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

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