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3-Day Institute prepares educators for real science in the garden with students.

We are still glowing from our three days of shared learning, planning, and camaraderie with local partners, teachers, after-school educators, school garden coordinators. With thanks to our partner, Yolo Farm to Fork, who developed the article below, we offer some initial insights from this workshop, with more to come in the near future! 

Last year, when Megan Grose’s students at Whitehead Elementary studied a Language Arts unit about corn, they did more than read about it. Her 5th-graders planted and grew corn in the school garden. On another occasion, Grose taught her class engineering skills in the school garden by assigning students to design six garden beds. Students worked in groups to measure, find area and volume, and build models.

This year, thanks to a new partnership, Grose’s students will not only learn science in the garden; they’ll be doing real science. The data they collect about birds and pollinators will help scientists work on a variety of urgent questions about our changing environment.  With funding from the California Department of Education, The Yolo County Office of Education (YCOE) is partnering with Woodland Joint Unified School District (WJUSD), UC Davis’ Center for Community and Citizen Science (The Center), and a local nonprofit Yolo Farm to Fork (YF2F). Together, they’ve created a professional development program for WJUSD teachers to incorporate Next Generation Science Standards into lesson plans set in the school garden.

The partnership launched in early August, when a pilot group of 25 WJUSD elementary teachers, after-school tutors, and volunteer garden coordinators congregated at Whitehead Elementary to plan science lessons with fellow educators at their grade level. Additional opportunities will occur throughout the school year to plan together, pilot lessons, and gain training on resources available to support science and environmental literacy.

One key contributor to the new partnership is UC Davis’ Center for Community and Citizen Science. A major focus of The Center’s work is to facilitate and do research on “Youth-focused Citizen and Community Science,” in which youth contribute to authentic science research through data collection, and by interpreting and sharing their findings. “Through these activities, they have the chance to learn important skills and see themselves as people who can do real science,” says Associate Professor Heidi Ballard, the Center’s founder and faculty director. “In some cases they can use what they’ve learned to take action in their communities. Their work in the gardens can help inform decisions about their school campus, while also contributing to nationwide scientific research about biodiversity and global environmental change,” says Erin Bird, a PhD candidate and environmental educator who co-led the workshop with Dr. Ballard. 

School gardens provide a perfect place for students to practice data collection and analysis, according to Suzanne Falzone, Board President of YF2F. The nonprofit currently supports 54 school gardens throughout Yolo County, like the one at Whitehead Elementary where Megan Grose’s class grew their own corn. Falzone says YF2F’s role in the partnership is “twofold”, helping to plan “the content and timing of the teacher training”, and “ensuring the selected gardens are “ready” (as science labs) for teachers to use in science instruction.”

As one of the teachers planning to participate in the partnership, Megan Grose sees a myriad of possibilities to demonstrate science standards in the school garden. “There are entomology, geology, and life science implications through the inclusion of not only flowers, but native plants”, she notes. If the partnership succeeds, Falzone hopes it will continue to grow, both in WJUSD and in other Yolo County school districts.

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