The school garden is a classroom without walls.

Well, all I can say is that starting a school garden has been one of my biggest and proudest accomplishments as a teacher!  Planting a seed of learning has never been more evident as I witness the inspiration, enthusiasm, creativity, and overall passion for learning blossom with the children at my school.  The interest in maintaining and learning about our garden has done nothing but gain momentum by our students.  So many teachable moments have come out of this experience, which I believe will be forever remembered as these young souls move on in their educational journey.

Now for some updates to my earlier post at the close of 2014….

Our garden continued to thrive and produce great results as you can see by the looks on some of my student helpers who came to help out even when they were on winter break from school!

diego danny wateringdiego and danny

On Christmas Eve, our garden looked like this:

garden beds christmas

On New Year’s Eve we had eggplant starting to grow…

eggplant nye

In no time at all our newly created after school gardening club was in the kitchen creating eggplant parmesan! The eggplant bounty was incredible!  My classroom served as a “prep” area.

gardening eggplant parm gardening eggplant parm2

When we were ready we popped it into the cafeteria oven and produced this delicious creation:

eggplantparm

We also cooked up strawberry salsa at another meeting that we scooped up with cinnamon pita chips…This was really a hit with the kids!

gardening salsa

Here are my budding gardeners/chefs…

gardening club

The club has really proven to be a great learning experience.  We planted a square foot “salsa garden”, painted terracotta pots we planted with salad greens and nasturtiums, learned and wrote in journals about different Florida fruits and vegetables, got dirty in the garden pulling weeds, harvested and tasted lots of different things, and cooked up some fantastic foods where we learned how to cut produce and follow a recipe.

In addition to all the Gardening Club fun, we also had some “Very Hungry Caterpillar” experiences this year.  Our garden had an abundance of caterpillars munching away on our fennel, dill, celery and parsley.  We left many of our friends in the garden with hopes that they would make it to chrysalis and turn into beautiful butterflies.

catterpillar parsley catterpillar dill

However, Mother Nature had other plans for a majority of them.  This led to learning moments about the food chain/web!  We were able to relocate one into the hands of our school science teacher, who promptly gave our caterpillar a safe home on some of our celery.  As all of the students in the school rotate through the science lab, all the children were able to watch as it formed its chrysalis so the magic of metamorphosis could unfold.

caterpillar grillo

As we came back from Spring Break today, we had a great surprise… She had emerged as a spectacular butterfly!  Our Science teacher enthusiastically released her back into the garden.  First thing in the morning, my 4th graders were able to trek down to the garden and see this:

butterfly gardentbutterfly 3

butterfly 5

Shortly after this picture, our butterfly made her way out into the world.  We are all hoping she will flutter back our way and lay some eggs so we can witness this again.

Other highlights from our garden have been our 1st graders who planted beets from seeds and even had a “beet hospital” for awhile because they thought they weren’t doing well, see what they grew.

baysinger beets 2

All and all, I believe that many of these students have been bitten by the gardening bug, and will continue to enjoy a lifetime of gardening.  More importantly, a foundation has been laid to instill the importance of living in harmony with nature and the environment, and to understand the value of a healthy lifestyle.  Being outside and active in a garden, and bringing this knowledge back into the home, just might make them think twice about gobbling down another fast food, or processed meal.  After all, gardening and cooking are fun… Just ask them 🙂

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Creative teaching in a time of “teaching to the test” challenges….

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting about my love of teaching and the challenges educators face to keep learning fun, engaging, and exciting within the constraints placed on us to get our children to perform on the multitude of state standardized tests…. That’s a whole other topic I have very strong feelings about!  In a few sentences though… If differentiated teaching and learning is expected, as it should be since we all have different learning styles.  We are all individuals driven by different intrinsic qualities with many talents just waiting to be nurtured and developed.  So, how can we expect our greatest resource, our children, to  to take ONE standardized test developed by people so out of touch with working day to day with children in various educational settings, and expect them to perform at the same level???  Ok, that’s enough of that topic for now… getting back to what I truly believe teaching should be…

Last year I was getting ready to start my Science unit on the Physical Properties of Matter with my 4th grade class.  I new my culminating hands on activity was going to be having the children make their own lava lamps to investigate density and other physical properties.  While sitting at my desk, going through curriculum for background information, etc, it hit me that lava lamps were popular during the 1970s…. So, why not tie the entire lesson the decade of the 70s??? Instantly, I decided “The Physical Properties of Matter are GROOVY”

So…. here are some of the things I came up with.  First, we spent time talking about the decade and some the things our country was experiencing.  This led to discussions about common expressions, symbols, styles, beliefs, etc.  We looked at pictures of fashions, symbols such as peace signs, flowers, etc.  The kids even brought things in to share after going home and talking to their families about what we did in school.  We listened to Jackson 5 music, and other “kid friendly” music from the time.  And of course, we learned many scientific principles and concepts related to the unit of study.

We created a classroom anchor chart, where the kids brought various items in demonstrating the physical properties… I really worked the hot glue gun for this one!

 IMG_4017 anchor chart

As you can see… the kids were very creative with what they brought in for the chart!  My new class of 4th graders is adding to it for this school year…

This is the work folder the students created to keep all of their materials for the unit, and when they had “Rotation Day” to perform various hands on activities, including making the lava lamps they were so excited about!

Front cover…

IMG_3956 front cover

KWL….

IMG_4019 lava lamp kwl

Vocabulary Graphic Organizer…

IMG_4020 peace sign graphic organizer

Paint chips from Home Depot make awesome exit tickets for the rotations!

IMG_4022 paint chip exit ticket

Back cover of folder….

IMG_4024 back cover

The week we were creating all of these pieces and reading, discussing and learning, we enjoyed the Jackson 5 Pandora station playing in the background!

The music helped create another idea…. Teach the kids how to do “The Hustle”!  I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun they had doing this.  We did it every day.  It even became a request at recess, spreading to other 4th grade classes, and 5th graders wanting to join in on the fun.  My Bose traveled to school with me a lot, so the kids could dance away!

Here’s a little taste of the kids “hustling” in the classroom…

Keeping with the 70s theme, their cooperative group names were: “Groovy”, “Bell Bottoms”, “Flower Power”, and”Peace”.

On the day we did our rotations, when the time was up for their center, the intro to The Hustle would start playing, and the students new that was their signal to gather their materials, neatly place them at their next stop, and then “Hustle” to their center.  As soon as the music stopped, they sat down and got busy with the activity.

The activities included:

1. Playing Jeopardy on our interactive Promethean Board

2. Creating a Properties of Matter flip book where our anchor poster was hung up.  They used a piece of candy and classified the various properties and invented similies to go along with each property.

IMG_4053 IMG_4054

3.  Viewed a Study Jams clip on Scholastic an completed a cloze activity.  ( I absolutely love this site, by the way!)

4.  Made their own lava lamp with a plastic bottle, cooking oil, water, food coloring, and sodium bicarbonate tablets.  (This was definitely the favorite rotation… especially when they placed a flashlight underneath, dropped the tablets in at the same time, and I turned of the lights!)

 IMG_4048 IMG_4046 IMG_4045 IMG_4043 These days as educators we, as are our children, are under tremendous pressure to perform well on “The TEST”.  Guess what…. my children learned more from this type of learning experience rather than memorizing test taking strategies, and crazy ways to work math problems.  I would guarantee if you talked to any of my former students, they would be able to explain to you how the property of density made their lava lamp bubble and glow… and oh yeah, they could teach you how to do The Hustle : )

Happy Teaching to all my fellow teachers… keep on doing what we are meant to do.  Inspire, motivate and nurture our children to love school, life and learning…

The journey of creating a school garden…

A couple of years ago I came across a grant opportunity from the The Whole Kids Foundation, which is a part of Whole Foods.  At the time I was living in a building with no gardening options other than a few pots I placed on my small balcony with some culinary herbs.  Something inside of me felt this would be a chance to share my love of healthy, creative cooking from fresh ingredients, and promote the “farm to table” concept of eating with children.  My hope was by having children actively involved with the process of growing and caring for their garden, an appreciation for food would be instilled in them that they would take home with them and integrate into their lives.

I had success with previously writing smaller educational grants to enhance the learning of my 4th grade students.   I tackled this process by completing an extensive and lengthy grant writing endeavor.  I was awarded the grant, which to this date is one of my proudest accomplishments.

It was a lengthy process to get the actual project to the implementation stage.  There were many unforeseen challenges and obstacles along the way.  Throughout this time my goal was to keep learning responsible organic gardening practices, integrating activities into curriculum, networking with experts in the area, and just gathering as many resources and as much support as possible!  This led to relationships forming with members from my school community including teachers, support staff, PTA members, as well as people in our local neighborhood community. One particular person, Jodi from a local organic nursery became a mentor to me, offering guidance, enthusiasm, encouragement, and an endless wealth of knowledge and support.  Utilizing the Square Foot Gardening method, our little plot of land has blossomed into a sanctuary of learning, fun, and delicious experiences.

So in no time, the project that started like this….

photo

Now looks something like this….

garden beds christmas

beds          photo 3 photo 4

We have….

Kale

photo 2

Fennel….

fennel

Eggplant….

eggplant

Bok Choy

bok choyBeans that students from our Autism class started from seeds in their classroom….

beans

Beets that students from a First grade class started from seeds in their classroom…

beetsWatering at recess time has become a favorite activity….

photo 1

And trying new foods like kale and mint is teaching us that healthy eating is fun!

photo 5

kale

Stay tuned to see what other exciting experiences Coral Cove Elementary is creating as our gardening adventure continues….

Getting started….

So, the blog idea has been brewing in me for a very long time, but I had absolutely no idea where to start.  Like many of us, life has brought me ups, downs, twists and turns, and roads to travel that were never expected.  Truly, I believe that one cannot develop a true sense of self without all of these crazy journeys.  After several years of experiencing the unexpected coupled with the many years of ordinary, expected routines, I can confidently say that I am comfortable with where I have landed now in this present moment.

A passion for nurturing the soul has arisen in me which encompasses everything from my love of teaching children, connecting with the spiritual healing of the yoga community, discovering the empowerment of creating in the kitchen with garden fresh ingredients, to appreciating the resonance of music, being completely engrossed in the written word in all forms, and being able to appreciate the beauty each individual and moment has to offer, and most importantly being the mother of two individuals I couldn’t be prouder of has led to finally wanting to journal and share my thoughts, experiences and creative endeavors.  Yes… I know that is one huge run on sentence, that would require editing by my 4th grade students!

As the new year approaches, this seems to be the perfect time to reach inside, step out of my comfort zone and give this a try.

Wishing everyone peace, happiness and Namaste in  2015