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The Mills College Children’s School as Urban Teacher Preparation: The Antithesis to Teach for America | Sara Sutherland

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Sara Sutherland, Head teacher at the Mills College Children's School

Sara Sutherland, Head teacher at the Mills College Children’s School

Teach for America is a program rife with good intentions: students in inner city schools will have the benefit of fresh blood and new perspectives in their classrooms, beleaguered schools will have the gift of idealistic new staff, the young TFA participants will be exposed to the realities of urban inner-city schools, which will hopefully broaden their perspectives. These are well-intended goals, and there have certainly been positive outcomes. I have several friends who are TFA graduates, and they speak of the horizon-expanding experience that Teach for America offered them, and how the program offered them a landing place when they were at an impasse in their young lives. Did any of these friends go on to teach beyond Teach for America? Not one.

Despite the intentions to improve the lives of students in urban schools, it would seem that the primary beneficiaries of Teach for America are the program participants. The students are exposed to yet another teacher that will leave them, if not due to burnout, then due to a planned departure, when, do-gooder vacation over, their teacher moves on to the next step in their “real “ lives.

What do we want for students in urban schools? I think we want what we want for all children: teachers who are devoted to children and the craft of teaching, who are committed to making this practice their “real” lives. It seems to me that a critical component for success for these teachers is adequately preparing them to be thoughtful practitioners in spite of and because of the very reality of the schools and lives of the children they serve.

I am a Head Teacher at an independent private laboratory school committed to a lens of social justice and preparing thoughtful teachers. I oversee a classroom of children with a staff 100% comprised of students preparing to become teachers, special education professionals, and Child Life practitioners. My top priority is providing safe, thoughtful early education and care to my young students – but a VERY close second is providing a laboratory for learning for my adult students to prepare them for thoughtful practice, wherever their careers will take them.

The Children’s School, my professional home for the past eight years, at times receives criticism for not being “real” enough for student teachers aiming to teach in urban settings. The teacher: child ratios in our classroom are excellent, even if most of the teachers are students themselves, here to learn. We have the luxury and the challenge of partnering with the School of Education on a college campus, and are tasked with ensuring our teaching of all constituencies is research-based and context-appropriate. We have something that many schools are not fortunate enough to have: time. Each day we can debrief with our student teachers to discuss the daily experience, provide support, offer feedback, assist in formulating questions, and model reflection. Perhaps this luxury is the other side of the “real world” coin flipped nonchalantly by speed teacher education programs. However, I would argue that our model of teacher education provides an immersive context for teachers learning to be reflective practitioners. As a Head Teacher, I am incredibly intentional of ensuring that my students be exposed to and allowed to practice reflective teaching so they can develop highly personalized modes of reflection and resilience – so that these can be taken with them as part of their bag of teaching tricks into settings that do not – cannot – offer this luxury of time.

The Urban Teaching Education Consortium recently published a thought-provoking position paper in the Washington Post that critiques the speed teacher-preparation programs and posits a set of recommendations for preparing teachers for urban settings. I was struck – and professionally inspired — by how many of their recommendations for urban teacher preparation we are addressing in our practicum setting for teachers. I am gratified to teach in an environment that places such emphasis in preparing teachers to be deeply thoughtful; that encourages them to know their students and themselves and use this knowledge to create learning communities; that encourages novice teachers to question the why’s of teaching mandates; that models inquiry as a stance. It is gratifying to read the Consortium’s recommendations and know that my work in my context is serving children in more “typical” urban schools through the teachers I am helping to prepare.

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Sara Sutherland, MA, is an alumna of the Masters in Education program at Mills. She has been a Head Teacher in the preschool program at the Children’s School since 2007.

Written by collegialconnections

October 20, 2014 at 10:19 am

Transitioning to School: How Successful Beginnings Create a Sense of Positive School Identity | Sara Sutherland

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“Transitions form a life-long matrix of human life through which all children and adults move gradually from known into unknown realms of experience,”  -Nancy Balaban, 2011.

The new school year is well underway at Mills College Children’s School. Children and families are learning routines and the children and teachers are getting to know one another. Our teaching teams, comprised of Children’s School Head Teachers and student teachers from the School of Education, are delving daily into the rich and challenging work of teaching: observing the children’s play and thinking; building relationships with families and planning thoughtful, engaging curriculum to provoke exploration. Head Teachers hold fast to our commitment to thoughtful, relationship-based care and using inquiry as a stance.

Infant/Toddler Head Teacher, Seferina Rivera at snack time

Infant/Toddler Head Teacher, Seferina Rivera at snack time

One of the primary tenets of the Head Teachers’ work is to continually consider the importance of successful transitions. The beginning of school transition is not simply how the school year begins, it is part of developing a life-long sense of self as a person who can transition—who can see themselves outside their families as a person who is competent and confident. How do the Head Teachers support all members of the community — children, families, and student teachers -­- in this transition?  The Infant-Toddler and Kindergarten classrooms are often the first entry points to school for children and can be pivotal transitions for the whole family. Seferina Rivera and Jenny Bond, Head Teachers in these programs, share some thoughts below.

Seferina Rivera is beginning her eleventh year as a Head Teacher in the Infant-Toddler program.  For most children and families, the Infant-Toddler room is their first experience of care outside of the home. As they think about building classroom community, Seferina and afternoon Head Teacher, Virginia McKone, find themselves focusing on the individuals in the classroom. For children and families, the Infant-Toddler Program offers many opportunities to become more familiar with one another and the classroom setting; families are invited to visit the classroom during the summer, teachers visit the children at home and classroom play dates are encouraged prior to the start of school.  “These repeated visits offer families a chance to see their child as part of the group” Seferina shared, “and often raise questions about how their child’s individual needs will be met in this setting.” This transition is about the whole family, as the child experiences being a member of a new setting, and the family learns about their child in the context of a group. Individual details about each child’s cultural caregiving preferences from many conversations and observations are recorded and shared with the student teachers, serving to create deeper understanding in both constituencies. For both families and student teachers, the Head Teachers encourage open dialogue as they support the children in the process of transitioning from home to school-based care.

Mills College's laboratory school's Kindergarten class

Head Teacher, Jenny Bond with the Children’s School’s Kindergarten class

“At the beginning of the year, everything I do is about transition,” reflected Jenny Bond, Kindergarten teacher. The Kindergarten transition is about supporting children, families and student teachers in feeling a sense of “belonging, autonomy and competence.” Jenny uses this goal to guide her teaching style, including the language she uses, the books she reads and how she structures drop-off in the beginning of the year. One of Jenny’s main objectives is to ensure that each child feels she or he has a place in the new classroom community, and a primary way she does this is to be very intentional about how she utilizes the children’s names.  On the first days of school, the children see their names in print in many places in the classroom: on their cubbies, at their table seat and at their ‘spot’ on the gathering rug. In addition, Jenny greets them by name several times each day: as they come to school, during morning meeting and as she works with them throughout the day. Jenny makes this practice visible to her student teachers through teaching team discussions prior to the school year and through modeling on the floor.

Being a part of these transitions, both as witnesses and participants, offers a chance for creating relationships and allowing a deeper understanding of our role as guides. Thinking about the beginning-of-school transition can help us as practitioners have a greater understanding and respect for how transitions are a part of life. By exploring how practitioners work with children and teachers in different developmental stages, we can see not only how needs might change as children move from egocentric infants and toddlers to independent elementary students but also how the human need for belonging and a sense of competence remain the same.

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Founded in 1926 as the first campus laboratory school west of Chicago, the nationally-recognized Mills College Children’s School provides a model setting for child study and teacher education based on the six core values of the Mills College School of Education. The Children’s School is also a base for the advocacy of best practices and the care and education of young children. Visitors from the Mills community and from around the world come to observe. The Children’s School currently serves 145 children between the ages of five months to ten years old and is the practicum site for 47 student teachers.

Sara Sutherland, MA, is an alumna of the Masters in Education program at Mills. She has been a Head Teacher in the preschool program at the Children’s School since 2007

Written by collegialconnections

September 25, 2014 at 12:32 pm

The Happy Eating Place: How Elementary Students Can Run Their Own Business | Whitney Walker

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The menu changes every time they open, and specialties range from turkey pozole to hearty fish chowder, quinoa salad to broccoli pasta, and blueberry scones to cheesy pigs-in-blankets. They use only organic, low-sugar ingredients and sustainably-raised meats or vegetarian alternatives. But this is not a fancy, five-star restaurant. It’s an elementary school, and all the chefs are fourth and fifth graders.

Anne Malamud’s 4/5 class at Mills College Children’s School, the laboratory school for the School of Education at Mills College in Oakland, California, is learning how to run a successful business and to make a difference in their own community. Calling their entrepreneurial venture the Happy Eating Place(HEP), the students originally set out just to prepare healthy snacks on campus and raise money for a yet-to-be determined nonprofit organization, but Malamud saw the opportunity for a service learning initiative with broader goals that would include social justice issues within our society. Now in its second year of operation, the HEP’s mission has grown to include educating others about nutrition, the importance of sustainable farming, and the roots of hunger in America. This has included writing pamphlets, giving talks, and creating a presentation.

Service learning projects can be developed at any grade level. It may require extra work when teachers alter their plans to integrate student-driven, hands-on lessons in their math, writing, social studies, and science curricula, but that work pays dividends in student engagement. Here are five easy steps to start a service learning business model in your classroom.

1. Find an Entry Point That Excites Students

Fresh off a nutrition unit where they learned about digestion in the human body and picked up a few simple, healthy recipes, the class became enthusiastic about the idea of using food as a basis for a service learning project. Malamud saw an opportunity to teach basic economics in the context of running a business, and brought in a financial planner (one of her parents) to explain about initial investments, gross and net profits, and how to price items and predict sales.

2. Give Every Student a Stake in the Project

In order to run a successful classroom business, every student needs to have a job — cooks, servers, cashier, accountant, marketing team, even dishwasher. A range of jobs can accommodate the range of abilities in the group. Artists who like to draw and make posters are great on the marketing team, those who like to move around can make great servers, and those who like to cook can cook! Students learn that every job is important, and they see the interconnectedness of each job. They are more invested in the project, and more excited about working together toward a common goal.

3. Incorporate Daily Curriculum into Business Lessons

While cooking, students practice multiplying and dividing fractions to increase and decrease their recipes. To drum up interest in their healthy bake sales, the marketing team writes and maintains a blog and visits other classrooms to talk about their mission. This year, HEP expanded to include a restaurant, where students served a four-course meal to families and staff, researching recipes related to their current social studies unit (i.e. Old World vs. New World foods). Students are more engaged and excited about doing class assignments when they relate to their business model.

4. Look Beyond the Classroom

Since HEP is centered on a cooking model and the class had already studied a unit on nutrition, Malamud had an idea to incorporate a particular service learning component within their business project. She asked her students, “What happens when people don’t have access to good nutrition?” To answer the question, she showed a documentary called A Place at the Table about hunger in America, organized a field trip to a local sustainable farm, and set up a volunteer partnership with the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Students decided that they wanted all of their HEP profits to go to the Food Bank, and over the course of two years, they’ve donated close to $1,000 to that cause. And because each dollar raised for the Food Bank has the buying power of four dollars, students can use the Food Bank’s online shopping cart to see just how much their donation is buying.

5. Let Them Make Mistakes

After their first few initial successes, students voted to make organic fruit smoothies for one dollar each at their next bake sale. Malamud knew that the ingredients would be expensive, but she let the students learn their own lesson and lose money on the sale, prompting the team to think about whether they could serve smaller portions or charge more. Another time, a measuring error resulted in salty scones, and the marketing team went class to class talking to their fellow classmates about the error and rebuilding trust in their product. In their second year as a business, HEP added a new job — a Satisfaction Manager who interviews customers after each sale so that the team can discuss what worked well and what they might do differently next time. Sometimes, this requires changing the recipe, increasing advertising, or surveying their clientele. Even if the only solution is to take an item off the menu, the students learn an important business lesson.

The Happy Eating Place is an unusual leadership opportunity for fourth and fifth graders, and perhaps that is the reason for its success. Even young elementary students can excel when given the hands-on experience of running a business, and also seeing how they can effect bigger change in the world.

Please tell us about any service learning or student-driven nutrition projects at your school.

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Whitney is the Admissions Director at MCCS and has been a professional journalist for 20 years. She enjoys working with the 4/5 class’s marketing team to maintain their Happy Eating Place blog.

This article was originally posted on Edutopia in July 2014.

Written by collegialconnections

August 28, 2014 at 11:10 am

Those Who Can, Teach | Julia Beers

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Julia Beers is a Mills Alumna who currently completed her credential program in Teaching through Mill School of Education MEET Program.

Julia Beers is an educator, alumna and completed her teaching credential at Mills College in the School of Education MEET Program. She is currently working on her Master’s.

“Teachers must recognize in a conscious and deliberate manner their own worth as an interpretive community” (Fecho 1993).

Somehow, the pervasive and ridiculous saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach,” had escaped my ears until I was in my mid-twenties. I remember hearing it in a movie while working on my credential at Mills and couldn’t believe that this quote could possibly be so widespread. I knew at that point, from first hand experience, what a complex art it is to be a teacher, how deeply one has to know one’s subject, students, and self in order to teach well. This quote seemed profoundly mistaken to me.

Over the years, as I have talked about my work with friends and family, I have been struck by their common misconceptions of what teachers do. When I arrive at a dinner date with friends and say, “Sorry I’m late. I was at work until six today,” I am often met with inquiring gazes, and sometimes asked, “so…what do you all afternoon? Don’t the kids leave at 2:15?” I am continually surprised that many people do not know a teacher’s job goes on long after the bell rings. And so I bring my busy and yet unseen afternoon into the light, telling them about the thought and preparation that goes into each lesson, my assessment of student work, collaboration with colleagues, and communication with parents. Amidst these daily components of my job, I may also share about the unexpected challenges that have arisen on that particular day, working to get Medical set up for a family, keeping a student late to re-teach an important math concept, or gathering classroom materials for a newly admitted student. In telling these stories of what it truly means to be a teacher, I can do my part to slowly debunk the oppressive and mistaken portrait of the teacher that has been drawn in our minds.

So often teachers are overworked and have little extra time to be involved in the creation and critique of education discourse. It is a marginalization cycle that perpetuates itself: policy-makers are removed from the classroom and so do not seek to change the circumstances that teachers face, and since the public is not familiar with the reality of teaching, many continue to believe stories about the lazy or ignorant teacher. Seeing themselves reflected as such in the public eye, teachers often internalize these erroneous concepts, and then remain further silenced. If we are to break out of this system of teacher marginalization, we as teachers must recognize our own worth. Our voices must extend beyond our classroom walls, as we confer and deliberate within teacher communities. We must share our stories with others and develop a language for challenging misconceptions when we hear them. By bringing our expertise into the formal and informal arenas of education discourse, the meaningful, difficult, and activist work that we engage in daily can be more publicly seen and understood.

 

Written by collegialconnections

May 28, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Perspectives from an ESL student | Zubin Hu

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ImageZubin is a student in Teachers for Tomorrow’s Schools. For two different classes, Zubin was required to select a student (ELD student preferred, but not required) from the classroom where he student-teaches. Zubin wrote the piece below in response to case studies he did in those classes. He chose the topic because he had not seen anyone mention anything on it and wanted others to be aware of the differences between the terms.

 

Some definitions (from www.pps.k12.or.us/files/curriculum/ESL_Terminology.doc):

ELL/ EL- English Language Learners/ English Learners

ELD- English Language Development is a system of instruction focused on teaching ELLs to use English proficiently to communicate for various purposes in four language domains – speaking, listening, reading, and writing. ELD is also a class period that all students placed in the ESL Program are assigned.  It has its own curriculum and state standards.

ELP- English Language Proficiency are levels of English language learners’ fluency based on their stage of language acquisition and characterized by specific student language behaviors in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The levels are determined by State ELPA Test. Level 1 is Beginner.  Level 2 is Early-Intermediate. Level 3 is Intermediate.  Level 4 is Early- Advanced.  Level 5 is Advanced.

ELPA- English Language Proficiency Assessment is the annual state exam for assessing English learners’ growth in English proficiency

ESL- English as a Second Language

To many people, the phrases “ESL”, “EL”, “ELL”, and “ELD” are the same thing. However, to me, they are different. I am an ESL student, and “ESL” is the only one among the four definitions listed above that I’d love to be identified as. Being an ESL student implies that I can speak another language and may have language barrier. On the other hand, being an EL, ELL, or ELD basically means one has language barrier.

For my case studies on language, I found two students whose home languages are not English. However, they both refused to participate. I felt that they both were anxious about English being their second language. One student even lied. He told me that he was born in Berkeley, and he only speaks English at home. I mentioned this to my roommate, who is also an ESL student, and he said that when he was in school, he didn’t want people know that he was in the ELD program because he was worried people would look down on him. When I asked him if he wanted to be identified as an ESL student, he said that would be better for him because he would have the privilege of speaking two languages.

I understand that some other people don’t want to be identified with any of the four terms above. However, we, as educators, should affirm students’ identities and encourage them be proud.

One day while I was talking to my case study student, she reminded me that teachers often tell ELD students to write the definitions in their native languages. I followed this method myself when I was in school and wrote the Chinese translation of the words I didn’t know. I used to read each article at least three times. The first time reading the article, I basically just looked for the words I didn’t understand and wrote down the definition. The second time reading the article, I just tried to make sense of the article. If I found any definition didn’t make sense, I would go back to the dictionary and find an alternative. The third time reading the article, I was trying to understand it. My reading speed was slow. I spent much more time than other students to understand an article. After doing this for a year, I got tired of it and found that it wasn’t very helpful. English is such a complicated language because so many words have more than one meaning. Also, if a word is used in different context, the definition may be different. I then stopped writing the definition for every word that I didn’t know. Instead, I just tried to figure out the meaning through the context. If I still really had no idea what a word meant, then I look it up in the dictionary and choose the one that makes the most sense.

To many ESL students, especially in high school level, math and science are their favorite subjects. Maybe favorite is not very accurate, and I should use easier-to-catch-up-to instead. We come in with some understanding of those subjects. All we need is just to translate them into English and make sense of them.

Math class was very important to me in high school. I built my confidence in speaking and working with native speakers. Even though I didn’t understand much of the language, I did understand the examples or content. When I got home, I just focused on the vocabulary. Eventually, I was able to understand most of the things talked about in class. This approach may be limited to only a small number of individuals, but this definitely works in some cases including my own. I believe that vocabulary instruction is essential to effective math and science instruction. It not only includes teaching math or science specific terms such as “mean” or “percent,” but also includes understanding the difference between the mathematical or scientific definition of a word and other definitions of that word.

How ELL students feel about themselves is directly affected by the education policies put in place for English Language Learners.  Education policy makers set strict English language standards and push for ESL students to acquire English language proficiency at a rapid pace.  This urgent focus on language acquisition creates anxiety for ELL/ESL students.  Are there any influences we, as educators, bring to ELLs?  If teachers are not sensitive to or responsive toward ELLs’ cultural identities, ELL students can be pushed further toward the fringes of the classroom until they ultimately withdraw from the learning process.  If teachers focus so much energy on mainstreaming ESL students, they will place little or no value on students’ ability to speak two languages.  Acknowledging and affirming all students’ cultural identities in the classroom strengthens individuals’ sense of value, and their academic performance in the long run.  Teachers who understand and support the cultural norms of diverse learners help create a nurturing environment for those students, and can then encourage those students to feel more comfortable in taking the risks that can lead to so much learning and development.  By incorporating the wealth of students’ cultural backgrounds into the curriculum educators can advance the learning of all students, meeting the policy makers’ goals and fulfilling our obligations to all of our students.  The question, then remains: how do we build a curriculum that integrates multicultural backgrounds on an ongoing basis, and not just as a one-time multicultural event or activity?

Written by collegialconnections

February 5, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Thinking Outside the Box Part II: How One School Is Doing Things Differently| Laurie Grassi-Redmond

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Laurie Grassi-Redmond earned her Masters in Education at Mills College in 2002. While there she was asked to work as the head teacher of the combined fourth and fifth grade classroom at the Mills College Children’s School.

Laurie Grassi-Redmond earned her Masters in Education at Mills College in 2002. She was also the head teacher of the combined fourth and fifth grade classroom at the Mills College Children’s School.

I wrote a post for this blog back in February, when I was planning to open a new school in Freedom, Maine. Shortly after writing the post, I held some informational sessions at local public libraries in the area. I wanted to see how many families might be interested in this type of school. It’s really outside of the box: three days a week, half of every school day spent outside, a truly multi-age setting of 5-10 year-colds all together, two full-time teachers, preparing and eating meals together made from local, organic foods… I just didn’t know if there would be enough interest to make a go of it.

At the first information session, one person showed up.

Students documenting what they learn.

Students documenting what they learn.

Three came to the second, and three came to the third. I paused to reconsider the idea. I thought deeply, talked to all my people, and decided in the end to go ahead with it. Even if I could get ten children, I figured, at least I would have a wonderful school environment for my own two daughters, and I would be able to provide what I feel is the best that education has to offer to another eight local children.

Students at the Mill School working in their classroom during a lesson.

Students at the Mill School working in their classroom during a lesson.

Well, The Mill School opened its doors on September 10th, fully enrolled with twenty local children, ages five to ten, and another eighteen on the waiting list. As it turns out, a lot of people are interested in exactly this kind of school. And so far, things are going as smoothly as can be expected at a brand new school. My colleague and I have changed the daily schedule about five times already. But the children are relaxed and happy, the parents are so supportive, and we have time to really get to know the children, as people, and as learners. Our first place-based curricular unit has begun, our food is delicious, and we are spending a lot of time outside, building strong bodies and connecting to the natural environment. The children are learning the daily routines. It feels to me as if this outside-of-the-box school is blossoming. As one student said to me yesterday, “It’s so weird. At my old school, the teacher was the enemy. But here, you’re just not. You two, like, seem to really care about us.” I smiled, and she paused before she added, “And the food here is so good too!”

I am always interested in hearing about other schools where things are being done differently; please let me know if you have a story to share. You can contact me, and learn more about The Mill School, at www.themillschool.org

Written by collegialconnections

October 10, 2013 at 10:51 am

School Gardens | Elizabeth Baker

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Elizabeth Baker is the Associate Professor of Practice TTS/Math-Science 4 + 1 Program Director at the School of Education at Mills College.

A “Stumpery” in an English Garden.

“What we observe is not nature itself but nature observed to our method of questioning.” –Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy

In 1995, California launched the “Garden in Every School” program, and since then the Department of   Education has provided standards, curriculum, and evaluative research for school gardens. In addition, the legislature has enacted several bills that promote and (partially) fund school gardens. In 2003, when I was hired to work on an NSF grant using a garden-based mathematics curriculum, there were 3,000 public edible school gardens in California. By 2008 when our grant ended, there were 6,000 schools participating in the edible school garden movement (http://cns.ucdavis.edu/news/index.cfm). Currently, the California School Garden Network reckons that there are close to 10,000 schools participating.

Our state continues to emphasize nutrition education and health through the CA Nutrition Services Department, which now manages the Garden in Every School program. Consequently, we see many raised bed vegetable boxes on typically asphalt-covered or flat green space. School gardens in public urban areas generally do not contain intimate spaces, wild spaces, or even much digging room. Often there is no place to sit or gather a group of students together. There are exceptions, most notably The Edible School Yard at the MLK garden in Berkeley, and two of my favorite spaces: Franklin Elementary and Joaquin Miller in Oakland.  Although there are detractors, the most incendiary being Caitlin Flanagan (Cultivating Failure in the January 1, 2010 issue of the Atlantic Monthly), incorporating a school garden into elementary and some secondary schools continues to be on the side of the angels, and research backs up the academic and social/behavioral merits. (See, for example, Lieberman and Hoody, Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning, a 1992 paper presented at the State Education and Environmental Roundtable San Diego; D. Blair, The Child in the Garden: An Evaluative review of the Benefits of School Gardening, in the Journal of Environmental Education, Winter, Vol. 40, issue 2 in 2009.)

Another example of a “Stumpery” in England.

I recently returned from an inspiring trip to England that included visits to gardens, including school gardens. I was struck by the diversity and creative use of small school garden spaces for academic use. Perhaps because there has been a long history of gardening as a national pastime, of small home gardens, and of community vegetable allotments, the educational use focused more on creating interesting, diverse, and/or beautiful spots for students to be in –in other words, the emphasis was more on wonder and less on fava beans.For example, some schools, taking their lead from the British Natural History Museum, and perhaps less worried about bee stings or law suits from bee stings, kept bee houses if they found bees near the school. If there was a source of unwanted timber, typically tree stumps, schools made “stumperies”. When I asked what were the best kind of stumps for stumperies, I was told “the ones available!” These are seeded with ferns and soil then left to be; as they decompose, they become a great habitat. Schools emphasize increasing wildlife and diversity, and the students are counting, year after year. Counting the rain, the sun, the clouds, the insects, the arachnids, the birds, the ferns, and the plants that appear. The students use data from past years’ classes, and as the years add up so do the questions and evidence about what new has arrived and in what quantities, what the climate is up to, and what change is happening. Elementary gardens don’t look so elementary. They are intensely local just as the students are.

A home for bees made out of a tree.

I know that some of our schools are doing these kinds of things too: creating habitat gardens for butterflies; bee- and pollinator-friendly plantings that may include vegetables too, and other naturalized and native plant areas. But even though we live in a place where we can harvest strawberries in November, it is hard work and most of the work falls on the shoulders of teachers. I can attest to the community building and wonderful things that can happen on “community garden days” (a euphuism for weeding) in our local public schools, but I am hoping we can opt for a certain spaciousness of thinking and planning in our school garden spaces that allow for things to emerge –a constructivist approach to school gardens, if you will. Let’s resist the pressing urge to align all of the garden work to the standards, guidelines, and benchmarks, and justify it with the test scores. Resist imposing specific questions with correct answers. Resist imposing order to the planter boxes. Let’s instead create spaces that invite paying close attention, welcoming places for students to be idle and just observe and develop their own method for questions.

 

Written by collegialconnections

August 28, 2013 at 3:45 pm

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