science lessons.

“The NGSS training we attended lit the fire for me,” Merritt says, “and really inspired me to get out there and learn with my kids.  I was inspired by the hands-on activities and the lessons that we engaged in throughout the day.”

“My hope is that more teachers have access to trainings like this and the subsequent resources (such as the book we used for the lessons) to feel more confident using the garden on their own.”

As an addition to the NGSS, engineering standards are now included in the science standards. To demonstrate how an engineering standard can be applied in the garden, the group of teachers in the LifeLab workshop was asked to build a plant replica with found objects (mostly items headed to the landfill).  These upcycled ‘plants’ were then displayed in a garden bed.  See photos.

Support for teachers to attend this workshop came from the Sustainable Whatcom Fund of the Whatcom Community Foundation.

Click here for more on school gardens in Bellingham Public Schools and Common Threads Farm.

1 Comment

  1. This is fantastic. I hope that all Science teachers in Bellingham schools are encouraged to take similar study opportunities to incorporate school gardens into their science learning curriculum. I like the idea of learning earth and life sciences where there is earth and life like in the garden. This will also help to promote healthy eating and awareness of where food comes from and what it takes to make and prepare it. Congratulations BHS for staying on the cutting-edge and for improving the learning conditions for our students.

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