Category Archives: Science

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

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

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

A flower in our garden with peril and promise

Purple loosestrifeThe flower in the accompanying picture is rather attractive, don’t you think? And it’s popping up here and there around our garden at Myers Middle School. Only problem with the herbaceous perennial plant, Lythrum salicaria, which occurs naturally in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa and Australia, is a minor tendency to push out native plants in North Continue reading

Proposing an outdoor classroom at middle school

Site plan 2017-01The Vegetable Project, which has been digging in the dirt at Myers Middle School since 2009, proposes further developing space around its gardens to create an outdoor classroom for the school. The idea is that an outdoor classroom would serve as a living science laboratory, a place where English classes might be encouraged to write and art students might be given a chance to observe. In each Continue reading

With support, Vegetable Project season never ends

last-harvest-dec1We pulled up the last of our root vegetables last week – carrots, turnips and beets that we started from seed in late July and early August. But the Vegetable Project season is not nearly over (and really never is). For example, we will prepare some tasty dishes with these and more that we grew in the weeks ahead with our Myers Middle School Garden Club. And it is pretty safe Continue reading

Partnership opportunity for enterprising teachers

Cambridge pix2Help wanted: Seeking a classroom teacher, or maybe two or three, maybe a science teacher or maybe a family and consumer science teacher, but maybe something else as well, to partner with the Vegetable Project in curating our gardens and school yards as a class project and an alternative approach to teaching and learning. More than just name plants, we Continue reading

Cautiously starting to compost at Albany High

We are moving ever so gingerly toward composting fruit and vegetable scraps at Albany High. In time, this could be one of the best things we do.

Decomposition is aided by a mix of nitrogen-rich "green materials," such as fresh fruit scraps, and carbon-rich "brown" materials, such as dried plant stalks.

Decomposition is aided by a mix of nitrogen-rich “green materials,” such as fresh fruit scraps, and carbon-rich “brown” materials, such as dried plant stalks.

How, you wonder, could deadly dull composting ever compare to plucking beans and peas from the vine and popping them right in your mouth? How could it possibly compare with getting kids who say they don’t eat greens to try them and to then to declare that they truly like them? How could it provide the satisfaction of a fall harvest?

Well, we see the initiative as a route to engaging students in conversation about environmental challenges and the role that individuals can play in meeting these challenges. Composting can trim use of fossil fuel-dependent fertilizers. It can save landfill space. And it  Continue reading

Undeveloping school grounds to teach about nature

The grounds around Buckingham Pond, maybe a mile and a half from Albany High School, aren’t kept as tidy as we once expected our public parks to be. And with good reason, as explained on the sign in the first accompanying photograph. All the sculpting and groomiNo mow zoneng and lawn-mowing we subject hill and dale to in parks and office campuses and at golf courses and schoolyards destroy habitat that plants and animals depend on. And diverse populations of flora and fauna actually are good for the health of our communities and maybe even the sustainability of life on this planet.

So here’s a thought: If Albany’s Department of General Services can take the long Continue reading