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Garden-Based Learning

Recess and fire drills are not the only times that North Elementary School students are seen outside. Their school garden affords them with many outdoor learning opportunities! With assistance from the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation in year 2011, the school garden was born: Thirteen raised beds were constructed and installed with help from many community resources, including the Monongalia County Technical Education Center, North Elementary parents, WVU preservice teachers, and Monongalia County Extension Master Gardeners. Over the past seven years, the garden has grown to include approximately 50 raised beds, a high tunnel with a rainwater collection system, plots of perennials to attract pollinators, a composting system, and even a rice paddy!

Expanding the typical classroom to include school gardens was the vision of the North Elementary School principal and teachers along with a West Virginia University education professor and the WVU Monongalia County Extension office. WVU Extension Master Gardeners have played a critical role in the school garden by sharing their expertise with teachers and parents while helping to maintain and expand the school garden infrastructure. Master Gardeners provide communities throughout the state with volunteer assistance that translates into millions of dollars.

The school garden project is a partnership between the WVU College of Education and Human Services, North Elementary School, and the WVU Monongalia County Extension Office. North Elementary is one of many professional development schools that partner with WVU to provide practicum experiences to preservice teachers enrolled in the WVU 5-Year, 4-Year, and “masters and certification” teacher education programs. Through these partner schools, preservice teachers gain experience in real classrooms under the guidance of teachers. This real world experience for preservice teachers at North Elementary includes how to integrate school gardening with science, mathematics, English language arts and other disciplines in the standard curriculum. Some preservice teachers have gone on to become teachers at North and provided robust garden-based learning experiences, such as described in this Alumni Spotlight.

The garden-based learning curriculum at North Elementary is constantly expanding. In year 2015, several North Elementary teachers and WVU education faculty developed a curriculum based on their experiences in years 2011-2014 to integrate school gardening with core disciplines such as science and English language arts. North teachers and staff have provided professional development on the curriculum and other aspects of school gardening to teachers and administrators throughout the state. In an effort to share best practices and garden-based learning units with other teachers, North teachers and WVU education faculty also have published articles in education journals, such as The Science Teacher, Science Activities, and Journal of Advances in Educational Research (e.g., “Read Article” to the right).

Students from every grade level, from pre-school through grade 5, engage in garden-based learning at North Elementary. For example, kindergarten students use the garden for measurement and comparison activities, such as comparing the weight, size and number of seeds in different varieties of tomatoes. Preschool and kindergarten students also maintain garden classroom pets: Red worms inside of “vermicomposting” units that convert vegetable and fruit refuse to compost! Students in the upper-level classes have engaged in long term projects to raise a variety of types of lettuce and cucumbers, which supplement the school cafeteria lunch menu and also are sold at a local farmer’s market during summer and fall. The garden experience for students goes beyond learning science, math and other core disciplines--it acquaints them with a greater variety of healthy food, provides physical activity opportunities, and helps them to develop an environmental ethic. 

The garden program at North Elementary has been recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama and has been fortunate to receive assistance for curriculum development as well as a high tunnel from the WV Office of Child Nutrition. Through support from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, they also have been able to incorporate GigaPan technology into their gardening program and expand their science and STEM education efforts, as described in a recent issue of GigaPan magazine (“View April 2018 Issue” to the right). The long-term goal is for North Elementary to become a garden-based learning model for other schools. North continues to host visits from other WV school teachers and administrators who want to incorporate school gardening.


To learn more about Garden-Based Learning, visit the links below:

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