School Garden Case study
By Yvan Zebroff
By Yvan Zebroff
This year, the students and staff at Canada Qingdao Secondary School have developed a small school garden. The garden is one of the products of a three-year Whole School Project.
CQSS shares facilities with a large, ‘key’ public school in Qingdao, China. Qingdao is a beautiful, coastal city of some seven million inhabitants. Key schools are those whose students excel on standardized exams. Like all such schools in this city of seven million inhabitants, the focus in this school is on academic performance and test preparation. Classes begin at 7:20 am and end at 6:30 pm. After dinner, students are required to sit in a study hall until 10:00 pm, at which time a final bell rings and they go back to their dorms. Lights are turned off at 10:20 pm. After a brief sleep, the daily cycle begins again.
Last September, it would have been difficult to imagine a more unlikely place for a school garden. Looking out their classroom window, students peered on to a sports field covered with artificial turf. One would have been hard-pressed to spot more than a handful of plants on campus. The non-human world was glaringly absent from students’ daily experience. Knowledge of nature, when presented in the science curriculum, inevitably seemed distant and abstract.
In deciding to build a school garden, we hoped to create relationships between students and the non-human world. As Principal, I felt this a worthwhile aim and had the leverage to make the garden happen. I managed to convince my colleagues at the host school that this was a worthwhile venture.
In science class, students researched suitable plants and drew up plans for the garden. Students and staff then presented these plans to administrators of both schools. As a committee, we considered and discussed the strongest features of each of these plans. Finally, I consulted with the Principal of the host school and we devised the final plan. We agreed to include a grassy area with trees and garden beds. The host school also agreed to provide benches for raised garden beds.
Preparing the garden area proved challenging. The area in question was laden with rubble from bygone construction projects. All of this debris needed to be dug up and removed, and new soil needed to be brought in. We were fortunate to have ongoing support from the host school. They ensured that necessary materials were delivered. Once the soil was prepared and garden beds constructed, planting began in earnest. The trees and grass came first. Once sown, the grass was covered with bamboo mats. Groups of students were then able to select garden beds. Each group became responsible for tending to, and maintaining one of these beds.
I am relatively certain that the methods used at CQSS may not work as effectively in schools elsewhere. Each context is different. Power in Chinese schools tends to be centralized. In other contexts a grassroots approach could prove more effective.
Establishing a school garden has already proven a worthwhile addition to the school. Now, our students can look out and see the product of their efforts. Many visitors to the school campus visit the garden. The garden has added life to this campus. For CQSS, it has opened up possibilities for further exploration and learning. It has promoted curiosity about the non-human world. If it is possible to build such a garden here in Qingdao, it is certainly possible to do so elsewhere.
Curriculum Connections: Exploring Vocational Focus Areas through Garden-Based Learning
This year, I have decided to utilize the garden to promote student understanding of vocational ‘focus areas’. Such learning fits the prescribed learning outcomes of the Planning 10 curriculum.
By Grade 12, students need to select one focus area as part of their graduation transitions portfolio. The general idea is that as part of their secondary school experience, students decide what they would like to study after graduation. From Grade 10 onward, they begin preparing for this, first in planning class and later as part of the Graduation Transitions curriculum. In practice, this component of the curriculum tends not to evoke a great deal of enthusiasm (on the part of teachers or students). I sensed that approaching the focus areas through the garden could ‘invigorate’ learning in planning class.
I began by offering students an opportunity to use a particular focus area as a lens for developing and exploring the school garden. The five focus areas students could choose from were 1) Humanities, 2) Art and Design, 2) Science, 4) Media and Technology and, 5) Business Administration. Individual work produced could be added to the students’ graduation transitions portfolios.
Students approached the garden through their particular focus area. For example one student decided to hone her abilities as a cartoonist through their work. By Grade 12, this student will develop expertise within this focus area. In the meantime, she will have plenty of opportunity to develop relationships with the non-human world. Importantly, as students gain expertise in any given area, they can also share their understandings with others. Such interaction will occur within and across grade levels (e.g., the media group might run a workshop on creating a short film on the life cycle of corn; scientists might give a lesson on utilizing the scientific method to assess various weeding methods, etc.).
A brief introduction to Garden-Based Learning initiatives.
WHAT IS GARDEN-BASED LEARNING (GBL)?
A brief history of Garden-Based Learning.
School Gardens Throughout History
A reading list/references for Garden-Based Learning.
Student Work: Meeting Curriculum Outcomes.