Guided Discoveries in Watkins Garden

By: Jane Hellewell, Foodprints at Watkins Elementary Garden …..

Vyfho2am36atwAyxe5ljCkR4pUx5V7ogBBH6EVbv63zuBf0GdvX21Mi20lmSYHOSdMdP4va5CUlkqjmg69QbbP-vl9A=w1165-h439As students started the 2014/2015 school year here at Watkins Elementary School on Capitol Hill, the garden was showing it’s healthy summer bounty.  Students arrived to discover various types of beans growing, Cherokee Trail of Tear beans and American Indian Haditsu War Shield beans to name a few. There was a plethora of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, heirloom and yellow striped zebra tomatoes, basil, red and green peppers, banana peppers, a few token potatoes, and  many favorite cooking herb plants.

The first and second grade classes started their first Foodprints lessons immediately upon returning to school from summer vacation.  In first grade, we completed a guided discovery tour of the garden and generated a list of positive behaviors to follow while in the garden.  Each class “adopted” a mystery plant to take care of for the next month. As scientists, students collected data of their class plant as they 1. made observations and predictions, 2. asked questions, and 3. took measurements (height, width, and circumference) of their mystery plant.   We documented this information on a poster board chart. So far, we have collected data of the mystery plant twice and we will collect another round of data a third time before harvesting it.  Some observations that were made by the students included:  The leaves are dark green.  The stems are thick and light green. Our plant is happy.  Thoughtful questions were asked: Why do some leaves have holes in them? Can you eat the leaves?  Where is the mama plant?   Measurements of Observation 1 and 2 were made and compared: In each class the height, width, and circumference had just about doubled!  Finally, predictions were made:  I think this plant is a radish plant.  I think this plant is a cauliflower. It is a tomato plant.  It is going to grow bigger. It is going to stay the same.  Maybe it will grow flowers. Rain makes it grow.

I love this lesson for so many reasons.  While in the garden, the students have the opportunity to be real scientists and experience what scientists actually do and how they approach their work.  Through this hands-on activity,  students learn important language used by scientists: observation, data, prediction.   They also incorporate mathematical measuring skills while collecting and documenting the plant’s height, width, and circumference.  Generating questions and predictions amongst the class reveals each student’s own thought process, stimulating more questions and more predictions.  The sense of wonder and curiosity comes alive!  These questions and predictions are not answered immediately which allows the child to remain curious, ask even more questions, and find ways on their own to answer their questions. By taking data during three different observational times, students also become confident in the process.  Once we make our third observation, students will be able to answer most of their own questions. Throughout this lesson, students work together, gain hands-on scientific experiences, and cultivate inquisitive thinking while finding joy and excitement in their discoveries!  (Please notice the two pictures of one class’s mystery plant. One was taken during Observational 1 and the other during Observational 2. Can you predict what the mystery plant is?!)

As for the second grade lesson, we approached the important skill of observation through a different activity. In the garden, each student was given a tag inscribed with a vegetable from the garden.  Their job was to find that plant, sit in front of it, draw the entire plant, and label each part of the plant present: the stem, leaves, fruit, flower.  In preparation to this activity, we discussed the difference between an observational drawing and an artistic drawing.  While each drawing has a purpose, we decided that scientists use observational drawings as a tool for documentation and to learn more about what is being studied.  A student defined an observational drawing as a “drawing of only what you see.”  And that is what the second graders did.  Through this process of observation,  they slowed their bodies and minds down to make a connection with their plant.   I often ask students, “Can plants talk to us?”  (At this point, many students giggle.)  Then, I say that plants communicate in different ways through patterns, shapes, and colors. As we observe, draw, and document  this “language,”  students become curious and ask more in-depth questions about their plant?  Their scientific way of thinking is once again strengthen.  After they completed their drawings, they were allowed to harvest what was written on the tag.  ( I think next time, I will have them also write a question they have about the plant they drew.) Included below is a picture of a student completing an observational drawing of a plant.

In every  Foodprint lesson, we always prepare a snack using vegetables and herbs we harvested in the garden. At the end of the lesson, we enjoy the meal together in a thoughtful and positive manner.