- Back to Basics:Interdisciplinary Teaching Using School Gardens
Transformations' Teachers Talks have usually focused on higher education practitioners. As guest editor, I thought it would be valuable to mix things up and talk to an elementary science teacher about her teaching practices. Not only does it expand on the journal's mission of inclusivity, but it also allows us to think about how science teachers address the current assault on science and fact-based evidence. In 1958, the federal government invested millions of dollars in science education with the National Defense Education Act of 1958. Today, the president wants to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in his 2018 budget for STEM programs. In this new reality, climate change deniers have moved from the margins to the mainstream of government policymaking. How do teachers, and science teachers in particular, cope with this assault on their profession?
Maybe the answer is to go back to basics, to return to nature. That is what Lynn Prosen has done. She is a faculty member at Gill St. Bernard's, a day school in Gladstone, New Jersey. She teaches science classes that range from preschool to fourth grade. In addition to her role as a science teacher, she also serves as the school's garden education coordinator. Her insights remind us not only why science education should remain a national priority but also how interdisciplinary cooperation strengthens the entire academic enterprise. Funding crunches tend to lead us inward, to protect our home turf. Lynn shows us that the answer to the assault on education is the exact opposite. We need to build bridges across campus and, like nature itself, create a successful academic community by having each part of the ecosystem work together and in balance.
Gill St. Bernard's has an extensive garden as well as a working farm, making it pretty unusual. The two-acre garden is divided into four 70 × 80 ft plots. One plot has a series of raised beds, and this is where Lynn spends the most time [End Page 229] with her students. Two of the plots are dedicated to raising food for the dining hall and farm. In addition, there is an apple orchard with 110 trees and beehives for honey production. At the time we conversed, Lynn had just completed her beekeeping training.
Lynn has been pivotal in getting teachers from a variety of disciplines to incorporate the garden into their lessons. Lynn and I sat down for two conversations in October 2017. Our conversations focused on how to use a school garden as an interdisciplinary teaching tool.
Jason Martinek: You really took the initiative to incorporate the garden into the school's curriculum, especially in the Lower School grades. How did you seize this opportunity?
Lynn Prosen: I started at my current school in 2010. I teach general science content, working through four main areas: Earth and space science, physical science, life science, and then engineering and technology. I'm incorporating the Next Generation Science Standards into my classes using agricultural and environmental phenomena as focal points.1
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That first year, the school did not have a garden. Over the summer of 2011, the garden was put in, but at that point there was no real educational focus. It was put into use for dining hall foods. That focus is still there, but I saw the need to try to integrate it into the school curriculum. Having a garden available allows students to look at the growth of plants and see the process going on [End Page 230] from seed to seed, the complete life cycle. It is more than just a science lab space. We can connect to many other things, too.
My focus as the garden education coordinator is to get students out to experience nature. It mostly is about getting teachers, students, and families involved with it. We host garden festivals once a month in the summer. These have a harvest or planting focus and offer families the opportunity to gather together in the garden as a...