Why a garden? Why the Vegetable Project? (#7)

What exactly drives us to build gardens at Albany schools and then lead kids out to them?

It is the Vegetable Project’s mission to create hands-on learning opportunities for children in Albany, and especially children with great needs, by building gardens, growing plants and harnessing the power of exposure to nature. But why?

We strive to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged kids in our community who struggle academically and Continue reading

Why do we work so hard to get kids outside (#4)?

“Individuals who visit natural spaces weekly, and feel psychologically connected to them, report better physical and mental wellbeing, new research has shown,” according to a news release issued by the University of Plymouth in England, where the report’s lead author is based. If you spend time in schools where academic performance measurements are troubling, the findings, published in the British Journal of Environmental Psychology, just might feel very relevant.

We at the Vegetable Project talk about getting kids outdoors, in January Continue reading

Why do we work so hard to get kids outside (#3)?

Why 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 an earlier take on the subject. And another. And another.  

And here is more: Scholars at the University of Exeter in England note in a Scientific Reports article published last year that researchers have found Continue reading

Lessons about schooling from N.H. district

Schools far and wide are flummoxed by the nearly no-win choice between in-the-classroom instruction and teaching over the Internet. It would be hard to overstate how cumbersome virtual instruction is, given learning-curve challenges with the online platforms, connectivity issues and endless distractions in so many students’ homes. But safety in the school building is a huge concern.

The Contoocook Valley School District in Peterborough, N.H., however, Continue reading

Opportunity to make teaching meaningful

Maybe you noticed the Times Union article last week under the headline “Battle against invasive bug in Lake George intensifies.”

Maybe you learned by reading the article, or maybe you already knew, that the eastern hemlock, an integral part of New York forests, is under siege. The hemlock woolly adelgid, a tiny aphid-like insect from East Asia, is unfortunately doing great harm to hemlock trees by feeding on its sap.

Maybe you knew about this because you noticed the sickly looking hemlock trees scattered around the perimeter of Albany High School, such as in the Continue reading

Outdoor classroom for its educational value

Imagine a middle school where teachers can offer classes a change of scenery, and especially a change that will bolster seriously valuable contact with nature. And imagine a school where a greenhouse, with space for visiting classes to work, is warm enough in January to nurture slow growth of leafy green vegetables. Where a fruit tree orchard beckons. And where bird, mammal and insect Continue reading

Sowing seeds of student engagement in garden

We try as best we can to create hands-on learning opportunities for students and to put doing and touching and tasting and experiencing at the center of teaching and learning. It makes a difference in how fully students engage.

So a favorite moment, which builds on plants like ones in the accompanying pictures from the Vegetable Project’s garden at Albany High School, is especially accessible around now, at the end of August. Annual plants here, some so misshapen that it’s close to impossible to guess what they are, have gone to seed! That is to say the plants have reached a developmental stage of their life cycle characterized by production seeds necessary to carry the species forward into the next generation.

And when we put the seed head puff ball from a lettuce plant in a student’s hand and suggest pushing that fuzz around until seeds fall into the palm, there’s a pretty good chance that we capture some interest. There’s a pretty good chance that such interest will heighten attentiveness long after the hands-on piece winds down. Sometimes we do even better by quickly sowing some of the very seeds we just collected. And if we really work at it, we can expose students to a plant’s entire life cycle – from production of seeds by one generation’s plant to production of seeds by its offspring – and pique interest in the process that would make teaching and learning a more fulfilling experience for all involved than what usually happens.

Want to experience this yourself? Please stop and say hello if you pass our gardens and see someone there. Or please get in touch and we’ll make arrangements.

And what plants are pictured here? Two lettuce varieties, kale, basil and cilantro.

— Bill Stoneman

Making outdoor learning a part of education

Many thanks to the Times Union for publishing our thoughts this morning about outdoor instruction, which regular readers might know has long been a theme of ours:

As New York schools prepare to welcome students back, educators are wrestling with what the school day will look like and where it will occur. School districts seem to suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic leaves Continue reading

Buying flower bulbs supports Vegetable Project

Planting flower bulbs in the fall is a great way to add spring color to your garden. And it does even more than that when you buy the bulbs in our Flower Power Fundraiser now through Oct. 15. 

The Vegetable Project receives half of all proceeds raised by our sale of bulbs. And that means that you contribute to our program to create hands-on learning opportunities for Albany kids when you buy bulbs. It means you support our work at teaching kids where their food comes from. It means that you support outdoor instruction. It means that you help us make a difference with kids who benefit from doing and touching and tasting and experiencing. And so much more.

Please click here to see the selection and place your order: http://vegetableproject.fpfundraising.com.

Life in the garden gives immediacy to learning

We put kale seeds in the soil at our Albany High garden about two weeks ago. They germinated quickly. And a number of plants, as seen in the accompanying picture, reached reached about an inch tall in no time at all. No big deal. That’s what kale seeds do. And we expect these to grow well into the cold weather. Again, no big deal. That’s what kale plants do.

At the same time, these seedlings offer a glimpse at something that we at the Vegetable Project would say ought to be a far more central element of teaching and learning in our schools – real tangible, immediate opportunity to learn from first-hand doing and touch and tasting and experiencing. You see, there’s a small story behind these seedlings, that still isn’t really a big deal, but is distinctly different than the prelude to the usual school lesson. The seeds were taken from the seed pods in the second picture down. And the seed pods formed on the mature plant in the third picture, which is a few feet away from the young plants. Go a step farther, and note that the mature plant survived last winter out in our garden. And then note that with just a bit more discipline, we ought to be able to expose kids to the entire life cycle of plants again and again.

Maybe pollination, sexual reproduction, formation of seeds, soil health, one species very different environmental needs than another’s and so many more facets of making plants grow show up somewhere in New York state’s holy learning standards and curriculum. But that’s not even the point here. The point is that doing and touching and first-hand experiences are tremendously more effective motivators than “because it’s going to be on the test on Friday.”

And if guiding our most disadvantaged students to positive outcomes is our goal, then we should be paying more attention to motivation. We’re not talking about making school fun. But we can make it a more positive experience than it is for so many kids.

–Bill Stoneman