Experimenting with science classroom experience

young girl examining a test tube in a science class

Trying to find the right classroom formula takes considerable trial and error.

We are conducting a controlled experiment, of a sort, in a couple of high school science classes. We are seeking to determine whether we can capture the attention of seriously disaffected living environment students by significantly altering the their classroom experience. And to the extent that we can, we are seeking to determine whether teachers who are at their wit’s end will see the same progress with students that we see.

The context, which we see discouragingly often, are classes with many, many, students who show just about Continue reading

Work group forming for outdoor classroom project

Site plan 2017-01Want to roll up your sleeves and help make development of an outdoor classroom at Myers Middle School happen? We are looking mission-oriented folks who see the potential value in teaching and learning outdoors and getting kids working with their hands and using all of their sense to join a work group that will plan, solve problems and move this venture forward. We will be meeting this Saturday, Dec. 9, at 10 a.m. Please drop us a line at thevegetableproject@gmail.com if this sounds of interest to you.

Please visit http://vegetableproject.org/outdoor-classroom and http://vegetableproject.org/myers-middle-school-outdoor-classroom-background for all sorts of information about this idea.

–Bill Stoneman

Bringing living environment into living environment

Natural area6Let’s get on the record here that the formal name of New York’s regents-level biology course is “living environment.” This is significant because real encounters with the real living environment just might do good things for teaching and learning about this subject (but generally Natural area2play a negligible role in our schools’ approach to the class).

Of course the ability of the great outdoors to stimulate the senses could contribute to teaching and learning about every subject. But imagine the possibilities especially in the living environment class of student discovery of channels in a chunk of fallen tree, such as in the accompanying photograph taken at Albany High School, and then student exploration that determines that a beetle or other insect probably bored these channels and perhaps killed the tree.

This could open doors to consideration of invasive species or interdependence of living things and perhaps the impact of human activity on the environment or maybe climate change. And connecting the class to real world issues and developments might even make the class feel more relevant to students than the usual presentation of topic after topic.

Realizing these kinds of opportunities, of course, would require some degree of change in mindset. For one thing, it takes a leap of faith for teachers to believe that capturing the imagination of students and nurturing their connection-making skills can safely cover the same ground that the more traditional linear approach does. On top of that, taking energetic students outside would require teachers to do a whole new round of establishing classroom expectations. And leaving fallen tree branches or trunks in situ would also mean different thinking about grounds keeping.

The payoff, however, could be great.

–Bill Stoneman

Moving outdoor classroom project forward

May 2010 3Building our garden at Myers Middle School into an outdoor classroom may take considerably more than a village – maybe a village and a team and a movement. And maybe more than that. So we would be so pleased if you would be part of it, maybe by contributing ideas, or Succession growth1possibly a bit of knowledge or elbow grease or perhaps introducing to us to other people or resources. Involvement can surely range from joining a committee working on all of this to helping to address regulatory requirements and estimate construction costs to planning longer-range funding requirements to drafting detailed plans for specific elements to Continue reading

Why do we work so hard to get kids outside?

Jeffers winter sceneWhy do we talk so much about getting kids outdoors, in January when it’s freezing and in July when it’s broiling, when we know it is such a big challenge for their teachers? And so many of the kids aren’t eager either?

Here is a take on the subject from the Jeffers Foundation in Minnesota, which Continue reading

Connecting students to nature supports good health

A new study concludes that children’s respiratory health benefits from living near greenery. http://www.childrenandnature.org/2017/07/28/urban-biodiversity-affects-childrens-respiratory-health/?mc_cid=78c824fddc&mc_eid=3ddfa7c2d0

Arranging lives so that more children are raised near green spaces is awfully difficult. Schools, however, that see their mission more broadly than the Common Core, or at least recognize that the critical role that health plays in academic performance, can support some of the same possibilities by taking steps to get students nearer to nature more often, by bringing teaching and learning outside.

Indeed, the more attached we are to our digital devices, the more important developing outdoor classrooms become.

—Bill Stoneman

Moving outdoor classroom project forward

Site plan 2017-01We would be so grateful for all the help we can muster as we seek to build an outdoor classroom at Myers Middle School. More than that, community involvement will make a huge difference in our ability realize ambitious hopes for the project. So we would be so pleased if you would be part of this volunteer initiative, maybe by contributing ideas, or possibly a bit of knowledge or elbow grease or perhaps introducing to us to other people or resources. Continue reading

Why build outdoor classroom at Albany school?

Purple loosestrifeWhat exactly drives us to propose building an outdoor classroom at Myers Middle School? Why would we stay up nights thinking about taking on more than caring for vegetable garden beds? The garden beds already saddle us with those time-consuming fundraising initiatives, like soliciting Boxtops for Education, and those time-consuming chores in the garden, like Continue reading

Planting seeds to connect with disengaged students

Arugula seedlingsThe tiny specs of green in the accompanying photo, taken in the morning on Sunday, Oct. 1, are arugula seedlings. We scattered arugula seeds four days earlier, on Wednesday, Sept. 27. It’s worth noting that some seeds still germinate at this late point in the season. We are fairly confident, if not 100 percent certain, that leaves on these plants still have enough Continue reading

Something definitely worth finding down there

Last childIf we could hire Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, to explain what school gardening and the Vegetable Project and our work to create an outdoor classroom at Myers Middle School are about, he might come up with something like his essay There Might be Something Down There, posted at the Children & Nature Network website on Tuesday.

Pushing back against advocates for longer school days and longer school years, he says, “That approach just doesn’t seem to be working” and argues instead for encouraging kids to spend more time outside experiencing and exploring nature. “Nature connection doesn’t have the same impact on every young person. It’s not a panacea for education. It’s a doorway. That’s what a growing body of scientific evidence suggests.”

We could not agree more. Hope you will give it a read.

And here is a really nice piece on CNN about a kindred spirit of an individual and organization in Harlem.

http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/10/health/cnn-hero-tony-hillery-harlem-grown/index.html

Together, we can make a difference.

–Bill Stoneman