Making Learning More Interesting: One Plant and Chicken at a Time!

By Rob Ackerman, Principal, Lane Elementary, Bedford, MA

One of the most gratifying feelings for a school leader is to see staffs’ ideas come to fruition. For my school, this was the case with a school garden. I take zero credit, which I think is important for principals to admit. This idea surfaced from teachers thinking about ways to make learning more engaging for our students. All too often schools get bogged down in mandates, testing, data, and everything but, how to make learning more interesting.

Our teachers and parent volunteers created the garden about six years ago. The purpose was to make science come alive (seems pretty silly to order Wisconsin Fast Plants when you can have your own natural plants) outside the classroom. In addition, the garden wasn’t meant to be a “hands-off” garden, unless it was science time. We wanted all students to have the opportunity to explore the garden during recess or afterschool, without there being an assignment or assessment attached. The garden was a success with pumpkins, lettuce, sunflowers, beans, tomatoes, radishes, and carrots all being admired by the students, staff, and community. We even were serving our garden’s produce in the cafeteria! But there were staff who wanted to go even bigger.

It was decided by our Assistant Principal and a staff member to write the producers of “Ask This Old House” to see if they could help us expand our school garden. Luckily for us, the show had never done a school segment. What once seemed like a far-fetched idea was soon reality, with the show coming last May to film their idea for installing a raised vegetable garden with arbor (see episode here)

As we headed into this year, our garden was everything we wanted it to be. It was accessible to everyone, while supporting our science curriculum. But….our assistant principal and staff member still had ideas. Now that we had the garden, they thought, how could we make this truly an outdoor science curriculum? Yep. . you guessed correct. Animals. On April 25th we will be adding 10 chicks to a chicken coop so our students can study internal and external structures of the chicken. This is not a temporary project. We are committed to having a year-round fully occupied chicken coop to complement our school garden. Stay tuned….

What do principals need to know about starting a garden?

  1. Find people who have a passion for this work. Every school has somebody.
  2. Start small
  3. Make it a part of the curriculum
  4. Locate the garden in an accessible place for recess time

rob_400x400Rob Ackerman is in his 8th year at the Lane Elementary School in Bedford. He welcomes inquires about school gardens and chickens. When not filling out silly mandate-driven paperwork, he enjoys making learning interesting for all students. His twitter handle is @Akee123.

Are you interested in sharing your ideas, insights and questions? If so, click here to sign up for a post. Julie Vincentsen, Principal of Ruggles Lane School, will reach out with specifics. Are you interested but nervous because you’ve never blogged before and don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry – as long as you know how to use Microsoft Word you will be up to this challenge. We write for our communities all the time – this just changes your audience. You probably could even take a current newsletter you’ve written and repurpose it for your colleagues.

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