Category Archives: Teaching

Why garden? Why the Vegetable Project?

Broccoli June8What exactly drives us to build gardens at Albany schools and then lead kids out to them? Why would we bother with those time-consuming fundraising initiatives, like Boxtops for Education, and those time-consuming chores in the garden, like weeding and watering? And what is the big deal about growing some of our own lettuce and tomatoes, when it’s so cheap in the supermarket? And why do we try to keep it up all year long?

Please visit http://vegetableproject.org/why-garden-why-the-vegetable-project/ and http://vegetableproject.org/why-garden-2-why-the-vegetable-project/ for two earlier shot at answering these questions. This time, however, please consider the experience of a number of Minnesota educators as presented in a couple of great videos by the Jeffers Foundation, which funds development of school gardens in the Gopher State and teaches teachers how to use the great outdoors as a classroom. http://www.jeffersfoundation.org/school-gardens-overview-videos.php .

—Bill Stoneman

Surrounding pedagogy with nature to boost results

"Quaker Education – Outdoor Classroom"New research continues to strengthen the case for devoting school resources and time to connecting kids with greenery. One paper just published describes an experiment that found students better focused on instruction when they’re back in the indoor classroom after a lesson outside in a more natural setting. Even the sight of trees and natural landscape from classroom windows, according to the authors of Continue reading

Moving outdoor classroom project forward (#4)

TOAST pavillion2Our thoughts about developing an outdoor classroom at Myers Middle School began with the idea of building a structure that would provide some shade, where classes might gather. It is critical that we learn from the experience of others who have gone down any of the same paths we are looking at.

Thus, it would be very useful if a friend would reach out to teachers and building leaders at the Thomas O’Brien Academy of Science and Technology (TOAST) and seek out thoughts on the pavilion built there about five years ago. The important question to ask is “what would you do differently if you knew then what you know now?” Asking if teachers like the pavilion won’t tell us much. Asking if they use the pavilion might get us slightly closer to useful information. But really we want to know why they use it or why they do not.

This, of course, is just one of several pieces of the project we could really use help with. Please visit here to learn more about this project and the thinking about it. And please read the first, second and third previous posting on moving this project forward.

—Bill Stoneman

Why work so hard to get kids outside (#2)?

Summer club 2011-2Hang around the kind of high school where droves of students do not graduate or graduate on time and you might hear about all sorts of efforts to provide students with more support in classes seemingly posing the most significant challenges. Tutoring after school, breaking year-long algebra classes into two years and writing daily learning objectives on the board, among others.

These tactics, however, do not necessarily address issues that for too many Continue reading

Just what is an outdoor classroom (#2)?

Outdoor classroomThe Vegetable Project proposes to build an outdoor classroom at Myers Middle School. But what exactly is that?

We took one shot at answering this question on Aug. 12, 2017. But here is another: We are thinking of an outdoor space that offers teaching and learning opportunities that are unlikely to work quite as well indoors, taking advantage especially of stimulation of all the senses, the contribution that contact with nature makes to wellbeing and the real-world experiences that can make learning feel relevant. Perhaps, however, that still does not explain what exactly an outdoor classroom is.

It is worth knowing then that there really is no single definition. The term is used differently by different people, different developers and different schools. A look, however, at how others use the term reveals some pretty exciting possibilities.

The Jeffers Foundation in Minnesota, for example, casts everything on the other side of the schoolhouse window as an outdoor classroom and encourages teachers to bring classes outside to explore and to find creative ways to present the same lessons they teach indoors. The foundation, which describes its mission as supporting environmental stewardship through education, offers tons of great ideas and support material at its web site. We would presumably have to travel to attend one of its signature workshops, titled The Outdoor Classroom; Team Teaching with Mother Nature. But videos and PowerPoint presentations at the web site could really help an enterprising teacher get started.

—Bill Stoneman

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 (#3)

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