Connecting with nature for equity and rigor

“When we address privilege and inequity, access to nature should be high on our list,” says Kate Ehrenfeld Gardoqui in The Irrefutable Case for Taking Class Outside in the current issue of Education Week. Gardoqui, a senior associate with the Great Schools Partnership and the cofounder of White Pine Programs, a nature- Continue reading

Won’t want to miss Evening in the Garden

The Vegetable Project’s fourth annual Evening in the Garden is set for Wednesday, Sept. 18, at the garden at Myers Middle School. You won’t want to miss it. The food will be great. We’ll show you around the garden. Learn from demonstrations. Bring a sample of your garden soil and we’ll measure the pH for you.

The garden is behind the school building. We’ll move inside if it rains.

We would be pleased if you would let us know that you are coming at Eventbrite or our Facebook event.

We would be grateful if you would stand up and be counted as a friend of our all-volunteer effort to create hands-on learning opportunities for Albany kids with great needs by becoming a member of the event’s honorary committee. We will include your name in an event program when you make a $25 contribution. Again, please visit Eventbrite.

Many thanks for 10 years of support. Please look for the Vegetable Project on Facebook, Instagram and Evenbrite for word of the fabulous local eateries that are contributing to this event. And please help us spread the word.

Bill Stoneman

Using scientific tools for bigger lessons

With some concern about whether the least expensive and easiest-to-use tools are the most accurate, measuring pH and presence of macronutrients in our garden soil last week suggest that we have some work to do. Readings vary from one location to another. And trying to match colors of solutions with printed colors is more difficult than you might Continue reading

Why a garden? Why the Vegetable Project? #5

To grow healthy kids.

To build better approaches to the kids who do not respond well to being told, “Sit still in your chair” and “Look up at the board” and “Start planning for college.”

To get kids outside.

To expose kids to thinking about what they eat.

To offer an opportunity to build foundation knowledge the way our brains really work, by making connections with what we already know, which in academic terms means across disciplines and nonlinearly.

To inspire inquiry and discovery.

To encourage a love of learning, which does not happen when accompanied with something like, “You better learn this. It’s going to be on a test on Friday.”

To connect learning to the real world.

To create experiences.

To flop the usual school approach to teaching around, by starting with interesting questions instead of a long list of facts.

Please see earlier efforts to answer the questions Why a garden? Why the Vegetable Project.

–Bill Stoneman

Garlic scape season arrives in local gardens

If mainstream grocery stores shape your understanding of food, you may not be familiar with garlic scapes. Backyard growers and shoppers at occasional earthier grocers, such as the Honest Weight Food Coop, however, look forward the moment when hardneck garlic plants are ready to yield their scapes. We cut ours down this year on July 2 at Myers Middle School, a week or so later than some years.

Many thanks to old friend Lorraine Doyno Evans for passing along this recipe for garlic scape pesto from Fruition Seeds in Naples, N.Y.

Raising garlic, of course, is about much more than adding a dash of taste to what you eat for the Vegetable Project. It’s a part of harnessesing the power of exposure to nature, such as by gently encouraging getting hands dirty, to give a hand to Albany kids with great needs. We create opportunities for at-risk high school students with paid internships to do real business with adults. We give teens first jobs during the summer, set high expectations and help the teens meet those expectations. We partner with classroom teachers where the going is tough.

These efforts take resources of the human and financial kinds. Please click here https://vegetableproject.org/about-us-2/many-ways-to-participate-and-contribute/ to learn more about the many ways to participate and contribute.

–Bill Stoneman

Teaching and learning with hands on subject

The Vegetable Project creates hands-on teaching and learning opportunities.

The idea is simple: We learn more and we learn more deeply when we do and touch and smell and taste and experience than when we passively receive what someone else Continue reading

Treating our garden soil like dirt

Please check out the image here that explains the difference between dirt and soil and why we shouldn’t treat one like the other. Published recently in the New York Times, it gets to the essence of one of the Vegetable Project’s favorite hands-on learning opportunities and thus the core of what the Vegetable Project is about.

We know that kids learn on a more meaningful level when we educators get Continue reading

Working for kids in Albany schools

Another school year is winding down. Another growing season is shaping up. And the Vegetable Project continues to build hands-on learning opportunities, seeking more than anything else to make a difference in the lives of kids with great needs.

We know from our own experience and from voluminous scholarly research that contact with nature can be a force for good health – physical, mental and emotional – and thus support vital outcomes that range from sense of purpose to Continue reading

Taking nature seriously in education

Learning, like any other slice of human development, is far too complicated to explain successes or failures in terms of a single factor or two. But contact with nature appears to be a very important one. And education policymakers ought to get their hands around this, starting with a peek at voluminous research supporting this notion.

Goodness knows, sitting at desks in traditional classrooms is not working for many, many students.

“It is time to take nature seriously,” write university researchers in Frontiers in Psychology, “as a resource for learning and development. It is time to bring nature and nature-based pedagogy into formal education – to expand existing, isolated efforts into increasingly mainstream practices.” 

This conclusion is drawn from hundreds of publications that show and describe how contact with nature supports learning in many different way.

“Report after report – from independent observers as well as participants themselves – indicate shifts in perseverance, problem solving, critical thinking, leading, teamwork and resilience,” write authors of Do Experiences with Nature Promote Learning? Converging Evidence of a Cause-and-Effect Relationship.

The authors, from the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan, explain that nature promotes learning by improving learners’ attention, lowering stress, strengthening self-discipline and boosting interest and enjoyment of learning. In one of many examples, they cite research suggesting that learning in nature improves motivation and most strongly among students are who least motivated in regular classroom.

Neither tougher standards nor stricter discipline, more after-school tutoring, uniforms or better recreational outlets are likely to make much difference with many especially challenging students without addressing perseverance, problem solving, critical thinking, leading, teamwork and resilience issues at least at the same time. But fortunately research shows that setting can lead to some progress on those fronts.

From taking our Myers Middle School Garden Club kids outside to developing an outdoor classroom at the school, the Vegetable Project is working to make this important issue a part of our collective conversation about teaching and learning. With your support, we will build ever more opportunities to boost kids’ contact with nature.

–Bill Stoneman

The healing power of gardens

Please take a look The Healing Power of Gardens, a posthumous publication of an essay by Oliver Sacks, the late physician/writer, in this morning’s New York Times. 

We try from time to time to answer such questions as Why a garden? Why the Vegetable Project? And Why do we work so hard to get kids outside? And Why build outdoor classrooms at Albany Schools? Dr. Sacks does it for us even better than we do.

What does healing have to do with teaching and learning? Well, for starters, it could make an incredibly valuable contribution in in-school suspension rooms in schools where we work, where disillusioned, disengaged and angry students, each with a personal story behind all of that, spend time when they disturb the peace of hallways and classrooms. 

–Bill Stoneman