Although the school gardens may be resting, Seed to STEM is growing; Gateway Greening is now working directly with fourth grade classes at Gateway Elementary. Gateway Greening and the fourth graders are full of enthusiasm for the new partnership, which is fortunate since January is all about energy!
The Gateway Greening Education Team has been hard at work building off of classroom lessons about different forms of energy to bring energy to life in the garden and classroom. The fourth graders searched for forms of energy inside and out. They discovered a chilly, wintry day is the best time to explore how to use thermal energy to get warm. Then the students were ready to get their hands dirty to see energy conservation in action.
Discussions about energy and indoor lessons are the perfect time to introduce worms and vermicomposting. Vermicomposting systems are easy to set up in the classroom and are a great jumping off point for lessons on energy use, decomposition, habitat, and more. The lesson began when the students first observed a completed composting worm bin system and determined what made it a functional habitat for red wiggler worms. Each student had a chance to smell, touch, and study the food, worms, and soil in the compost bin. They realized that the “soil” was actually worm castings: nutrient rich worm poop. (The general reaction was, you guessed it: “Gross!”) For some fourth graders it was their first time holding a worm. Other students excitedly held and measured their worms.
Once the students understood how vermicomposting worked, they created their own mini composting bins. Using plastic containers, newspaper, and leaves, they put together what they thought would be the best possible habitat for the red wigglers. After moistening the shredded newspaper and adding air holes, the students introduced the worms to their new habitats. The last class of the day even added leftover vegetable scraps from the cafeteria to the bins for the worms to feast on.
In the coming weeks, the fourth graders at Gateway Elementary will observe how the worms use the vegetable scraps. They will make connections between conserving energy and using food waste to benefit the garden. Once the students move their worms to a larger vermicomposting system, they will start participating in the Gateway Greening Compost Challenge. Will they produce more compost or more food waste than your school?
This past December, the kindergartners and preschoolers at Clay Elementary became expert birders!
As December finally started getting chilly, we noticed that the bees and worms that just a month ago buzzed and wiggled around, were nowhere to be seen! However, after searching high and low we discovered many sparrows, chickadees, and cardinals still making the schoolyard their home.
To become expert birders, the first thing we did was investigate if the garden was a suitable home for birds. Along the way, we learned that “habitat” is a science word for home and that the seeds from the native plants in the nearby rain garden provided food for the birds. To help make a better habitat for our bird friends, the preschoolers and kindergarteners created bird feeders.
Then, the students used their science eyes and ears to observe birds. They mimicked different bird calls and flight. They loved practicing their flapping and soaring skills while looking for birds on the playground! The hardest part of birding for the kindergarteners and preschoolers was practicing the quiet, stealthy walk of a birder, to not scare the animals. We looked all over the garden and saw cardinals and sparrows in trees and flying high above the schools. To wrap up the month of birding, the preschoolers learned what make a bird a bird and created their own feathers. The kindergarteners noticed nests were a sign of birds, so they created their own nests to take home.
Birding was an engaging theme to get younger students outside and making observations when the garden is not particularly active With birds, the preschoolers were able to act as scientists, artists, and explorers. The students practiced making scientific questions, created avian inspired art, and kinesthetically mimicked the flight of birds. They were able to be imaginative and use their important sense of awe and wonder, while learning scientific skills along the way! The best part of birding is that it can be done anywhere, whether that’s the school garden or the urban backyard. The students took their birding skills home and practiced spotting birds throughout the winter break!
By Lucy Herleth, Gateway Greening Youth Educator
Looking for more seasonal lessons and activities for students to do in the school garden? Stop by Gateway Greening’s YouTube channel to explore our “This Week in the School Garden” video series or reach out to our Education Team with questions!